Dearest Rachel –
So, yesterday morning, as part of the Sunday service, our worship pastor, Jansen, was ordained. It’s something of a requirement for pastoral staff and elders (as you well know, since I went through the same theological training in those last few years before your accident, although I wasn’t required to write a thesis on my beliefs, nor have I had to sit before the congregation and defend them, as I have no official position within the church, nor do I wish for one. It was just that I wanted to study, especially since I had the time to do so; more on that later). As part of the final process, he gave his testimony before the elders were to come up on the platform, lay their hands on him and pray over him in commissioning him for service.
And while he had some thing of an interesting testimony – which I’m not going to go into here, as even he was deliberately vague about certain details, and in any event, it’s his story to tell, not mine – it reminded me of my own situation, and the fact that I’m little more than the older brother.
I don’t mean that literally, although technically, that’s true. I mean that I’ve spent my life within the faith; essentially, I am the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son. In real life, Jenn doesn’t fill that role of the prodigal. But a lot of other people do.
Now, that’s supposed to be a good thing – train up a child in the way he should go, and all that. It’s not the way it seems, though. Jesus talks about how heaven rejoices for that one who is brought back far more than the 99 who stay put – despite the fact that, at least at our church, the ratio is considerably less than 99:1 of faithful to prodigals. Our congregation has so many people with so many stories; even the vast majority of the pastoral staff (like Jansen) have interesting and complicated stories that brought them to where they are.
I’m not one of them. My moment of salvation is so small and mundane as to escape notice; just a little five-year-old praying for Jesus to come into his heart while sitting on his parents’ couch.
And while I’ve learned that it does me no good to be resentful of the prodigals (the way the original older brother was), and I can certainly find it within myself to celebrate those who come to God out of some of the most impossible circumstances, I do wonder if heaven has ever rejoiced over bland, vanilla me.
In some ways, I probably have no cause for complaint. It’s not as if I haven’t enjoyed a fair amount of earthly, material blessings – the ‘goat’ for me to share with my friends, as the brother complains about. I’ve had a loving wife and family. I have financial security, for the most part. But the latter came to me through the former, as you well know, and was meant to be shared between us. We were supposed to enjoy that security for the rest of our lives together. And while I guess that held true for you and the rest of your life, that span of time was so short as to feel like I traded the one for the other, and got a bad bargain out of the deal.
So many prodigal stories go like ‘I was at rock-bottom, and the Lord saved me from it.’ And don’t get me wrong, that’s wonderful. But I left with a story that’s almost the flipside. God blessed me with just about everything I can ask for – and then he decided to take some of it away. It’s not the sort of story that the listener would find appealing; nothing for them to say ‘ooh, I want a life like that.’ Besides, Lord, You already wrote the book of Job; do You really need to write it a second time? And personally, I’d just as soon You stopped here; one loss is more than enough.
It’s true, I’m more of a sinner since I came to him than I was beforehand. That’s always been a bit of a difficulty for me, since I’ve been told almost from the beginning how coming to Christ should change you. Sure, I may have gotten older – and presumably wiser – but I’ve also had plenty of time to screw up in ways that five year old me would never have considered. For all I know, that little kid probably still thought girls had cooties.
So maybe there’s a reason for the Lord to send me through trials and difficulties, relatively small and insignificant though they might have been. Actually, I take that back – I still remember those days of dealing with Mohinder, and being told how worthless I was. Those trials may have seemed small and insignificant to sum, and in the distance, looking back on them, they are even to me, but they certainly weren’t at the time. At least He left you with me, supporting me through all that until such time as I could put all that behind us, before taking you home. You got to spend time on the mountain top, before sledding down it to your fate.
Huh. I was going to make this letter into a description of my own walk with Christ, and how dull and boring the life of ‘the older brother’ was and is. Somehow, I seem to have gotten sidetracked (that’s how dull and boring it is), reminding myself of how good you were to me, and how much I miss that, and how I wish you were here to enjoy – and help me enjoy – the freedom and security I’ve been given. Maybe that will be a story for another day; it will certainly have to be for another letter.
Until then, honey, keep an eye out for me.