Have you ever felt that you diligently try your best to do the “right” thing only to feel overlooked, unloved, like a doormat, or taken completely for granted? We all have. As I said in my previous article Carry On My Wayward Son you do not need to be religious nor spiritual to get something out of one of my favorite stories “The Prodigal Son”. It is also not my intent to promote religion, only to tell you things that I find helpful. Anyway, did you know that the Prodigal Son had an older brother?
If you read on in Luke 15: 25-32 it says the older brother was angry that his father was throwing a celebration feast for the Prodigal Son.
He shouted at 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!’”
‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Yes, the Prodigal Son did what he wanted. His selfish and wasteful decisions got him to a horrible place. The Brother also did what he wanted . . . or did he? If the Brother stayed home because it really made him happy and brought joy to work the farm, then there would be no need to be angry/resentful towards his father. I believe one interpretation that the Brother slaved and never disobeyed orders because his decision was based on his father’s happiness or possibly out of a sense of duty/obligation, and not necessarily what he really wanted for himself.
I also believe the Brother completely misinterpreted the intent of the party. The real purpose of the party was “Oh my God, my wayward son is still alive after all those disastrous decisions!” and not “Let us celebrate the better and more loved son that has finally returned home.”
We are all conditioned that in order to be accepted and loved we “need” to do the “right” thing – but what does that even mean? Most of the religious folk like to replace the word “wrong” with “sin”. If you are a “sinner” you are a “wrong do-er” and that is how most see the Prodigal Son: leaving home, wasting all his money on prostitutes/gambling/drugs/whatnot. So it makes sense. But by the religious folk definition, it would seem the Older Brother did the "right" thing, so what went wrong? Why did it seem he got the wrong end of the stick?
For a different definition that might help answer this, in Don Miguel Ruiz’s book “The Four Agreements” he said something that really resonated with me. He said, “A sin is anything that you do which goes against yourself. Everything you feel or believe or say that goes against yourself is a sin. You go against yourself when you judge or blame yourself for anything. Being without sin is exactly the opposite. From this point of view, the whole concept of sin changes from something moral or religious to something commonsense.”
What’s my point? It is obvious that the Prodigal Son was “sinful” because he made decisions that were against himself resulting in the loss of his wealth, health, and sense of well-being. But the Brother also “sinned” because he also made decisions that were against himself doing things out of obligation not joy and assuming the father loved the other son more. The Brother was clearly miserable but just in a different way to the Prodigal Son.
The Prodigal Son had nothing left but was still loved by his father. The Brother still had all his wealth and still had his father’s love. So the Brother never lost anything but chose to feel angry/resentful because he assumed there was a comparison when there really was not. Both had the father's unconditional love. The Older Brother was just as in much control of his decisions to stay as the Prodigal Son did to leave and I believe they both made poor decisions for themselves.
Do yourself a favor and do not be like either son in this story. These two sons are opposites and the idea is not to swing that pendulum from one side to the other. Make decisions that will help make you the best “you” that you can be and do not compare yourself to anyone. You will be much happier for it.