Sunday, 15 September 2013

Reflections on grace and on finally getting the Prodigal Son

I hate seeing people who don't deserve things get them. 

When I read that last Wednesday night, given the context (Miley Cyrus), I expected to agree and be exchanging ^5s, left, right and centre; with a big fat 'YEAHHHHHH!' Instead, I pulled back as if I'd been shot and thought, 'What a cold world it would be if we all got what we deserved.'

My inner dialogue continued, '[My favourite little one] doesn't DESERVE my love, but she has it. Does a baby 'deserve' to be cooed over, adored, fed, clothed? Does a violet 'deserve' the same amount of rain as an oak? Do any of us 'deserve' oxygen, the world's breathtaking beauty, a gorgeous sunset, a starlit night? The love of others, to be taken care of when we're ill? Have we *earned* it?'

No. But those are the things that make life worth living.

I grew up - I think many of us did - in a world where 'love' (read: approval, b/c it sure as fuck wasn't real love) was doled out in the tiniest amounts. An arm around my shoulder here for a good grade, a peaceful evening for a good report card, a word of praise if I was lucky. So I, like many others, grew up thinking of love as a scarce, precious resource, not to be 'wasted'. So much so, in fact, that when a friend sent me a long text thanking me for gifts I'd given her little ones, for loving them, I thought, 'NO! Don't waste that on ME!' Being loved like that, thanked like that, far more than *I* felt was warranted - or deserved, made me panic. I had no idea what to do with it, and it took talking to several friends - including a therapist - for me to able to accept it. Being loved like that might be what I want more than anything, but accepting it, acknowledging it to be real, with no strings attached, was something else again.

In the moment I pulled back at my friend's comment, I finally got the prodigal son. Giving the younger son his freedom and welcoming him back, no questions asked, when he chose unwisely and squandered that freedom - THAT was love. It's what we all so desperately want, but never dare hope for, and often, as I did with my friend's text, find ourselves unable to accept. That's why it makes us SO angry, because that lack - of either giving or receiving - hurts so much. We don't believe anyone - not even G-d - could love us so much for who we are, *that even our worst screw-ups don't matter*, that we can always come back to open arms. Love is shamelessly profligate.

But more than that, love gives us what we most need. The younger son needed to feel he was home and forgiven, in a way he could understand and accept, and that meant a feast. The father KNEW that. He also knew that his dutiful elder son didn't need a father's open hand, or a goat for him and his friends - to be whole and healed, he needed his father to challenge him to have an open heart - he needed to forgive his younger brother for going away and to let go of the resentment and rage that was his barrier to love. He needed to step into that feast to love and let himself be loved.

Because that's the thing about being dutiful, about being 'good', isn't it? It isn't about love, which is generous and open; it's about fear, which closes and constricts. 'Duty' and 'good' assume 'love' is that scarce resource to be 'earned', it's what we're chasing to finally get when we 'deserve' it. So when someone who hasn't been as dutiful 'gets' that love we so yearn for, we're beyond rage, because we feel it has been denied us - that we are rejected, unloved. But we're not chasing love, we're chasing approval, which is never, ever worth it - it will never become the love we need.

We so often portray the elder son as selfish, but he isn't: he's scared. He's terrified because he's made that colossal mistake we all make: he believes love is a finite resource, and that for one (his brother) to get love means that it is being taken away from someone else (him). He feels rejected, hurt, and betrayed, protecting himself by shutting himself in and everyone else out. But he's wrong. That his father can love his younger brother so deeply is a mark of how much he is capable of loving - and DOES love - his elder son. Not the same, of course, but equally, because love knows what we need, and we are deeply, wildly and wonderfully unique, needing to be loved in different ways.

Until the elder son sees the truth: that love is infinite, and the more love we give, the more we have to give, he'll be locked in a prison of his own rage and resentment, unable to walk into that feast of profligate love.

And that breaks my heart.

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