Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Prodigal

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, "Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!"
Luke 15:28-30

Have you ever felt like the non-prodigal son? Like you're the one who has always done what you're supposed to do, plugging away, and you're not appreciated? You're the good child, the constant, the taken-for-granted one. I have. Not that I'm necessarily the good child in my family (not by a long shot), but just in life. It doesn't seem fair that the father would throw a party for the son who disrespected him and left the family, squandered his property in wild living and comes crawling back in disgrace. I've always thought the father should make him live as a servant for a while: make good and sure he's learned his lesson. But,

"My son," the father said, "you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."
Luke 15:31-32

The implication here is that we good children already have and enjoy God's good gifts. Every day. The prodigals among us, however, are living apart from God, and as such, are as good as dead--who wouldn't celebrate if their lost child returned to them? We should celebrate, too, when our lost brother or sister is found. And God certainly rejoices over us non-prodigals, too. Just because we've never been lost, doesn't mean that God doesn't love us as much. Through the years I've come to the realization that just because the distribution of God's gifts seems unfair, that in no way diminishes the gift I've received. Because guess what, friends? We all have been lost: through sin we've been separated from our heavenly father. Some of us have been more lost than others, but the fact remains that we have all been lost, and have all received God's grace and forgiveness. And I, for one, am extremely thankful that God doesn't give me what I deserve.

This realization has come in handy for me, because, after all, life isn't fair. Not even close. But knowing that I, too, have been given grace beyond fathom, immeasurable, infinite grace, makes that inherent unfairness easier to accept. After all, infinity times 2 or 10 or 1000 is still infinity (love you, Chip :-).

This week, I've taken this realization a step farther, for better or for worse. My life is difficult at times. My husband loves me (again, beyond what I deserve), but his job takes him on the road often: right now, more often than usual, and I end up feeling a lot like a single parent. I'm outnumbered by little people and shouldering the majority of the responsibility for caring for our children and our household, with few breaks, and this is not what I signed on for. I want and need my husband's support and assistance and presence. But every time I start to feel that way, my brain tells me that I shouldn't, because there are others who are in even more difficult situations than me. Like my mom, who spent 6 months at a time, more than once, with her husband, my dad, away and unreachable, as she cared for my brother and me at home. Or women who really are single moms. Or women who are homeless and trying to care for their children. And unfortunately, thinking that way doesn't make me feel one bit better, just guilty.

But this week, I've come to realize that it works both ways. Just because there are others who are in more dire situations than mine does not diminish my feelings in any way. Yup, there are other people who've got it worse than me, but that doesn't make my situation any easier. In short, I've given myself permission to say, yes, this is hard. Yes, this isn't what I signed on for, but I am a strong woman, and I will do what needs to be done, through Christ, who strengthens me. Much better than wallowing in self-pity compounded by guilt.

Let me be clear: I am not writing this to make my husband feel guilty or look bad. He works hard because he loves us, and this is what he needs to do to support us financially. His travel is as much of a sacrifice for him as it is for us, because he wants to be with us just as much as we want him to be here. As much as I fantasize about being able to be the one to "escape" through business trips, I'm sure my husband fantasizes about being able to stay home, as I am privileged to do.

Here's how Jesus put it, though the words of the owner of the vineyard in the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, "Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?"
(Matthew 20:13b-15)

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