The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.
– Luke 15:12-13
An inheritance claimed too soon
will not be blessed at the end.
– Proverbs 20:21
It’s pretty incredible to me how three children can come from the same parents and be so wildly different. In our house, one of the ways this is most apparent is the way my children handle money.
My middle is the quintessential saver. She rarely spends her money, and if she does, she has thought long and hard about what to do with it. My youngest is a “multiplier.” She does this by trying to combine with her sister to pool their money for bigger things. She has been successful at this a few times. My oldest, on the other hand, brings the meaning to “that money is burning a hole in your pocket.” Before his sister has dropped her coins in her piggy bank, he has figured out where he is going to spend his.
The problem is these can be hasty, ill-thought-out decisions. For example, the second he had money from a successful lemonade stand combined with some from his birthday, he had to figure out right away where to spend it. His mind immediately went to a new gaming controller. But when he added up what he had and compared it to the cost, he didn’t have enough. Instead of waiting to save up more and get the really nice controller, he found the cheapest one that he could afford.
My husband and I both knew this controller would be a bust. But we let him get it anyway, and we were right. It didn’t last long before it broke.
The next time he had enough money to make a decision to buy something of value, he was racing toward another cheap substitute. This time we had a discussion about what happened the previous time with the controller. Then I challenged him, “What if you wait 48 hours?” I said, “I know that often when I feel like I suddenly need something this badly when I sit on that feeling for a few days, I don’t usually need that thing anymore.” Much to my surprise, he agreed. And much to my parental joy, it worked! After just a day, without any prodding, he said, “Mom, you know what. I don’t want it anymore.”
I wonder if the Prodigal Son had the same dilemma my son had. In his haste, he replaced the thing of greater value with a cheap substitute—his inheritance over the love and presence of his father.
Often we think we need something—a certain relationship, a position at work, or a material possession—when in reality, what we long for is something deeper. In our haste, we run to the things that we think will satisfy us. But if we take the time, as my son did, perhaps we’d see that the need we feel is fleeting and there is something greater we can cling to.
Spend some time in reflection. Are there cheap substitutes you’ve accepted in your life? Identifying them is a really good first step to finding the greater thing to cling to, Jesus.