How is your Spring Break going? Are you enjoying the spring temperatures, sunshine, time with family, and easier pace? Are you taking long leisurely walks and soaking in the beauty of daffodils, hyacinth, and the first shoots of tulips? Are you content? Or are you envious of the folks skiing in Colorado, jealous of the folks at Disney World, or anxious that you will never measure up or have the chance to do half or any of the things you see others doing on Facebook? Even their dogs are cuter or more obedient! Now I’m just upset.
Nothing crushes our souls and steals our joy quite like comparison. Comparison leads to false pride or envy, jealousy, malice, and contempt. True joy and happiness come when we live for an audience of “ONE.” Paul writes to the early church, “I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am” (Philippians 4:11-13, The Message).
The writer to the Hebrews gives similar counsel, “Be relaxed with what you have. Since God assured us, “I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you” (Hebrews 13:5-6). When we forget that God is with us and that Jesus has saved us through His sacrifice, we are tempted to take offense at the talents, success, or good fortune of others. This is one of the deadly sins known as jealousy or envy. You may recognize this as the feeling you get when you see a photo of someone else’s toes at the end of a beach blanket on the sand with a backdrop of beautiful blue water and a stinking awesome sunset. When is the last time you thought to yourself, “I’m so happy for them! I think I will send them a thank you note for making my day after I scrape the ice off my windshield so I can go home from work?” Let’s just say, I bet it is rare. If we are not careful, this envy can turn into malice where we have “ill-will” towards them, slander their time of re-creation, and even level criticism about their lifestyle. And if someone gently tries to remind us that we are being unkind, we always have our fall back response of, “Well, it’s true!”
Finally, left unchecked, we can become people not of light but of dark contempt, where we are prejudiced against both those who have more and against those who have less. We can become miserable folk who ridicule other persons, institutions, or ideals without any real answers of our own.
The answer to this sorry state of affairs is, of course, Jesus. He taught that, as Dallas Willard puts it, “under the rule of God, the rich and the poor have no necessary advantage over each other with regard to well-being or well-doing in this life or the next…the gospel is for the up-and-in as well as for the down-and-out, equally so and equally essential.”
The corrective to our “pity-party” is to choose an attitude of simplicity. Richard Foster in his classic Celebration of Discipline says, “if what we have we believe we have gotten, and if what we have we believe we must hold onto, and if what we have is not available to others, then we will live in anxiety.” However, if we receive what we have as a gift from God, and know that it is God’s business, and not ours, to care for what we have, and to make our goods available to others, then we truly believe that God is who Jesus says he is, and we are no longer afraid.
Jesus calls us to a life of peace in the present. It is possible. I hope you will join us this weekend to find out the secret of contentedness. Come celebrate what the Lord has done for you and for the world, and be content that what God says is “enough,” is enough.