Temper tantrums. Whether two or sixty-two, meltdowns can be triggered by blocked goals, deferred desires, or perceived injustices. The volatile combination of entitlement and disappointment makes for great fireworks as well as waterworks.
To be fair, there are times when we are understandably overwhelmed and do things to solicit the attention and care of others. I remember being called names at school and running home sobbing; my loudly-slammed bedroom door signaling that someone should come investigate!
Almost immediately, I heard my dad’s footsteps on the stairs and a light knock on my door. Seconds later, I was cradled on his lap and pouring out my sad tale of woe. Good dads love, even when their children aren’t acting very lovable. Good dads push past the bad behaviour to the crux of the matter, to speak truth and tenderly reassure us of our worth and their rock-solid love. How do I know? That wasn’t my first or last tantrum and my dad came to me – every time.
Luke 15 begins, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Ignoring their scorn, Jesus responds with three stories about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. Jesus exclaims that there is greater celebration in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 self-righteous individuals who don’t think they need to.
In the parable of the lost son, Jesus provocatively changes the story line and says that rather than punishing the returning, repentant prodigal, the father passionately runs to him, covers him with the best robe, fully restoring him to the family and all his former honour and authority. He then throws his son a party fit for a king, inviting all his friends and neighbours to come celebrate with him.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
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!’”
Jealousy and rage turn to blaming and blind him to the reality that when his father’s assets had been divided up, as the oldest son, he had received two-thirds of the estate while his younger brother received one-third. Literally, all the remaining wealth of his father’s estate had become his and he had unlimited access to anything he needed or desired.
But sadder than perceiving himself to be a pauper when he is a prince, is this son’s self-imposed estrangement from his father’s deep and abiding love for him. He sees himself as an ill-used slave rather than the apple of his father’s eye.
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”
Ever met a cranky, rude, or obnoxious person who identifies as a Christian? Criticism, pride, and resentment mar their words and good deeds, even as they struggle to earn a love, favour and blessing that is already theirs. They cannot celebrate, much less extend, the extravagant grace and love of God to others because they have not fully experienced it themselves. Those who are filled with God’s transformative love cannot help but overflow with gratitude, becoming a conduit of that same love to others.
Whether we’re a rebellious run-away or a miserable martyr, the prescription is the same. We all need our Father’s love, forgiveness, and gracious care. How marvelous to know there is a superlative love that pursues!
Cynthia Pelletier is the pastor of Kinnaird Church of God.