Sunday, September 15, 2013

How to Win the Race

So I recently read this talk given by Elder Holland back in 2002 titled "The Other Prodigal," and it really hit me hard that day. Almost two weeks later, I still think about it every day.

The story of the prodigal son was always hard for me to swallow, growing up. Maybe it was because I was an oldest sibling who had always tried my hardest to make the right choices and be the best that I could be, but it just never seemed FAIR to me that someone could do EVERYTHING wrong and yet get rewarded with the fatted calf. I mean, why try hard in the first place if you can just undo all of your mistakes and still get the reward? For someone who tried to avoid all those mistakes in the first place and who made a lot of sacrifices, I always resented that parable.

This talk, though, definitely put it in new light for me. The whole talk is amazing, but there were a few points that really stuck out to me.

When talking about the elder brother's feelings about his returning punk-of-a-brother, Elder Holland says,

"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. As his father pled with him to see, it is one who was dead and now is alive. It is one who was lost and now is found.

Certainly this younger brother had been a prisoner—a prisoner of sin, stupidity, and a pigsty. But the older brother lives in some confinement, too. He has, as yet, been unable to break out of the prison of himself. He is haunted by the green-eyed monster of jealousy. He feels taken for granted by his father and disenfranchised by his brother, when neither is the case. He has fallen victim to a fictional affront. As such he is like Tantalus of Greek mythology—he is up to his chin in water, but he remains thirsty nevertheless. One who has heretofore presumably been very happy with his life and content with his good fortune suddenly feels very unhappy simply because another has had some good fortune as well.

Who is it that whispers so subtly in our ear that a gift given to another somehow diminishes the blessings we have received? Who makes us feel that if God is smiling on another, then He surely must somehow be frowning on us? You and I both know who does this—it is the father of all lies. It is Lucifer, our common enemy, whose cry down through the corridors of time is always and to everyone, “Give me thine honor.”

How often do we let someone else's accomplishments, praiseworthiness, or moment in the spotlight make us feel as if we're losing some kind of contest? How many of us, instead of choosing to be happy for someone else, take it as a personal blow? Even when we're happy for them on the surface, how do we feel in our secret hearts?

Elder Holland goes on to talk about re-framing our perspectives so that we don't view this life as a race against each other. If we are all in this together, then of course we would be happy for the successes of another! Because, really, it would contribute to the success of our overall goal. We would be happy, sincerely happy, to see others succeed as much as possible, because we're all on the same team. We would serve them, go out of our way for them, bend over backwards and do anything in our power to see them succeed, because that's how we would succeed. If seeing everyone cross the finish line was our goal (and it should be, shouldn't it?), then it wouldn't matter how fast we ran as individuals, but how we could work as a team to get even the slow-pokes to finish that race. Because that's how we win. Not by out-pacing others, not by personal successes, not by doing better than our neighbor. A wayward brother returning home after making every mistake in the book would be a cause for celebration, not for resentment. Because the steps along the way matter less than the end goal. And by the prodigal son returning home, both brothers win.

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