I Am Older Brother (Or Sister, As the Case May Be),

At church, Pastor Troy spent 6 weeks preaching about the parable of the Prodigal Son. Using Timothy Keller’s book, Prodigal God, as reference, Troy explored the story most life long Bible readers know by heart.

If you don’t know the tale, let me explain:

A father has 2 sons. Younger Brother decides he doesn’t want to wait for his father to die to get his inheritance. He wants to party while he’s young. He asks Dad for the money and leaves, whooping it up all the way.

Older Brother knows better. His duty is with Dad, helping him run the homestead. Sure, he’d like to go off, too. But there is a right way and a wrong way. He will do what’s right.

Years go by. Younger Brother runs out of money. (Partying is expensive.) He embarrassingly sends word to Dad, alerting everyone he is out of funds and would like permission to come back and work as a servant. 

Dad is overjoyed. His son is returning. “Get the fattened calf! Pull out the finest table linens! Polish the silver! My boy is coming!”

Older Brother is like, “WTH? That dude took everything he was given, squandered it on self-pleasuring-activities, and now Dad is all ‘Come back! All is forgiven!’ That is messed. up.”

Growing up, I hated this account of forgiveness. I’m sure I was meant to rejoice in the parallel God forgives all, even those who fall away. And that truly is awesome when we are talking about God, who is so God-like. But when we refer to the human nature of this story, I totally relate to Older Brother.

Troy spent a couple of Sundays preaching about the wrongs of Older Brother. Wrongs? My feathers ruffle just remembering this.

Older Brother did everything he was supposed to do. He had the rule book and he followed it. He wasn’t the one breaking curfew. He wasn’t smoking pot with his loser friends. He “saved” himself for marriage, for goodness sake! He was a good kid. So where is the wrong?

When Dad threw the party of the year for Younger Brother returning, Older Brother couldn’t forgive. No way. It wasn’t fair. And while the rest of the village ate lamb, drank wine, and danced in celebration, Older sat in his hut pouting.

I relate to Older. 
I don’t want to. 
And though I’m nowhere as perfect as Older, I do.

I feel resentment in my gut when I do the right thing, but someone who doesn’t is glorified in some way. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s there nonetheless. And I wonder, is it a birth order thing?

I’ve spoken with other oldest siblings who feel similar. I’ve spoken with youngest siblings who take on the philosophy, “Let it go,” as if it were completely effortless to do so. I watch my own two daughters and they have fallen in these older/younger stereotypes without any prompting.

Please don’t misunderstand. When we leave this earth, I am happy for all of us to be in heaven. I will not be outside the pearly gates pouting if the murdering, bank robber gets in. I know when I get to that point my heart will be pure and at rest.

It’s the here and now with which I’m having a tough time. 

How do you relate to the Parable of the Prodigal Son? Do you think your feelings relate to your birth order?


  1. HH says

    Love your honesty. I'm a firstborn but don't really feel that way. My brother was a prodigal son and I was so happy when he returned to the family. Even though we all welcomed him, he still considers himself the black sheep, 20 years later.

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