Last Thursday many of us gathered for the third of our adult Lent group. The theme was the Elder son. He was the one who stayed at home and yet in many ways was as lost as the younger son.

The first quotes, from pages 69 to 71 in the book, sparked off discussion about living up to expectations and the comparing that sometimes goes on in families. We quickly got on to the way in which the Elder Son was lost. There was a sense that for him his resentment revolved around a feeling of lacking something that he wanted. Right at the heart there was jealousy and the need to be given recognition.

The second extracts (from pages 72-74) developed some of these themes. The Elder son’s sin of resentment meant that he was unable to enter into the joy at the return of his brother. We talked about the relationship between the elder son and the father. Did the elder son have an impoverished notion of love, one that was about him being given things? He didn’t seem to have an innate understanding or knowledge of his father’s love. There is a need for attention. Sometimes our relationship with God is like that. Do we want to ‘save our souls’ or do we truly desire God, himself?

The third quote (From pages 84 and 85) included this passage about gratitude:
“Resentment and gratitude cannot co-exist, since resentment blocks the perception and experience of life as a gift…In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realise that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.” (page 85)

Many of us had not thought of gratitude as a discipline or a conscious choice before. Regularly thinking of gratitude changes our habits. It focuses on what I am grateful for and on what brings me life. It requires being open to the Holy Spirit and developing an awareness of God’s presence.

There is a reality of the spiritual life which means that we move backwards and forwards between resentment and gratitude; between desiring God and moving away from him. Our sinful nature means that this will always be the case in this life. Practicing gratitude as a discipline is one of those things that opens the possibility of transformation.

An alternative to gratitude is vengeance, which ultimately destroys the person wanting revenge.

Jesus leaves us not knowing the end of the story. There is an invitation to us here. What will we do? Will we let go of our resentment and enter into joy or will we stay outside in the darkness? Whatever we decide we need the Father to come and find us. We cannot find our way back by ourselves. It is only the Good Shepherd who can rescue us. This reflects the nature of sin shown in previous sessions: Sin is a conscious rebellion and it is the thing that keeps us captive. We are perpetrators and victims. We cannot find our path back on our own. We are lost in the dark and only The Light can lead us back. We also need to accept the help when it comes. The Father is never going to force the elder son to come inside. The son is free to reject his father’s offer is he wants to.

Henri Nouwen says

“ There is always a choice between resentment and gratitude because God has appeared in my darkness, urged me to come home, and declared in a voice filled with affection: “You are with me always, and all I have is yours.” Indeed, I can choose to dwell in the darkness in which I stand, point to those who are seemingly better off than I, lament about the many misfortunes that have plagued me in the past and thereby wrap myself up in resentment. But I don’t have to do this. There is the option to look into the eyes of the One who came out to search for me and see therein that all I am and all I have is pure gift calling for gratitude.”

What will we do, faced with this choice? Hold on to resentment, stay in the darkness and long for vengeance or find gratitude for all we have and return to the joy of the party, led by the Father?