The story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) is one that many people relate to as they wander from their faith, request unreasonable things from the people they love and then come back and ask to rejoin the place they once left. It is a story I could relate to as well. Some of the real power in this story is the power of the prodigal’s brother and how it relates to marriage. (Luke 15:11-32)
Let’s look at what the older brother asks and reacts to when the prodigal son returns:
“What is going on”? – The older brother, while working in the family business he already owns and has a future inheritance in, wants to know what all of the hubbub is about. Notice that he is out working hard, in his mind maybe “earning” his right to what he already owns.
He became angry and refused to go in to the party – Learning that his younger brother came back and a party is being thrown with the best calf, instead of celebrating and joining in, the older brother becomes jealous. He starts to compare his effort and rewards to his brother. He doesn’t understand that he could have enjoyed his brothers return and lose nothing – there was no cost to him and no impact to him or his inheritance in this situation.
“Look all these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.” – The older brother immediately points to his performance on the farm and how hard he is worked. The father knows this. This is not new information. I can only think that the Father at this point is wondering why, at this point, we are even talking about what the older brother did. You already have this – why are you asking for it – just receive it!
“You never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends”. The older brother attempts to make some comparison for what his brother has received, but does not make the connection that the goats were already his. All he had to do was ask his father and he would have received. This is like asking for access to something you already own.
So how does this relate to marriage?
1. In marriage we can get caught up in working or performing to maintain an image of what we want, we lose sight of the most important things we already have. Don’t get caught up working to uphold an image that either don’t deserve or don’t understand. If the image you are trying to maintain is completely disconnected from who you really are, stop performing to an incorrect image. Celebrate what is going on around you, many times it’s not about you at all. Even though the celebration isn’t about you, you can still enjoy the celebration.
2. Don’t point out all of the effort you have put in to your marriage to get some outcome you think you deserve. This is an effort in futility because you never want honor to come to you because you had to tell someone what you did, you want them to notice. You should assume they notice already. Striving to perform to get something you want only reinforces bad behavior on both sides of the marriage. If you are rewarded then you should also be prepared to be disappointed when your partner doesn’t reward you EVERY time. You also shouldn’t do things for a reward in your marriage. Love as a reward is really not true love. True love is giving and receiving and desiring nothing in return.
Stop thinking you are the prodigal in your marriage – you are the older brother – and stop trying to perform your way into getting something you already have but don’t realize.