Friday – The Older Brother Syndrome
Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. “Your brother has come,” he replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.”
The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”
The reaction of the older brother is harsh, full of criticism, contempt and judgment. He doesn’t realize how far he is from true love, compassion and acceptance. He is so occupied with managing the property, that he is blind:
- to his father’s heart and acts of love
- to the return of his brother and his complete renewal
- to his own life and to the fullness of his father’s blessing
Maybe you also grew up in the church, always obedient to your parents and to God. You never ran from home, you didn’t squander your money on different pleasures. You were responsible and kept traditions your whole life, but you still felt as lost as the younger son.
Henri Nouwen writes about his experience as the “older brother”: “All at one I saw myself in a completely different light. I saw my jealousy, anger, egocentrism, obstinance, inflexibility and, of them all the most hidden, self-righteousness. I saw what a crybaby I was and how many of my thoughts and feelings are driven by bitterness… I was for sure like the older son, but just as lost as his younger brother, even though I had stayed at “home” my whole life.
In prayer we can:
- Repent of the times when we have the same attitudes as the older brother.
- Repent of the times when, in our endeavors we have been more like slaves, who are constantly wanting to please their parents, God or people and fulfill their expectations.
- Confess our bitterness and bad temper for the times when we don’t see that there is no reason for self-pity since we have gotten a hundred times more than we ever had to give up. Confess your jealousy of the spontaneity, playfulness and joy of younger sons.
- Pray for first-borns, often the model and perfectionist children, to find freedom.
- Pray for the removal of pharisaism and legalism from church and from us personally. Pray against moralism, exaggerated seriousness, uptightness, strictness and lack of good humor.