THE PRODIGAL SON’S OLDER BROTHER
by David Sisler
Jennifer was three-and-one-half-years old when Amy was born. Pride sparkled in her dark brown eyes as she looked at her new sister. She sat on the sofa and her parents placed Amy in her arms. The joy on Jennifer’s face radiated brighter than the lights in the room. Then those same beautiful brown eyes filled with tears as visitors came to see the new baby and ignored Amy’s big sister.
Twenty-two months later visitors came to see “the twins.” Although she was not yet six, there was a determination in Jennifer’s eyes that were beyond her years. It was as though she knew that unthinking adults would push her further into the background as they came to visit Michael and Matthew.
Jennifer would hang around, just on the outside of the circle, hoping someone would notice her. Once in a while they would. Most of the time, though, it was just a quick, almost embarrassed pat on the head.
It frustrated her father because he could not make careless guests understand how much their ignorance was hurting Jennifer. The visitors didn’t mean to hurt her, they just did it without thinking.
Jennifer’s Dad said, “I like to believe that when I gathered her up in my arms and bundled her out of the house to the mall and to the ice cream store, it made up for some of the hurt she was feeling. I think it did.”
That same feeling of neglect often comes to older adults, even Christians. Maybe with that insight we can understand the hurt of the prodigal son’s older brother when he said to his father, “Look, how many years have I slaved for you and never disobeyed a single order of yours, and yet you have never given me so much as a young goat, so that I could give my friends a dinner! But when that son of yours arrives, who has spent all your money on prostitutes, for him you kill the calf we’ve fattened!”
The attention lavished on the returning prodigal was more than the older brother could accept. Spiritually, that is often the case. It is difficult to retain a sweet spirit when someone else takes center stage. The attention the newcomer receives can make you doubt your own position and your own success. The fact that you’ve never lived in rebellion against Father God seems to be lost on everyone because they are overjoyed at the one sinner who has repented.
It’s hard when you’ve served the Lord for many years – and you’ve served him faithfully – to see a newcomer receiving all of the attention. It’s not that you’re jealous of his salvation, in fact you rejoice in his homecoming. What hurts is when you feel unappreciated and unloved. That’s what the elder brother was saying: “Father, do you realize how much I love you? Have you ever appreciated me?”
Like Jennifer, older sisters and brothers in the Lord are often pushed into the background when babies are born into the Family. It’s not the fault of the babies. The babies need and deserve our attention. The older family members do not need or deserve neglect. That is why the promise of Isaiah is so important: “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you.”
Whatever your age – either physically or spiritually – God is the same. He is unchanged and his dealings with us are unchanged. Do you remember how very much in love you were with Jesus when you first met him? Didn’t you say with the bride in the Song of Solomon, “His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely. This is my lover, this is my friend?”
You’ve known him a long time now. Your back is stooped. Your hands shake. Your hair is grey and thinning. Your skin is wrinkled. Has he changed? Or have you discovered that even now he is the same, yesterday, today and forever? When you first trusted him you knew he was able to carry you. He still is.
Copyright 2004 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.
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