Slipping over the horizon the golden sun disappeared for the night, and a warm twilight descended in its place. I stand up, my hands reaching to stretch my aching back as I survey the field. It had been a good day’s work. I call to the men that it is time to quit for the night. Although they are tired, the men joke and laugh as they make their way to the edge of the field to head home. They throw a goodbye over their shoulders at me as we part ways.
Watching them go, I turn back to survey the field in the deepening evening. We are doing good work here. I know that my Father is going to be pleased to hear of how much we have accomplished today. This field is only a fraction of the fertile and productive land belonging to my Father. I recall with pride how He had slowly turned more and more of the responsibilities of the land over to me. Now, I am the steward of most of the estate. It is my life’s passion to ensure that my hard work and dedication will prove to my Father that He had made the right choice in honoring me with this charge.
Continuing my contented reflections, I walk back to the house. Life is good right now. I know I am exactly where I need to be and what I should be doing. Not many people can say that. My life is predictable, down to the smallest details, which is one of the things I love about it. Tonight, for instance, I will walk into the house, wash up from the dusty labors of the day, and dine with my family. I picture my Father presiding at the table, but then a shadowing cloud darkens my thoughts. He will set an extra place again, as usual. I shake my head to clear it. I will not let a small irritation like this ruin my idyllic evening.
Nearing the house, golden streams of light burst upon my eyes, momentarily blinding me. Loud music assaults my ears and looking to the house I see crowds of people moving in and out. I stand still for a moment attempting to understand. What in the world is going on? Father didn’t mention anything to me about a party and He has never forgotten to tell me about such things in the past. I move towards this bustling, bright beacon again, quickening my pace. As I enter the courtyard I am jostled as servants hurry to fulfill the seemingly insatiable demands of the partygoers.
I interrupt one of the serving maids as she stops for a minute to collect her breath before diving back into the happy throng.
“What is all this? What is going on?”
“You haven’t heard?” Her face assumes a joyful expression. “Your brother has returned!”
She smiles at me, waiting for my expression to mirror her own. Instead, my mind reels. My brother? Home? The maid begins to move away and it takes several minutes for me to remember to ask one more question.
“But why the party?”
Too late; she has already disappeared into the crowd. My call attracts the notice of several partygoers, however, and they greet me.
“There you are! Join us! Isn’t it wonderful?”
I nod and wave to them, but still stand in semi-shock. After all my brother had done, how can Father be throwing him a party? My brother had all but stabbed Father in the back as he had demanded his inheritance, and then disappeared. We heard months later that he had squandered it all in the vilest of ways, and was left a pauper on the streets. After that, we heard no more about him, even though Father always asks for news from travelers.
Fathers steps out of the house, clapping guests on the back and beaming at everyone He sees. Someone whispers in His ear, and His face lights up as He turns pivots toward me.
“Come!” He calls excitedly, beckoning and taking a few steps closer. “Your brother has returned! Come and see him!”
My numbness finally wears off, and bitter anger takes its place.
“Have you lost your mind?”
I throw the words blindly over my shoulder as I spin and stalk out of the courtyard. I’m not sure where I am going, but I would rather be anywhere but in that house with those people.
I sit down under a tree not too far from the house. I can still hear the merry making in the distance. All I feel is bitterness. I am the one who has worked hard and faithfully for my Father. I have done everything He has ever asked. Even in the village, I have a reputation for being very devoted and diligent. I have never asked Father for anything that I knew I didn’t deserve. Yet here He is holding the biggest party I have ever known Him to throw, and all in honor of my good-for-nothing brother.
Footsteps sound behind me, and I turn to see my Father walking through the darkness to find me. I say nothing, but He comes and sits down beside me.
“What’s wrong?” His tone is gentle and loving, which irritates me even more.
“I am over here breaking my back for you and you never even hosted a small dinner party for me! He comes home, life in shambles, and you invite the whole village to celebrate. I have spent my entire life trying to please you and do what you want and require, but He goes and does the exact opposite and you reward him! How does that work?”
Father is silent for a few moments before He answers.
“You are right. Your brother has done nothing to deserve praise and recognition. But the thing is, I love him. When he rejected my love, I was heartbroken, but I can’t force either of you to love me or even accept my love. You must choose that for yourselves. Your brother returning to me means that he is ready to receive my love and all of the benefits that come with being an honored child in my home.”
“My question is the same! I have never rejected you, never trampled your name in the mud, and never disgraced you. What more do you want from me?”
I feel Father smile in the darkness. “Instead of choosing me you chose serving me. I have always longed for you give up your ambitions and hard work to simply love me. You don’t have to make me money, you don’t have to run my estate perfectly, you don’t even have to keep up my reputation. I have tried to tell you this multiple times over the years, but you have never listened. All I have ever wanted is for you to spend time with me and love me.”
The words softly sting. I struggle internally for a few minutes. Angry adrenaline is still rushing through my veins, but Father’s mild admonition and plea catch at the corners of my heart.
“But that’s what I have been trying to do! Isn’t all my hard work proof of that? I don’t know how else to prove I love you.”
Father’s tone is still tender, but it has also adopted a sense of urgency.
“You don’t have to prove anything to me! I already love you, and I always have! Don’t worry about the work. It’s important, but it will get done. Don’t worry about your reputation. I don’t care what other people think of you. You are my child, and I love you no matter what.”
I ponder these words and the bitterness begins to slowly ebb away.
“I want to love you more, the way you want, but I don’t know how.”
Once more I sense Father smile, His excitement palpable.
“I thought you would never ask. Don’t worry, I’ll show you.” We stand together and He throws His arm over my shoulder as we make our way back to the house. As we go, I am not sure of anything I used to be secure in anymore. I can’t rely on my hard work, on my routine, on my reputation, or even on my own common sense. There is only one thing I know for certain, and that is that my Father loves me.