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Confessions of the Older Brother

I heard my little brother ask my Father one day, and the next day he was gone.

Gone where? Who knows. To blow his living on hookers and blackjack, no doubt. And I smiled. I knew better.

I knew how to keep my head down, work hard, follow the rules, and make Dad proud.

While he was gone partying, I worked. I was the perfect son, the law-abiding citizen. I kissed dating goodbye. I memorized Scripture. I went to Africa, went to Bible college. I got married, I got a job. I stayed.

Always, I was waiting for the day — it was coming anytime now — when my Father would give me his approval, his metaphorical robe and ring. Any day now, he’d throw me a party and say, “You’ve finally made me proud.”

I don’t need to tell you what happens next. You know.

While I was hoarding my inheritance and wearing a path right down the middle of the straight-and-narrow, my Father sat on the porch and looked out past the horizon. I don’t know if he even noticed all I did to make him proud, all the ways I tried to earn his love.

It’s like he didn’t care about any of it.

You know the part of the story where my little brother came home, tattooed and broke and filthy and reeking of bad decisions. And I watched as my Father threw him a party.

You might think it’s just brotherly envy that keeps me from dancing along. Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m jealous.

But more than that, I am heartbroken and profoundly disillusioned. When the fatted calf was slaughtered, a part of me died too. My entire life has been built on an economy of honest work and just reward. And now…

It’s not about the money. It never was. I don’t care about the inheritance, the house, the farm.

I wanted the embrace, the celebration.

I wanted to know I was loved by my Father. And I was so close to earning it when he showed up and got it for free.

So I’m packing my bags this evening, while they dance the night away. In the morning, I’ll cash in my inheritance (it never was quite enough to buy the love I craved) and I’ll head west toward hookers and blackjack and god-knows-what-else.

I’ll break every rule I so carefully kept all these years, and blow all I’ve saved on riotous living.

And I won’t find the love I’m looking for — I already know that.

But maybe when I come crawling home, tattooed and broke and reeking of bad decisions, my Father will look at me the way he looked at my brother tonight.

Maybe by throwing away everything, I’ll finally find the love I’ve been trying to earn all along.

(It occurs to me now that perhaps throughout those years he did look at me the way I was always hoping he would. Perhaps I was too busy trying to earn his love to notice the way I caught his eye.)

published January 26, 2016

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