What Did I Miss?
I think most of us do it to a degree – it’s a well-known phenomenon, for example, that the newspaper of the bloke sitting next to you on the train will always be more interesting than your own – even if they’re identical.
There’s probably an official psychological term for it. It’s probably a condition, requiring treatment and therapy, at great cost of time and money. I think of it as older-brother-itis, though.
We all know the story of the prodigal son – he takes his inheritance, squanders it, comes home, humiliated, only when he can’t make it alone for another day, and his father runs to him with open arms, forgives and forgets everything, and throws him a massive party. Then in walks the older brother.
“Look!” he says:
“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 15:29-30)
Many of us who have grown up in the church and never really ‘gone off the rails’ identify with this. As someone said in a Facebook comment in a discussion about the story the other day (yes, that is what my Facebook timeline is like – at least in part!), “I always feel sorry for the older son, I think he had a good point!!”
I have certainly thought like that for much of my life. I’ve identified with that older son, who feels that somehow he’s had a raw deal. I’ve felt jealous of people’s amazing conversion testimonies when I’ve heard how God came running to them in their own metaphorical pig pen, lifted them out of the mire and crowned them with glory and honour. Their joy in their salvation far outstrips the calm assurance I have always known.
Sure, they tell me they would much rather have my life story – a stable, loving childhood, a happy, productive work life, the space, support and encouragement to grasp every exciting opportunity that has come along – who would not want that? And yet…
There are plenty of ways you can go with this story: the older son thinks he has been perfect, but even in claiming that, he is revealing the sin of pride in his heart; the older son’s words show that although he has never physically left the father, he has always been motivated by the blessings he can receive, rather than by the relationship he can have; the older son feels more deserving but less loved… I’m sure you can think of more, and have heard more preached, but the ‘fear of missing out’ angle is one that hadn’t occurred to me before.
The older brother’s response was one of anger. Why was he angry? Because he was jealous or afraid (or both). He was jealous that the younger son had had both the fun and the reward. He was afraid that he had missed out.
The father’s response to his son is telling: “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” Given that ‘the father’ is actually ‘the Father’, who created everything and owns everything, if all he has is ours, how can we be missing out? The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence – the parties always look more fun, the relationships look more exciting, the lights look brighter and the experiences look more satisfying, but the Father promises life in all its fullness. When we hanker after the pleasures of the world, we reveal that we don’t believe God. If he says, ‘this is the best there is, and it’s all at your disposal’ and we reply ‘yes, but I want something else’, what we mean is, ‘I don’t trust you. I don’t believe you. I think the younger son got a better deal.’
We mean: ‘Your love isn’t enough.’
I got over my older-brother-itis (at least, I think I’m over it!) when God told me that the angels in heaven had had a great party when I came home – even though I was only eight and hadn’t yet had time to stray far (according to my grading of sins) from God. That took the sting out of the feeling that, ‘He never ran to meet me.’ Once I knew I was loved – knew how much I was loved, knew I was loved with the same passion, joy and delight with which the father loved the younger son – the fear of having missed out began to fade. The younger son didn’t get a better deal. The system isn’t unfair. I have the relationship I was made to enjoy and everything the Father has is mine. It is a source of great contentment.
What did I miss, by staying in my Father’s household and serving him all my life?
Nothing at all.