Thursday, January 19, 2012

Good Kid Syndrome

By Lisa Karon Richardson

Most Christians are familiar with Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son. That rotten, greedy kid who got in his Dad’s face, and essentially said he wished the old man was dead. He wanted his inheritance now!

The father responds to his demand by giving him what he wants. He liquidates half his assets and forks them over to the rude little twerp. Of course, it isn’t too long before the kid has completely blown the opportunity. More importantly, he learns something from the lesson and comes home with a completely different attitude.

When he arrives, his father is thrilled to see him and starts throwing together a party. Enter the elder brother. Lets call him EB.

EB is upset. EB thinks that they should be rubbing the younger brother’s face in his mistakes. The kid certainly wouldn’t have received full restoration.

But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’”

Luke 15:29-30

Is it just me, or did EB just make the same exact mistake that he wanted to see the prodigal punished for?

He felt entitled to his father’s blessings, and accused the father of withholding them unfairly. His justification for his behavior is that he has been the good kid all these years.

When it finally dawned on me that Prodigal and EB suffered from the same attitude problem, I got an ick feeling in my stomach. I realized that I’ve succumbed to the same affliction as EB.

I’m going to call it Good Kid Syndrome. Sufferers of this handicap are under the delusion that God owes us something.

We think that playing by the rules somehow entitles us to make demands on God. Demands that we would condemn someone else for making.

One of the problems with this mindset is that we all think of ourselves as Good Kids. No one is evil for the sake of being evil. Somewhere in our heart we’ve convinced ourselves that we have a right to take whatever action we are taking. I guarantee that the Prodigal had justification in his own mind for his initial treatment of his father. He didn’t consider himself the “bad brother.” Not until he discovered humility.

Not surprisingly, the same antidote that worked for the Prodigal is what we require when we fall prey to Good Kid Syndrome.

Here’s a prophylactic dose:

1. Prior good behavior does not excuse current bad behavior.

2. God doesn’t owe me anything.

3. If he is withholding a blessing, maybe it’s because he knows I’m not mature enough to handle it yet.

4. Any blessing he pours out on someone else isn’t going to affect my inheritance.

How about you, do you identify more with the Prodigal or EB? Have you ever contracted Good Kid Syndrome? Did you have siblings that could get away with anything?

Influenced by books like The Secret Garden and The Little Princess, Lisa Karon Richardson’s early books were heavy on boarding schools and creepy houses. Now that she’s (mostly) all grown-up she still loves a healthy dash of adventure and excitement in any story she creates, even her real-life story. She’s been a missionary to the Seychelles and Gabon and now that she and her husband are back in America, they are tackling a brand new adventure, starting a daughter-work church in a new city. Her first novella, Impressed by Love, part of the Colonial Courtships collection, is coming in October, 2012.


  1. This message came up a few weeks ago at church. God doesn't owe us anything. Hard to swallow at times. Not because we DESERVE it, but because we feel entitled. Being saved from Hell apparently doesn't feel like 'enough'!

    Here's what I think- throughout the bible and in countless sermons and messages, we hear about how God Blesses his Children. There is story after story about how someone gets blessed by any of a number of ways we interact with God (EB or Prodigal, both!) Not just stories but outright promises of God. And God's blessings are usually bigger and better than our expectations, right?

    So being human, we think, okay, I'm doing what I should be doing, so, God will bless me. EVEN THOUGH we are also taught that we can't work for our salvation, we feel our works will get us something in return.

    I am so guilty of this. Not so much a constant 'looking to see what I'm going to get out of it' but more like the 'why didn't God bless me in this ...whatever particular action I felt I'd "done right" '?

    I have to remember that the blessing will come in God's timing and in a way that will result in my growth or for the edification of someone else. Rather than the little prize package we've been eyeing while being 'good'.

    So. Seriously, Lisa. Do you have any idea how much I needed this message at this particular moment?

  2. Deb, you wrote: we feel our works will get us something in return.

    I SO identify with this! Believe me I have played EB way too often. When I really have my heart set on something I tend to think that God must give it to me. I don't always consult whether He thinks it's a good idea for me to have it.

  3. oooooooo... wow. straight for the jugular post. I think I've fallen prey to the Good Kid syndrome a few times, until my mother knocks a bit of sense into me *heh*.

    I've always joked with people that I don't play the LOTTERY because I know God wouldn't allow me to win because He knows I couldn't handle that sort of instant wealth. While having financial independance would be a very welcome relief for me - the little girl in the back of my head knows I would be prone to stop looking to the Lord and trusting Him with my life (involving finances, but oh so much more).

    Anyway, this is a wonderful reminder to me to keep a watch on my heart and avoid the Good Kid syndorme.

    Thank you!

  4. This reminds me of my only negative Dandelion review. Basically, the woman didn't think Dandelion deserved a happy ending, even though she had completely turned her life around and submitted it to God. Said she didn't suffer enough consequences. Whatever! I happen to think God is a God of redemption, grace, and mercy. None of us can ever be good enough to earn a happy ending. It's all about the heart.

  5. Ha, Deb. Hope your jugular is recovering. Didn't mean the post to be TOO pointed. I probably wouldn't be able to handle winning the lottery either. A part of me thinks it would solve all my problems. And maybe that's the issue. I would start looking to money as my savior.

  6. Dina, great point: "None of us can ever be good enough to earn a happy ending." It's all a matter of degree isn't it? We think because we haven't sinned as much as someone else that we should have more rewards. But it's all sin! If we avoid consequences that's because God is gracious, not because we don't deserve them.

    God please guard my heart from EB's attitude.

    Sounds like your reviewer didn't quite identify with your heroine!! Pharisees really don't identify with anyone, do they?!

  7. Guilty.

    Great food for thought, Lisa. Thank you!

  8. LOL! You said it. Not me. Although I wanted to.

  9. Great post, Lisa. Yeah, I definitely struggle with EB syndrome sometimes. I'm working harder on trusting God--honestly doing it, not just saying I do. Not easy for me.

  10. Wow, Lisa. Heavy post.

    I always considered myself the good kid, but because my actions went against what my family thought they should be, I was considered the black sheep of the family. ie:
    - I read books in my room vice staring at the tube with the family
    - I went to technical vice high school
    - I joined the military vice getting a 'normal' job

    And yet my brothers are the ones who got into substance habits.

    Now if we're talking about God and getting into heaven, yikes! I try to be the good kid and I believe I'm going to heaven... let's leave it at that, shall we.


  11. You know I think it's a really easy trap to fall into when you're involved in ministry, Susie. I've definitely been there. More often that I'd like to acknowledge

  12. Anita, isn't it interesting how we all measure up against expectations? Things certainly don't always turn out as people would predict!

    It's good to be the good kid! Just gotta guard our hearts against that spirit of entitlement.

  13. Great post, Lisa. I especially like "Any blessings he pours out on someone else isn't going to affect my inheritance." I REALLY need to remember that one :+}

  14. Thanks, Jen. It's a hard point to remember because it works different than the world does. We can't quite grasp the infinite!

  15. Lisa
    jugular has recovered.
    your post wasn't too pointed for me - it was just right. enough to prick my conscience and remind me to guard my heart and thoughts.

    thanks for your post!!!

  16. Ha, DebH. Glad to know the wounds are healed. I'd hate to mortally wound a regular reader!



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