Neither height nor depth nor anything in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39)



“Get up!” Dad said and gently touched my shoulder. “Let’s go wet a line!”

I groaned and pulled my pillow over my head. “We never catch any fish,” I muttered. “We just stand there on the shore and the waves take our bait. “ I yawned.

“Catching fish is really not the point,” said my father. “Come on, your brother’s already loading the fishing poles.”

“That’s another thing, “ I said. “I don’t even have my own fishing pole. Harvey has one and I should have one, too. It isn’t fair that I have to just watch!”

“Harvey is older than you,” Dad said. “But there’s a pole in the shed you can use. Come on. Get dressed and I’ll get you your own pole.”

Reluctantly, I pushed myself up and out of bed, grabbing the shorts and shirt I’d worn yesterday. Hastily, I pulled on my clothing and  ran a brush through my long hair, tying  it back into a ponytail. I tiptoed past my parent’s room, where Mom was still sleeping.

“Lucky her,” I thought as I joined my father and my brother outside. The sky was still dark at this early hour. When Dad pulled up to the ocean a few minutes later, we were the only ones on the beach. We carried our poles and buckets and beach chairs down to the water’s edge. Harvey and Dad both had long, blue fiberglass fishing poles with spinning  reels designed for the ocean.

Mine was a short wooden rod with chipped red paint and a rusted reel. No way would my seven year old arms be able to cast the line past the breakers and into the ocean with that!

I’d never catch a fish.

It was unfair, I thought as I baited my hook. Just because I was the youngest!


The Gospel of Luke tells the story of another set of siblings, two brothers who lived with their father on a large estate. The older son did his father’s bidding without hesitation, confident that according to the Mosaic law of the time, he would receive two-thirds of his dad’s possessions as his inheritance. The younger son, however, no matter how hard he worked, would only ever receive one-third. It was the way things were. There was nothing he could do about it. He would always have the short fishing pole.

The parable of Jesus doesn’t tell us what prompted the younger son to defy tradition and express his displeasure  blatantly, but as someone who has spent a lifetime as the younger sibling, I can imagine always feeling bested by the first-born. Let’s face it, even if I got all A’s on my report card, chances were my brother had already done the same thing.

Luke 15:12 tells us that the younger son went to his father and demanded his share of what he would inherit. We don’t know why the father agreed, but we do know that in effect the youngest son was showing tremendous disrespect for his father. In modern terms, he was saying, “I wish you were dead!” Then he took off for foreign lands, recklessly spent all the money (which is what made him a prodigal), and found himself in a terrible situation with no food and no coins. He hung his head in shame and went back home, begging to be a servant in his father’s house. We might again be astounded at the reaction of the father, who not only ran out to meet the returning son–a most unseemly act for a man of his position!–but welcomed him back not as a servant, but as his son.


The story could end there. Most of us have, at one time or another, been the youngest son, letting our sin nature and our fleshly desires tell us to do what we wanted, not what we were told. Trust me on this: I’ve lived through three teenagers. But the parable continues to tell us the reactions of the older son.

Maybe for the first time in his life, the older son wasn’t the obedient soul he’d always been. He complained loudly to his father, saying, “Look, I’ve been slaving away for you all these years, doing everything you say, and you never even let me have a party with my friends! Now the kid comes back and all’s forgiven! It’s not fair!”

Let’s face it, we’ve been the older son as well, feeling short-changed for our efforts. We think our obedience will gain us reward, but we’ve got it wrong. The oldest son is, like many of us, looking for our obedience to gain us acceptance.

But that’s a transaction; that’s not love.


I stood on the beach with my short fishing pole, letting the surf surround my feet and sink them into the soft sand.  I still grumbled a bit, but when I saw my older brother use all his might to cast the line from his wonderful blue fiberglass fishing pole into the ocean and still have it return on the next wave, I realized I would not have been ready for the longer pole. 

I contented myself with catching a few sand crabs and occasionally held onto my dad’s pole with his hands guiding me. None of us caught anything.

But that’s alright. As my father had said, it wasn’t really about catching fish. It was about standing there at the ocean’s edge with the two guys I loved the most, watching the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean and knowing that even if I didn’t get all A’s on my report card and would always be the youngest child, my father’s love did not depend on any transaction.

And neither does God the Father’s.


Linda Cobourn

Linda Cobourn picked up a pencil when she was nine and hasn’t stopped writing since, but she never expected to write about adult autism and grief. When her husband died after a long illness, she began a remarkable journey of faith with her son, an adult with Asperger’s syndrome. The author of Tap Dancing in Church, Crazy: A Diary, and Scenes from a Quirky Life, she holds an MEd in Reading and an EdD in Literacy. Dr. Cobourn also writes for Aspirations, a newsletter for parents of autistic offspring. Her work in progress, tentatively titled Finding Dad: A Journey of Faith on the Autism Spectrum, chronicles her son’s unique grief journey. Dr Cobourn teaches English as a Second Language in Philadelphia and lives with her son and a fat cat named Butterscotch in Delaware County. She can be contacted on her blog, Quirky, and her Amazon author page.