If we are really honest, each of us will admit that acceptance by those who are honored in our lives is very important. I reflect on the old fairytale of Rumpelstiltskin which is a story of a poor father who practically gave his daughter to their King in order to gain the king’s favor and acceptance; falsely telling the king that his daughter could turn straw into gold.
Hopefully, none of us would ever go to such an extreme for acceptance, but many of us do other things for acceptance that we may be unaware of. In the story that Jesus told of the prodigal son, there was a second son in the story who was highlighted towards the end of the story. He was the older son of the two. As you recall, the younger son went out into the world to thoroughly enjoy his life. He learned the hard way that he could not truly enjoy his life without a relationship with his father. So, he eventually returned home, full of remorse for his actions, and to his surprise, he was fully accepted back into his father’s home. He must have realized that the rules he rejected, or the way of life was provided for his protection rather than his perception that his father was out to control him and ruin his life.
The older son appeared to have a different perception of his father. Consequently, when he heard about his brother’s return home and the celebration on behalf of his decision, he was very angry. He reminded his father he was the good son, remaining faithful and obedient to the rules and expectations, yet there was no honor or celebration for him. The older son must have been confused since he had worked so hard to please his father but was not honored nearly as much as the younger son who had done the opposite.
The identity of these two sons mattered because it gave them both access to their father and his love for them. However, at this juncture in their lives, they both had misunderstood their father. They thought he was a hard person who could only be pleased if they followed the rules; they didn’t know they were deeply loved and accepted, and that the rules were for their good and protection. The younger son learned this when he returned home. To his surprise, his father accepted him back into the fold with open arms. The older son was mistaken, thinking that his acceptance was based on his works.
There is much to learn from this popular story that many of us love. This father was just the opposite of the king in the story of Rumpelstiltskin who said he would kill the daughter if she did not turn the straw into gold, or her father who carelessly gave her away. Unfortunately, there are many like this king whose acceptance is based on performance. Yet, there are others like the father of the prodigal son, whose acceptance is based on identity. Such a person who reflects this father’s wisdom and love could be a good parent, teacher, police officer, or any in a position of authority that choose to value others based on their identity rather than their works. This does not mean there should be no rules, or that rules should not be enforced, but the communication of acceptance makes the difference in a healthy relationship from an unhealthy one.
As long as we live in our mortal bodies, there will always be those who will base their acceptance of us on our performance. Therefore, self-acceptance is very important, but even more, knowing that we are accepted by God. True favor and acceptance cannot be earned and is not based on our works but His choice to do so through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. All we must do is accept it as did the prodigal son, who allowed himself to be vulnerable before his father. I imagine, after the father’s talk with his sons, they began to build their relationship with their father on the foundation of love and acceptance, rather than their previous understanding of thinking they had to somehow earn it or give up.