Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The other daughter

Back to George and Martha.

Their youngest is home, safely at rest in her room. In their relief and joy they prepare to celebrate. Can’t wait for Hazel to get home--how thrilled she will be to share the family joy!

Hazel is the older daughter. To bolster the family business, she studied community development with emphasis on cottage industry. She works and lives on the estate in a small house set apart from the other buildings. Hazel is a valuable asset as she focuses her energy on development and resurrection of arts and crafts native to the area. Her vision is towards expansion, to increase the impact and profitability of what her parents have created. She puts in long hours, coming and going as she scours the region.

Hazel is her own woman, creative and effective, but always maintaining boundaries. She is less than close to her parents and judges them less business-minded than she likes as she pursues a stronger model and prepares for the day when she will take over.

Hazel was horrified when George undermined their financial base to give Grace that crazy spa. From a place of weary loneliness she watched her parents pray relentlessly for that ungrateful beauty while Hazel toiled to recoup the loss. She can be biting in her criticism: “Get over it! She’s gone! Move on!”

In truth, she doesn’t much like the family business. Still, it’s her inheritance, and it’s already been halved and squandered. So Hazel keeps her options open, alert to a better offer elsewhere, planning what she will do once her parents are out of the picture. Meantime, though a daughter of the house, she insists on a business arrangement. She has made herself an employee with salary, contractual rights and duties, benefits and paid holidays. She toes the line, and makes sure her parents do, too.

Just as she has stayed with the business, she has stayed with her parents’ faith—interpreted in her own self-protective style.

In fact, Hazel is due back from a two-week mission trip this same evening. Not quite in time for dinner, but George and Martha are delighted she will make it home by dessert—in time to celebrate.

Hazel reads their joyful text as the plane taxis towards the terminal. Can’t believe it. She’s angry. “It’s late! I’m exhausted! I’ve paid my dues, and now this?!” The house and grounds are packed with cars; alive with light, music, laughter. Hazel pulls right by and heads straight to her cottage. And yes, when she clears her front door there is explosion and tears.

But it’s not so easy to escape, to hide. Martha was alert for her car, and both parents leave the party to find her. “What’s going on? Didn’t you get our message?”

Cornered, Hazel turns cruel. “All this time I’ve stayed with the business! Gave up good offers and worked to salvage what your blind stupidity squandered! Put up with your naïve generosity! Stuck with your church, and even supported your missions. Look at me! I only just got back—again—but no grand welcome for me! I’m just staff to you!”

“Hazel! You’ve always been here! This house, your ‘employment’—that was all your idea!Your holiday—it’s up to you. We don’t expect you to do all this. No big hooplah for you? How we’ve longed to celebrate, but you don’t enjoy our company. We respect that. We give you your space.”

“And, Hazel, there’s plenty in this business to go around. You didn’t know that?”


Spend some time again in Jesus’ prodigal story recorded in Luke 15. This time you might take the position of the elder child. How does that child perceive the parent? The family wealth and heritage? His or her position in the household? Community, talents and gifts? Could it be that you are, or have been, that child?

What do the parents’ words of regretful love bring up in you?


Kathleen said...

You and Eugene Peterson, there you go, modernizing parables.... Loved it.

I cannot for the life of me relate to the older sibling, selfish, flibbertygibbit that I am.

I do always feel so sad for her though, that she doesn't feel loved. If she would just be, instead of do, do, do...

The secret of ALL good love is receiving it.....

Jeri said...

About a dozen years ago I was invited to spend a day in silence with the prodigal story. I was irritated because I'd been looking forward to a day of "magic spirituality" and here I was given this old Sunday School story. But I took it, and after hours of meditation my heart suddenly opened to that older brother. In so many ways, I WAS the older brother. Faithful, committed, hardworking, but seeing the Father as taskmaster and the inheritance and "family" as something for the future. Simply failing to appropriate the riches and fellowship that were already mine.

Years later I came to a place of identification with the younger son. Now (watch for tomorrow's post) I find myself increasingly standing alongside the father.