Stories have power to help us see the world and people and ourselves more clearly. Stories and story-telling is ingrained in our DNA. Stories help us to understand things that are beyond understanding. Stories help us to draw out things deeply imbedded in our souls.
They grow with us. They change as we change. They stay the same as we change—as if they are the roots that hold us in place even as we grow and evolve. They help us to widen our vision of the world, our place in it, and better understand those around us when it is easy to shrink and see only what is obvious and comfortable.
It’s easy in this story to get caught up in the surface of the two brothers. It’s easy to get stuck here. We see this story in many of our stories…the “good” son and the “bad” son. The two sides constantly fighting. It’s all over literature, our movies, and tv. Who is good? Who is bad? Who deserves punishment? Who is redeemable? What is rewarded? What is good? What is bad? We can stay here a long time exploring.
We understand the brothers. We feel the injustice of the “good” brother. We get upset and angry with him. It’s not fair. He stayed where he belonged. He did the work he was supposed to do. He behaved the way he was supposed to behave. It’s not fair that he did what is right and it goes unrewarded. Worse, his brother gets rewarded for being bad. We understand this. We too want to stomp our feet and cry out for the injustice of it all. Especially when it’s siblings or those close to us where there is a natural “rivalry”.
If we’re being honest, we also see ourselves in the “bad” brother. It’s the part we don’t want to see and certainly don’t want other people to see. Perhaps why we are so upset is that our brother gets the attention for exactly what we try so hard to hide. We, in our own ways, know we are also imperfect and make mistakes and could be more disciplined, less distracted, and a little more kind. We know we have our own guilty pleasures. We’ve all been angry and took it out on someone else. We understand “bad”.
We all also have a tendency to point out “other people’s bad”, maybe as a way of hiding our own. We all have a tendency to want to be seen when we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing in the way we’re supposed to be doing it. This is why it’s so easy to fall into finger pointing. We would never do that. Why we’re so quick to judge, condemn, and dole out punishment for what we see on the news and around us. This is especially likely when it’s emotionally triggering; we rarely make (or voice) wise things when we’re emotional.
In some ways, this story is about just one brother. It’s about the two sides within us. The “good” side we want seen and rewarded and noticed. The “bad” side we want to hide away and distract others from seeing (and sometimes ourselves from seeing). We know we all have a shadow side, even if we try to pretend it’s not there. Perhaps this is why the “good” side is so very angry. He’s mad that his father would shine a light on this “bad” side. That he accepts it. Without retribution. Without punishment. Without the need for future promises or expectations in return. Both sides of our human nature are accepted and loved.
That’s terrifying. To be seen and accepted exactly as we are. Perfect. And imperfect. Perfectly imperfect. To be embraced with complete joy and love and forgiveness. Period.
We get so caught up in the good and bad part of the story, we neglect to “dig in”. We get stuck in the injustice of it all and we miss the beauty. We narrow our view and don’t see that if it’s only our “good” side or someones else’s “bad” side, there’s only a half story. And the story we tell ourselves is that only half of us is worthy of love.
What kinds of story is that? That we are only lovable when we conform and do what is expected of us? That we are only lovable if we don’t make mistakes? That we are only lovable if we are perfect? Good?
Forgiveness and love. Pure love. Pure forgiveness. Not tit for tat: I’ll love your if you do this, or are this, or behave in this way. Just, I love you. Period. It’s not my job to “fix” you or mold you into something lovable. You are already lovable.
Imagine being accepted and loved exactly as you are.
Imagine accepting and loving yourself exactly as you are.
We’re so busy pointing out the injustice of other people that we’ve closed off a part of ourself that is guilty of and capable of…mistakes and injustice. We don’t even remember the mistakes we made or we diminish them. We then easily condemn others for the same mistakes we once made. We unreasonably expect others to be better than we are. We unreasonably expect ourselves to be better than we were. When we’ve hidden away our “bad” side, it festers from guilt (which can be learned from) into shame (which is a feeling that there is something deeply wrong within).
Shame feeds anger, resentment, and injustice. There is no healing power in shame, only a feeling that we are wrong somehow. That there is not enough room for all the versions of ourselves. That we are only worthy when we are “good”.
This story tells us that all sides of us our worthy. All of us are worthy of love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and more love. It’s not about “good” or “bad”, but about the human journey. That we strive to be good, but sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes they are big mistakes, but if we cannot forgive our own mistakes, it is impossible to forgive another’s mistakes. If we are unable to forgive, show mercy, and love, we have lost sight of the spiritual journey.
Perhaps the story is about our ability to forgive ourselves and others…unconditionally. Perhaps we can begin with the petty injustices that we are still clinging too. Perhaps in starting with one forgiveness, we free ourselves. Perhaps in starting with one forgiveness, we free another.
Perhaps, our work is to begin to honestly see ourselves in the two brothers (or sisters) and practice being the father (or the mother). To be deeply honest. Deeply compassionate. Deeply loving. Deeply forgiving. Deeply merciful.
To leave the judgement, trial, condemnation, and punishment to those who’s job it is to do so and to do our work which is to love and forgive unconditionally.
So that we may be truly reunited in Joy and Celebration.
Of note: Love, mercy, and forgiveness do not mean that we allow others to diminish or harm us in any way. We do not have to invite those who have harmed us into our homes. Forgiveness is to let go of the ties that bind our hearts and minds to a story that perpetuates the cycles of judgment and retribution. Sometimes, live, mercy, and forgiveness is done (with honesty and truth) in our hearts and minds…in solitude and/or in safe company and sometimes does not include a conversation with those who have done us harm. The key is to break the ties that bind us to past, outdated stories that do more harm to us than good, and perhaps to give the gift of freedom to another who may be in need of forgiveness to move on (even with your forgiveness, this last is not your journey; it belongs to them).