“‘My Son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me and everything I have is yours.'” Luke 15:31
During February school vacation, I invited my kids’ friends over for playdates. I made the invitation the same for all three friends: Tuesday from 1 to 4 p.m. The grandmother of Jocelyn’s friend offered to take Jocelyn. Knowing I’d have four energetic boys acting out crazy battle scenes with weapons, I was thrilled to have the five year old girls safely at her house instead. However, she asked if she could take Jocelyn 12 to 4:30. She was doing me a favor; of course I said yes.
When Zack found out Jocelyn’s playdate was going to be longer than his, he started to complain. This isn’t a new scenario in our house. Whenever there’s even a hint of unevenness in things, one of my kids complains. Knowing the drill, Mason chimed in with my usual response, “But Zack, we had tons more playdates when we were Jocelyn’s age. We shouldn’t complain.” The reminder worked and Zack was fine after that.
However, it bothered me that Zack wouldn’t accept the situation until he was reminded that he had a lot of playdates when he was five. I felt like I hadn’t done a good enough job preparing my kids for the fact that life is unfair. I wondered whether I was setting them up for failure when they have to go out into the real world. Then I came across this Scripture passage. Our scenario had me reading it in a whole new light.
I have always sided with the older son in the Prodigal Son parable. He stays home, works hard every day in the fields, and does all his father asks of him. Whereas, the younger son takes half the father’s wealth, travels to a distant land, and squanders the money away on “wild living.” Yet when he comes home, the father throws a big party for him. When the older son catches wind of this, he confronts his father.
In the past, I only focused on the part of the father’s response where he defends his choice. He explains he is overjoyed his younger son is alive and has come home. The piece I somehow overlooked all these years is when the father says to the older son, “you are always with me and everything I have is yours.”
It’s evident that the ultimate goal of this parable is to teach us that God’s love has no limit. It can’t be divided in half and squandered away; there is an endless supply of it. God’s love is also so unconditional, no matter how great our sins or transgressions, when we return to God with a contrite heart, He forgives all. Moreover, He’s so overjoyed we’ve come back to Him, He throws a party in Heaven.
But now this single line of Scripture shows me that God recognizes our human weakness too. He knows that we struggle with the unfairness of life. In His usual compassionate way, I think He’s also trying to teach us that gratitude is the great equalizer to life’s unfairness.
In the parable, the father doesn’t scold the older son and call him selfish, judgmental or petty. Instead, he recognizes where the older son is coming from and reassures him that all the material wealth will be his. Also, he affirms how solid their relationship is by pointing out that the older son has always been there for him. He’s trying to show his son that when these things are stacked up on one side of the scale, they far outbalance any unfairness that exists on the other side.
When I look at it this way, I realize I need to be more like the father in recognizing Zack’s humanness. The playdate time frames were unfair. However, the gift in this scenario was Mason picking up my slack and playing the father for me: pointing out to Zack what he needed to be grateful for. Once Zack focused on what he did have, versus what he didn’t, balance was restored.
I know that playdates are small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. But I truly do believe that gratitude is the great equalizer, no matter our age, or the size of our issues. My job is to make sure we keep practicing gratitude so that when my kids do face something extremely unfair in the future, their focus is more on the good in their lives, rather than on the bad.
Have you experienced a similar situation with your kids? Or in your own life? I’d love to hear about it.
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