FOCUS – “I want what YOU have!”
by Lt. Amanda Reardon –
My father came to visit recently and wanted to buy a gift for each of my three sons. While a Nintendo game would serve nicely for 12-year-old Kyle, I asked him to buy the same toy for our 3-year- and almost-2-year-olds, or there would be a fight upon returning home from the store. Wesley might be dead certain he wanted a new hockey stick, but after the purchase was complete, David’s new Buzz Lightyear would instantly become more appealing…and vice versa.
We went to the toy store and my father found a stack of flashy, loud, large emergency vehicles. He suggested an ambulance for one boy and a fire truck for the other. “No,” I said firmly, “the toys must be identical. Trust me.” In the end, two fire trucks were purchased and they were indeed identical in every way.
When we got home, my father placed the two trucks on the floor. Wesley was nearest (and is prone to make the bigger protest), so Dad said, “Wesley, which one do you want?” Wesley eyed them carefully and then replied, “I want whichever one is David’s.”
It is instinctive for our carnal nature to covet what others have. But not only is coveting a sin in and of itself, it is also the bedrock for so many, varied sins. For example, coveting leads to the pursuit of another person’s spouse, the greed that prompts theft, the jealousy that ends in murder. And even though biblical accounts and other historical anecdotes are laden with warning, mankind continues to indulge in selfish desire and reap its bitter fruit.
I do not know why God distributes material wealth as he does. There are those whom he has made financially shrewd. There are others who are “fortunate” beneficiaries of his (seemingly arbitrary) will. Possessions are of little consequence to God, and he expects us to feel likewise ( Matthew 6: 19 – 33). But it is no secret that Christians, like everyone else, look longingly at the bounty of others. Even so, we recognize this as sin and work to uproot it.
I do know, however, why God distributes the blessings of human talent and spiritual gifts as he does.
It is because God has designed each of us to fill a certain role in the body of Christ so that it may function in perfect health. Unfortunately, covetousness sets in even where gifts and talents are concerned. Like my young son, we look up to God and say, “I want whichever one is David’s! I don’t want to be good at clerical work, I want to play the piano. I don’t want to have the gift of teaching, I want the gift of helps.” There are people laboring behind the scenes who feel they could be happier in the spotlight (and sometimes even resent those who are). There are people in the spotlight who feel it could be less draining to have more of a supportive role (and sometimes under-appreciate those who do).
It is not as easy to recognize these feelings as sinful. Perhaps the ugliest, most dangerous sins are those shrouded by motives that appear devout. A perfect example of this is found in the semi-fictional, semi-biographical film Amadeus. Composer Salieri was initially agitated with God for bestowing greater musical talent upon the irreverent young Mozart. This agitation grew frenetic. Salieri could not understand why God would give the larger portion of talent to the untamable Mozart, when he himself only wanted to use his musical talent to glorify God. Salieri did not realize how transparent he was. If God’s glory was his chief concern, he would have left the dispersion of talent in God’s hands without complaint. The true problem was Salieri’s ego.
In his “Prayer for the Blessed State of Self-Abandonment,” Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade exclaimed:
“Thy will be done! Yes, my God, yes to whatever may please thee. May all thy holy wishes be fulfilled. I renounce mine which are blind, perverse and corrupted by that despicable ego…”
It does not matter what we want to do for the Kingdom of God, it matters what he wants us to do. Realizing that our human talents and spiritual gifts are bestowed by God, let us not attempt to root them in personal pride, as if we could take any credit for what God has given us. If not rooted in pride, envy will have no opportunity to spoil the fruit. These gifts and talents are to be cultivated so that they may whet the world’s appetite, and lead the world to the Bread of Life. May we embrace what talents and gifts God has entrusted to us, and use them aptly to this end.