EBS (Elder Brother Syndrome): the Silent Killer

“25-27“All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

 28-30“The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’

 31-32“His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!'”  Luke 15: 25-32 “The Message”

      All Christians have at some point heard the story of the Prodigal Son, how a young man cashes in on his inheritance, lives it up on the biblical equivalent of “fast cars and faster women” and when the money ran out, so did the friends and the girls. A drought rolls in, he finds work in the stable, hits rock bottom, decides to go home, is welcomed with open arms by his father, a huge party is thrown, everyone lives happily ever after  *cue the altar call and “Just as I am” on the organ* Few preachers mention how the older brother has a fit that the troublemaker got the party and not that his baby brother was home safe.

    But, the parable of the lost son is not to sinners off the beaten path, it is actually to Christians and their response to those retuning from the flock.  The backstory of Luke 15 details that Pharisees were giving Jesus a hard time because he was dining with sinners and the riffraff of Jerusalem (SN: Why weren’t these guys ever in synogaugue doing their job?), and Jesus gave parables to show that the response to a believer coming home should be met with a celebration.  And the prodigal son is the best metaphor for how we often respond. Consider the following scenarios:

1. One Sunday in church a member gives a testimony on through prayer and perserverance, he has been delivered from his drug addiction, you scoff and think smugly “How long will his, ‘deliverance’ last this time, 6 months?”

2. In the “celebrations” section of the church bulletin, you notice one of the deacons is engaged to a young lady you grew up with. Instead of congratulating the couple and wishing them well, you ask his mother “It doesn’t bother you that your future daughter in law has two children with two different men?”

3. During the altar call, a family who’s been absent from the church for a while returns and a few weeks later dedicate their newborn son. You and friends remember the last time they were there and wonder how long it’ll be before they “experience financial difficulties and need a love offering”, like they did withe their oldest child 3 years ago.

     All of the church members described in the following scenarios have the same problem, a terrible affliction known as “EBS”-Elder Brother Syndrome. EBS occurs when Christians place an over-emphasis on the shortcomings of a new believer, and find the blessings they receive to be completely unfair. Like the person it is named after, Christians with EBS don’t understand why their years of labor in the body of Christ have gone unnoticed, but the person who was just in jail a few weeks ago is being showered with praise for a tearful altar call.  It seems like bad behavior is rewarded, good behavior goes unnoticed, and it’s JUST NOT FAIR!

   The danger of EBS is that it not only is contaigous,  but it is autoimmune in nature. It attacks the Christian’s capacity to feel love and compassion, causing them to turn on each other, and slowly destroying the Body from within.  We can’t love God if we don’t love each other, and if we don’t love each other, people don’t think we love God either. And the world sees us acting like this, wanting no part of it at all. Making EBS the body of Christ’s “silent killer”.

      Another key symptom of EBS is denial. You’re NOT like the “Older brother in Luke 15”, you may say to yourself, you are simply giving a little exhortation where it is needed, and frankly, being honest about some things. Accountability is important, what if they make the same mistake again?  (Another symptom of EBS: Memory loss: forgetting that life in Christ makes you a new creation, a clean slate is part of the deal).

   Maybe in reading my post you have noticed similar symptoms and feel that you are battling a case of EBS, the good news is, it is can be cured with minimal effort. Here are the following steps to ensure a complete and total recovery of EBS.

1. Remember who (and whose) you are: “You have always been with me, and everything I have is yours”. As a Child of the Most High you have everything you need at arms length and knew it. That is something precious to always keep in mind. We often get jealous at the celebrations our prodigal siblings get, but forget that they would trade the “party” for not having to earn it at all. The recovering addict celebrates sobriety, but hates the path it took to get him there. The newlywed mom is happy to find love in God’s plan, but “looking in all the wrong places” almost broke her heart and wounded her spirit. By abiding in the vine and dwelling in the presense of God you have had access to his love, blessings and favor, and have been spared sleepness nights, tear-stained pillowcases, and pain and battle scars from “the school of hard knocks” that others have had. Don’t take it for granted. 

