By: Staci Stallings
One of the lessons I caught in the Guilt book that I never got a chance to enumerate here is the concept of the Older Brother Syndrome. He never called it that in the book, but I came to use that phrase over and over again as I read.
This syndrome derives from the story of the Prodigal Son. In that story, the youngest son goes off, takes his share of the inheritance and squanders it. When all the money is gone, he takes a job feeding pigs and is reduced to trying to eat from their slop. After awhile, he realizes this is crazy and decides to go back home. He’s got this carefully planned apology about how he doesn’t even want to be a son anymore, just a servant… But his father sees him coming from a long way off and runs to him, restoring his sonship to him.
The older brother is not happy. He’s hacked. He won’t even go into the feast when his father comes out and asks him to. No, this boy’s got a chip on his shoulder, and he’s not about to celebrate his brother’s homecoming because he’s hacked at what he didn’t get in the deal. “I did all of this for you, and yet you never even gave me a goat for my friends and I to have a party.”
Let me see if I can explain some of the symptoms of Older Brother Syndrome as a way of explaining what it is.
A hard heart. You compare what you’re getting to what everyone else is getting and come up short. You feel vindicated in being angry and resentful of what others have because you’ve busted your butt for God and what’s He done for you lately? You do not realize that you SHARE in God’s wealth, that He doesn’t withhold anything you really need from you, that His mercy extends to you in your willfulness and spite. You withhold love from those you deem unworthy and lavish it on those who you think can help your station in life. When you see someone who is sinning, you feel perfectly justified in condemning them–if not outwardly than at least in your heart.
Do not be deceived, Older Brother Syndrome is deadly. It kills your spirit. It kills relationships with others. It convinces you to remove yourself from relationships, to condemn others, to act out of selfishness rather than love.
Understand, the older brother was in as much emotional need of the Father’s forgiveness, mercy, and love as the son that physically sinned. The older brother was in emotional sin, and it’s just as deadly though more insidious.
See, we tend to be shallow thinkers and even shallower judges. We see what others DO and judge them for it. The problem is, sometimes the sin lies beneath the actions. The actions may look right on the outside. i.e. “I did everything you asked me to do.” But they were done with a heart full of self-righteousness and a warped sense of justice. “I did all of this FOR you, and what did you ever do for me?”
Those suffering from Older Brother Syndrome are hard to take. They are often bitter and judgmental. They criticize and demand and demean. They hold themselves up while judging everyone else. They may do a lot of good works, but they do them to impress others, to gain approval, and as a bargaining chip with God.
None of these work.
Moreover, they are not very attractive… except maybe to others with this syndrome.
I can say all of this because I was once afflicted with a bad case of Older Brother Syndrome. I had a quiet case than some, maybe because most of my judgments were never put to voice, only whispered in my heart. But oh, I felt them… deeply. I watched. I analyzed. I judged what others did versus what I was doing, and ONE of us was always lacking.
It was a horrible way to live.
Older Brother Syndrome is a spiritual disease that will poison your relationship with God and with others. It will leave you sad, scared, angry, and alone.
If you have any latent symptoms of Older Brother Syndrome, now is the time to start reevaluating and repenting (rethinking) what you’re doing and why.
The truth is that we are all filthy sinners in need of a Savior. Big or small, our sin is enough to keep us out of Heaven and away from God. Whether our sin is in the physical realm or the emotional realm, the only way we get back is to fall on the mercy and grace of God.
When we begin to understand that the older brother needs the Father’s forgiveness every bit as much as the Prodigal Son did, we begin to understand how far away we’ve gone and how very much we need God to say, “Welcome home. I’ve been waiting for you. You have a place in My house and in My heart. Come share My joy!”