All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
– J.R.R. Tolkien
(Luke 15: 28-32) 28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’ 31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”
I am a 2nd grade instructional assistant, and I work at a challenging school. We have a lot of children with behavioral, emotional, and/or psychological issues, and there are days that seem to be completely consumed by one or two who are making poor choices that disrupt the entire day for everyone else. Yesterday was one of those days. We have a particularly difficult student this year, and we are all reaching down deep for those extra portions of grace, patience and love and doing our best to heap it all onto him each day, while still implementing the norms and expectations that are set for all of our students. It has not been easy. This child occupies a huge space in my head as well as my heart right now. On my way home from work yesterday, I was thinking about all of the ways that we have reached out to him and tried to establish positive reinforcements for the right choices that he occasionally makes throughout the day. We have to be hyper-vigilant, and it takes up a lot of time and energy. I can’t help but sometimes think, “How is this fair to the other children?” On days like yesterday, when one child is commandeering the attentions of both adults in the classroom for most of the instructional day, and the other 23 children just have to have their patience tried in every way and bide their time until the end of the day, I wonder about the fairness of it. The disruptive one is getting stickers and prizes for each baby step that he takes in the right direction…only to rip them to shreds within moments in a fit of rage, while there are students who make the right choices every single time…yet much of that gets overlooked in the moment. It is unfortunate, but that’s just what some days look like. We have to celebrate those small victories with our challenging one, because those teachable moments with him are like seeing the dead come to life!
I have felt that same frustration of the faithful son…how he must have felt when his estranged brother came home to a celebration. It hurts to be faithful and diligent and in turn feel as if you have gone unnoticed. When we give, yet never receive, it’s not weird to, at times, feel indignant. We have to remember though, that the Lord sees our faithfulness for what it is…even if no one else does. Just because we aren’t standing out, glittering, doesn’t mean we aren’t precious…like gold. There is no room within a faithful heart for jealousy and indignation. When those feelings arise, we have to replace them with good fruit…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Remember that yes, God loves us all on an equal plane, and though there are no levels to His love, there are differences in how He teaches us what we all need to learn about Him and about ourselves individually…because we are all unique. Does the longevity of my own faithfulness make me more lovable to our Heavenly Father? Nope. Does my faithfulness go unnoticed because I don’t get a standing ovation every time I walk into the room? Of course not! Some people are just needier at times, and require a little more attention. We’ve all been in that place at some point or another; we’ve all been lost, and every path looks just a little bit different than the one before and the one ahead. Our job is not to look around and demand equal treatment. We must instead embrace our own rewards, be grateful for them when they come to us, and press on…ever forward.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I am grateful for every step of my journey with you. As I seek to be more faithful to you, help me not to compare myself to others. Instead, help me to rejoice with You as You welcome home and celebrate the victories of Your prodigal sons and daughters. I was once a prodigal myself. Amen.