Happy birthday to someone else

by Rosie Adle

“‘That is how it is, Alice,’ said Frances. ‘Your birthday is always the one that is not now.’”

Frances, a young badger, explains this hard fact of life to her imaginary friend, Alice, in Russell Hoban’s children’s book A Birthday for Frances. Though Frances’ mother explains that everyone has a birthday once a year, it doesn’t feel that way to Frances when the house is bustling with preparations for her little sister’s party.

There’s just such a juvenile badger grumping about in many of us. It goes beyond simple jealousy. In resentment, we feel that the good things always come to others and never to us. Sometimes instead of a glass half-empty, we can become so unhappy that we believe we don’t even have a glass at all.

Maybe this was the problem of the infamously aggrieved older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It was not that he did not receive anything good in life. It was that his kid brother seemed to have far too much going his way. That undeserving punk got to be rude and greedy, demand his inheritance early, trot down the lane to squander it doing all the bad things that the big brother didn’t even know were on the table, and then come home to a massive party. Though I tend to resist siding with a firstborn, this one seemed to have a valid point.

His problem, of course, was that he was looking too hard at what someone else was receiving in life. When we’re staring at a pile of blessings next door, we miss the ones in front of us. And the stack on the other side gets us all rotten-hearted.

When we were children, our parents would scold us for eyeing our siblings’ plates at the dinner table. Didn’t we know we would have our fill of food at that meal? Didn’t we know our needs would be met in general? Didn’t we know we would each have a birthday once a year? Maybe we knew those things technically, but the bad little badger in us still gnawed. We wanted to know if someone’s tower of potatoes trumped ours, or if the fruit cocktail cherry landed in unfair territory.

How can we respond to the day-in, day-out temptation to begrudge what is not ours? We might tell the optimist to keep his half-full glass and the pessimist to keep his half-empty one, while we simply raise ours and ask the Lord to help us think like the psalmist, who says with faithful contentment, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” (Ps. 16:6).

Our hero, the psalmist, is not contracting a surveyor to size up his neighbor’s lines. He’s taking note of his own. They’ve fallen in pleasant places. He is holding the weight of his own inheritance in his heart, and it’s beautiful.

It might not be your birthday today. I know it isn’t mine. But the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. The Lord, who holds my lot (Psalm 16:5), has always given me my daily bread.

Yes, sometimes the lines, for us or our neighbors, seem to have fallen in places that are far from pleasant. But even then, all believers in Christ can rejoice that He’s drawn a line for us that will lead to eternal life. A heavenly inheritance is ours by grace, regardless of what gifts are (or are not) given us here below. Even in an earthly drought, our cups overflow with goodness and mercy. There’s a party being prepped that will last all the days of our lives.


Deaconess Rosie Adle is an online instructor for the distance deaconess program of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN. It’s not her birthday and that’s okay.

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