2. Work out “YOUR SALVATION” with fear and trembling: In other words, MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS! All kidding aside, when you are focused on making sure your walk with the Lord is how it should be, it leaves you little to no time to be concerned with others. If you have concerns, take them to your prayer closet and leave them there.

3. Join the Party!: “…this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!'”  A person coming back to the arms of the father and receiving the blessings of sonship is a cause for celebration. Be thankful that our brothers and sisters have found peace and freedom. In celebrating for them, a blessing will come to you.

  EBS poses a dangerous risk to the church, and can strike anyone at anytime, even the author of this blog. But, there is too much at stake for us to allow it to infect the body any longer. Notice the symptoms, act quickly, and it’ll be gone before you know it, and we can all rejoice in a healthy, active vital body of Christ.

The Beauty of Heartbreak

    Pain is a response that we as humans try to avoid, we are given anesthesia before and after surgery to delay pain, when we are injured, we take painkillers to function. For emotional pain or stress, we turn to a variety of things to make it go away. We like to think as humans that being numb would be a beautiful thing, to never know pain ever again, to live our lives without ever being hurt. But, there is something we forget about pain. It is the indicator to us that something is wrong.  What better lesson is there to avoid a hot stove than a burned finger, how many of us learned not to play with sharp things with a stitch or two. The pain reminds us that this is something dangerous, and something we should avoid. Pain can also be rewarding on some level. Think of the scraped knees you earned while learning how to ride a bike. It sucked when we fell off the  bike, but we bandaged our wounds, got back on, and learned to ride. Think of the pain that comes with working out in the beginning. You are so sore that you wonder why you even began. But in time, the pain brings strength, and does you good. The heart is no exception. As the most delicate of organs it is the one we shelter the most because the pain of heartache can be for some people simply unbearable.  But, there is something to consider in the pain of heartache; the choice of numbing it, or going through it. Some people choose the first option, to wall themselves off from feeling pain, and when you find a way into their  heart, they pull away for fear of getting hurt. But in doing that, they wall themselves off from everything.  In addition to keeping the pain at bay, you keep joy, and love at bay as well. I have chosen the secod option, I feel the pain, and feel it fully, but take the lesson from the pain. If I never had my heart broken, I wouldn’t know what to shield it from to avoid it the next time. If I never knew the longing of lonliness, I won’t be able to appreciate true complete companionship when it comes. How can I truly be grateful for the harvest of joy if I hadn’t sown in tears? And, how can I know and feel and embrace the beauty of real love if I hadn’t felt it in the wrong way. I came dangerously close to wanting to be numb. To giving up and resigning myself to never having the husband and family I have wanted for so many years. I have been told I’m too picky, I’m not picky enough, my standards are too high,  my standards are too low. I’m too reserved, I come across desperate, I come across as unavailable. And it’s probably all of these and none of these at the same time. But, the truth of it is, part of me is scared to try again, for the past. I never gave of myself so much and got so little in return, and the thought of going through that over and over again is painful. It’s easier to be alone, to give up, to accept that “it’s not in the cards for me” and throw myself fully into my career, and letting my students be my surrogate children. Why marry to just run the risk of getting a divorce? Why have a child to give them the hangups I have? Why give your heart away for someone to break it? While I understand the sentiment of a person who feels that way, I can’t imagine a more devastating way to live either. If I don’t marry I’ll never know the beauty of the covenant of a godly marriage (not to mention planning the Cinderella wedding that goes with it), I’ll never know the joy of hearing “I Love You Mommy” if I never have children.  And If I don’t take the risk of giving my heart away, I’ll never know the sweet sweet joy and release of knowing it is in the hands of someone who wll never break it again. So, for that I find beauty in my heartbreak. I know I will heal and in the healing be renewed and strengthened . Love with conditions helps you appreciate unconditional love. Some relationships work as “samplers”, you get just enough of a taste to whet your appetite for something more substantial and fulfilling. The problem comes for someone who is hungry and hasn’t eaten in a while, you return for the sample over and over again, not realizing that there is a full course waiting, and never feeling fully satisfied. So, I appreciate the sample for what it was, because it gave me a taste for what I truly want.