When I was younger I felt like my parents played favorites between my older brother and I. From constant phrases of “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” to the differing amounts of presents they would give us, it was pretty obvious to me that my brother was the overall contender in this sibling competition.
I remember one particular Christmas when I was home from college where my brother got a ton of gifts he had been asking for –the collection of James Bond movies on DVD, three boxes of this 3-D puzzle he loved, some Star Wars knick-knacks and a palm pilot. My stack was a bit smaller and included a re-gifted tin of cookies and two CDs. One of which was a Randy Travis album (because I “love country music”) that my mom had found at the Dollar Tree.
When it came time for my main gift, I was pretty excited. They obviously skimmed on the smaller details to build up the excitement for this gift. I mean, my brother got a palm pilot! Plus, I was pretty confident this gift was an iPod, since that was the only thing I had asked for.
It was an electric toothbrush.
At first I thought it was a joke. My iPod was going to be sneakily hidden in this box and my parents were just pretending they got me a toothbrush. But when I opened the box, it was, in fact, an electric toothbrush. My heart sunk. I looked at my mom with tears in my eyes and just whispered, “Why?”
“Because I know you like to brush your teeth and this is the best toothbrush out there.”
If you know me well, you will know that I hate mint. Which makes me dislike toothpaste. Which leads me to not look forward to brushing my teeth. This sort of flawed gift reasoning was just another proof to me that my parents loved my brother more. So, I calmly excused myself and went into my room and cried. Even when my mom came to the door later, I refused to come out. “It just isn’t fair!” I hiccupped through my tears.
Sometimes I view God the same way I view my parents. I see people with things that I wish I had and lives that I desperately want and my heart sinks. I find myself comparing my blessings against theirs. I have this, but they have this and that. I have four, but they have five and something else. It’s a constant scale where their cups all seem to runneth over while mine, well, runneth dry.
It just isn’t fair.
Whenever I used to listen to the story of the Prodigal Son, I would give myself permission to zone out. Mostly because I just couldn’t relate to this kid – breaking the rules, partying and running wild, wasting away all of his inheritance. Please. That’s cultural suicide for an Asian kid. We know not to mess with that line.
But did you know this story has two Prodigal Sons?
There’s the one that we hear and focus on: the kid that rebels against his parents by leaving home and being irresponsible. Which is the one that correlates to the Christian who strays away from the Lord, probably during his or her wild college-phase.
But there’s another son in the equation.
He’s the one who knows his responsibilities and does it without complaining. He does his chores, follows the rules from his parents and can be trusted to make the right decision every time. Come to think of it, he was probably Asian.
I am the second son.
I follow the rules. I do the right thing. I go to church every Sunday. I try to live my life as a good person, a good Christian. And when others around me stray away, I know better than to follow. I am a good kid.
But the story in the Bible reveals to us the heart of this seemingly good kid. He may have been the one who stayed at home, but his heart was angry. He may not have physically wandered away, but he did emotionally. And what we see in this story is that this second son, with his impressive list of good things, is in the same position as the lost son. His heart is lost. All his work means nothing because his heart wasn’t in the right place.
Often times when I look at the lives of my friends and the people around me, my heart becomes bitter because they seem to have it so much better than me. “Look at their pasts, God! They went through crazy, wild phases and dealt with situations so much more immaturely then I did and yet you reward them?! When is it my turn??”
Let me tell you something. Our Heavenly Dad doesn’t play favorites. It may feel like it sometimes but He loves us all the same. He doesn’t shell out more blessings to one individual because He secretly likes them more. And at the end of our lives, we won’t be able to stack up our blessings like Christmas presents and see how our gifts add up compared to others. God doesn’t owe us anything. He doesn’t have to gift us with any blessings, but He does so anyway simply because He absolutely adores us. That means that every blessing is, in fact, a beautiful, undeserved gift.
He gives us what we need in the moments we need it. And so often He blesses us even in our most undeserving moments as prodigal sons and daughters. There’s a hymn that I love that says, “Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy praise.” It is such a great reminder of how every blessing God chooses to bless us with is something to be thankful for. And I mean every blessing, whether extravagant or seemingly small.
Yes, even if it’s an electric toothbrush.