Being somewhat talented in words can, I am afraid, make me a bit of a snob. I am ashamed of this. I am ashamed to admit that I probably would not have listened as I should have to Moses (who said, "I am not eloquent ... I am slow of speech) or Enoch (who described himself also as "slow of speech"). I admit that I am impressed by--not sophistry--but good wordsmithery. And so it is no surprise that one of my favorite speakers among current General Authorities is Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. In particular, I return to "The Other Prodigal" again and again, attempting to turn myself into a good person.
He begins by retelling the parable:
Among the most memorable parables the Savior ever told is the story of a foolish younger brother who went to his father, asked for his portion of the estate, and left home to squander his inheritance ... in "riotous living." His money and his friends disappeared sooner than he thought possible--they always do--and a day of terrible reckoning came thereafter--it always does. In the downward course of all this he became a keeper of pigs, one so hungry, so stripped of sustenance and dignity that he "would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat." But even that consolation was not available to him.
Then the scripture says encouragingly, "He came to himself." He determined to find his way home, hoping to be accepted at least as a servant in his father's household. The tender image of this boy's anxious, faithful father running to meet him and showering him with kisses is one of the most moving and compassionate scenes in all of holy writ. It tells every child of God, wayward or otherwise, how much God wants us back in the protection of His arms.
But today we're not talking about that son.
...being caught up in this younger sonÂs story, we can miss, if we are not careful, the account of an elder son, for the opening line of the Savior's account reads, "A certain man had two sons"--and He might have added, "both of whom were lost and both of whom needed to come home."
I am that second son.
I was out in the fields working today, dutifully, as I have always done. And when I arrived home, caked in sweat and dust, I saw a party in full force, celebrating my brother who ran away and squandered his share of the family's wealth and who is now being treated like a war hero.
I am bitter.
Feeling unappreciated and perhaps more than a little self-pity, this dutiful son--and he is wonderfully dutiful--forgets for a moment that he has never had to know filth or despair, fear or self-loathing. He forgets for a moment that every calf on the ranch is already his and so are all the robes in the closet and every ring in the drawer. He forgets for a moment that his faithfulness has been and always will be rewarded.
No, he who has virtually everything, and who has in his hardworking, wonderful way earned it, lacks the one thing that might make him the complete man of the Lord he nearly is. He has yet to come to the compassion and mercy, the charitable breadth of vision to see that this is not a rival returning. It is his brother.
Holland calls this a "fictional affront." And he's right. The only reason I have become suddenly unhappy is "because another has had some good fortune as well."
I am under the false impression that, if my father loves my brother, he therefore loves me less. "But God does not work this way."
He does not mercilessly measure [us] against [our] neighbors. He doesn't even compare [us] with each other. His gestures of compassion toward one do not require a withdrawal or denial of love for [another]. He is divinely generous to [all of us].
The trick is to learn to feel that way about each other.
Fob began as a place where a few writers serious about the discipline could gather and help each other grow. And, I think, Fob has been a success. But I will make a few admissions here:
When Master Fob finished his third novel before I started my second, I felt like he wasn't leaving room for me in the marketplace.
When Melyngoch broke my heart on paper, I felt I might as well microwave my computer.
When Queen Zippergut read scenes that my wife laughed at more than she ever has at my stuff, I felt like fading away.
It's as if I think that the amount of talent God has given the world is limited, and every ounce of talent someone else shows is one more ounce that has been denied me.
Quoting Elder Holland quoting Henri J. M. Nouwen:
In a world that constantly compares people, ranking them as more or less intelligent, more or less attractive, more or less successful, it is not easy to really believe in a love [or a God] that does not do the same. When I hear someone praised, it is hard not to think of myself as less praiseworthy; when I read about the goodness and kindness of other people, it is hard not to wonder whether I myself am as good and kind as they; and when I see trophies, rewards, and prizes being handed out to special people, I cannot avoid asking myself why that didnÂt happen to me.
We are trained to compare ourselves to others, to find our worth in being more than someone else.
I'm glad to say that my fellow Fobsters have never struck me as being hateful towards each another just because they are also good. They've been quite good examples to me.
Among Elder Holland's recommendations for overcoming these prodigal tendencies are applauding the work of others and serving others. Fob has applauded me so roundly as to almost make me cry. They've selflessly helped me craft better work, leaving me better than I was.
This is Zion. These are the people who love you as themselves and find joy in your successes. When Master Fob became the first of us to make money, I don't remember us being ashamed of ourselves or hating him. And that's right--that is how God is with us.
To quote Nephi (whose personality I find annoying, but that's just me being wicked again),
Hath he [the Lord God] commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.
Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden.
We are alprivilegeded. We are all equal candidates for salvation.
I know this is true. I still have many, many moments where I let another's success make me feel less, but I know this is a lie. I know God loves me like he loves you. And if I can learn to love you as he does, I can be truly happy for your successes--every bit as much as I am for mine--and I will do all I can for you. As you do for me.
Brothers and sisters, I testify that no one of us is less treasured or cherished of God than another. I testify that He loves each of us--insecurities, anxieties, self-image, and all. He doesn't measure our talents or our looks; He doesn't measure our professions or our possessions. He cheers on every runner, calling out that the race is against sin, not against each other. I know that if we will be faithful, there is a perfectly tailored robe of righteousness ready and waiting for everyone, "robes ... made ... white in the blood of the Lamb." May we encourage each other in our effort to win that prize is my earnest prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Last week's svithe.