comparison

Parties

The parable of the Prodigal Son is both wildly popular and wildly disturbing, which is a strange phenomenon. Usually ideas or art or people that challenge our accepted worldviews, that make us uncomfortable, are quickly discarded, because we defend nothing as tirelessly or viciously as our own ‘right-ness.’

Even One as beautifully, monumentally disruptive as Jesus (or the Bible), we reduce to bullet points, scouring stories and verses to find only those that confirm our already held beliefs and trashing the rest.

Yet we keep the Prodigal Son. 

(My guess is that it is most often used to describe others – always others, of course – who have walked away from our beliefs, comforting us with the hope that they will return, just like this son. I could be wrong, though. And I am more than fine with this comfort and hope. Mostly, I’m more than fine with all comfort and hope, especially the hope that comes from a God who runs to us, no matter what we’ve done or who we’ve been or if we’ve been eating the pigs food, and brings us into the feast. This story has given me rest as well – I have been the son who walked away and was welcomed back with hugs and acceptance and love. It’s a really great story. But there is so much more to it.)

The parable ends with a brother – a “good” boy, doing all the right things, following the rules, never leaving home – standing outside, in what he would surely describe as righteous anger. He honestly details his frustrations to the Father, and the Father listens and patiently answers – “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” One of the most gorgeous verses in the Scriptures: “Everything I have is yours.” 

And the story ends with the brother outside, with a decision to make.

How many times have I decided that this party is not, should not be, for them (whoever ‘them’ is)? 

It’s called judgment, and it’s not awesome. We decide where the walls are, who is on the guest list (of course, OF COURSE, we are always on the inside), what the admission requirements are, who has been good enough and who has not.

I used this parable Sunday in a message about forgiveness, because we are all the brother. We have a choice to make. Do we want a world of Fairness – because to tell the truth, it’s not fair that the brother gets in. He severely disrespected the Father and everything He stood for – or do we want Forgiveness? Do we want entrance requirements? Do we want walls?

He is with us, and everything He has is ours, now do we actually want His kind of party?

Can we really live a life free of comparison, free of being “better than” someone else? 

SO many questions… 

Can we enter a party where the guest of honor is our “enemy,” who has not followed any of the rules, who looks and acts differently that we think guests at this party should look and act?     

And if I start to look at that brother honestly (which in itself takes a humongous amount of courage) and see that I share more in common with him than I’d ever care to acknowledge, then I’ll start asking all new questions and opening the door to a whole new life and I’m pretty sure that kind of whole new life is what Jesus had in mind all along.

Paper Cuts & Fractures

Anne Lamott once said there were 3 types of prayer, ‘Thanks,’ ‘Help,’ and ‘Wow,’ and I think that’s pretty accurate, but it’s the ‘Help’ ones I’m thinking about today. Often, in the Scriptures, the writers are asking for guidance, for help through any number of situations or challenges or obstacles. Sometimes the help is to deliver them, to grant them peace, or a good night’s sleep, or to bash their enemies on rocks. Either way, the cool thing is that they always come to God with a beautiful humility, a sense of their place and of His place. They have a problem and He can fix it. He was big, strong, awesome enough to fix anything they could carry, and He was loving enough to want to. (Whether He did or did not is another matter, a question for another day.) But, perhaps more importantly, they believed that they were big enough, significant enough to Him that He would care about their problems, obstacles, their well-being enough to come to their rescue and provide what they needed. 

The interesting thing that has happened, as we get more religious and less childlike is that that innocent humility is gone, replaced with the modern idol of comparison.

Where we would immediately go straight to God and say/scream “HELP!!!” now we wonder if our problem is enough to warrant an audience with the Creator of the Universe. There are others with so many more pressing issues, catastrophes, global disasters, matters of life and death. We say, “well, it’s not as bad as ____, and we should just get over it.” This lie grows in our heads, whispers that our trouble is inconsequential, selfish, and we should be ashamed to even consider bothering Him with it.    

This is a bizarre kind of idolatry, where we are the focus instead of the character of God. 

As the humility goes, the honesty goes, too. And we hide our hearts under carefully crafted masks of what we think we should be. 

Could you even imagine speaking of revenge before God, saying,  “Happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us. Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks,” as the prophet Jeremiah did in Psalm 137? 

I’m not saying you should feel that way, but what if you do? 

Well, I would probably pretend not to, because it’s not very spiritual and what would everyone else think? I would probably paint a smile on your face and hide those feelings in a corner somewhere until they disappear – they will disappear, right? 

More masks, more idolatry, more destructive circles, more unhealthy behaviors, more resentment, more bitterness, more fake plastic people.

There are 2 words in the Bible that explode this whole warped system of ours. In John 11, a man named Lazarus dies and Jesus is late and if He “had been here,” Lazarus “would not have died.” The story has a very happy ending, but before Jesus does exactly what He came to do, what He knew He was going to do all along, verse 35 says, “Jesus wept.”

He didn’t say calm down, don’t cry, just wait, watch this. He didn’t try to cheer anyone up, didn’t minimize their pain (and consequently, His own). He didn’t tell anyone what they should be feeling or where to direct their heartbreak. He wept. He wasn’t concerned with comparison or comfortability. He was interested in the hearts of these 2 sisters, in their honest, authentic, wide-open hearts, without pretense or the self-imposed weight of “the should’s.”

The truth of the Bible (and of human experience) is that no one heals by covering brokenness with denial. It is only through dragging it into the light, weeping over it, laying it down and leaving it there, at His feet. Sure, our wound may not be as deep as someone else’s, our diagnosis not as severe, but comparison has never been His concern. His concern has always been our hearts, and He heals paper cuts as well as fractures, if we only trust Him enough to stop pretending and ask.