“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered 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.-
In the last year of her life, I walked with my mother-in-law through the complicated and difficult journey of understanding Jesus inside a terminal cancer diagnosis. During our conversations, she struggled with an abundance of questions: “Why me?” “Why now?” “Why this?” but the hardest of all was “Will God accept me?”
You see, for her, it had always been about earning it. She was a hard worker, a generous person, a foster parent, and an advocate for justice. But at the end of the day, she still found herself asking, “How good is good enough?”
I was honored with the opportunity to officiate her memorial service and told this story from Luke 15. In it, one brother decides to strike out on his own and lives wildly, frivolously, squandering it all on sensory pleasures and temporary delights. When hardship strikes, however, he returns home to ask his father for a job as a servant. For him, the goodness of his return home certainly did not seem good enough. Yet when he returns, his father runs to him from far off, gives him a ring and a robe and throws a joyous party, declaring, “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” To his father, his simple act of return was good enough.
While it’s easy to see the message of God in this brother’s story, there is another brother in the mix—the older brother—the one who never left, the one who worked hard, the one who honored his father and did everything he was asked. The one who didn’t get a party because he never left to begin with. This brother got mad. So mad, in fact, that he refused to celebrate his brother’s return at all and instead got angry at his father for never throwing him a party, never giving him gifts, and never making him a huge meal to share with his friends. He believed he had always been good enough, yet he wasn’t the one being celebrated.
And all his father says in return is “my son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”
The reality in the story of these brothers and our own is that there is no good enough. Instead, the truth is that there is more than enough for all of us—God’s love is not scarce or something to covet. It is freely, fully, and generously available to all who ask for it.
And I had the blessing to share that good news with my mother-in-law, who received it gladly, giving her the peace of knowing that she could run into the welcoming arms of Jesus when she met him face-to-face.
Spend time celebrating God’s generous love in your life. Write down three things you are grateful for, then pray them back to God with thanksgiving.