In the 1998 rom-com You’ve Got Mail (#46 on my Favorite Movies list) Meg Ryan’s character laments “I live a small life. Well, valuable but small. And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it or because I haven’t been brave?”
I must admit that I often have a similar inner dialogue, except I am not quite so convinced that my life has been all that valuable thus far. I beat myself up about not being as professionally successful as I thought I’d be once upon a time. I feel isolated and contemplate my lack of friends, dearth of communal interaction, and complete absence of any semblance of a love life. I wonder where it all went so wrong and ponder decades of mistakes, misfortune, wrong turns, and bad decisions. And I convince myself that I am the only person in the world who has these thoughts because e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e else is happier, more successful, and completely content with their wonderful lives.
Social media does one no favors with this struggle. A person can log onto Facebook on a daily basis and see family members, fellow church members, or old chums from school & work proudly displaying photos of or understandably boasting about their wonderful spouse, fun & entertaining city, beautiful children, awesome job, expensive home, cool new car, and amazing vacation. I often see others going to concerts, having cookouts with friends & family, and painting the town red every weekend, all while I sit at home by myself reading a book, watching TV, and chillin’ with my dog.
But then I see other things. I read an obituary of a lovely 20-something whose life was cut short by something the paper politely does not mention. I see that the divorce rate is 50%…give or take…and personally know far too many people who have gone through the ordeal. I observe a multitude of homeless, illiterate people wandering the streets of my hometown. I know of those who have committed or atleast attempted suicide. I see the negative effects of joblessness & economic woes. I hear about people’s battles with serious illness.
It is in these moments of clarity that I understand that my life ain’t half bad.
Why then, do I (and others) oftentimes feel such regret?? Why does seeing what others have spark an unhealthy fusion of animosity & sadness?? As usual, my friend The Owl pointed me in the right direction for the answer.
The Bible has literally dozens of verses that speak of a particular word. That word is “covet”. The dictionary defines it as being “inordinately, eagerly, or wrongly desirous of wealth and possessions or excessively and culpably desirous of the possessions of another.” In a nutshell, we want what we can’t (or aren’t supposed to) have. We become convinced that what we do have…our life, our stuff…isn’t good enough. We have a perfectly fine roof over our heads, but we want something bigger & fancier or in a better neighborhood. We like our job but keep our eyes & ears open for something more prestigious or with higher pay. We love our spouse but don’t hesitate to dump them for or cheat on them with someone hotter, thinner, or richer. It seems that many are never truly happy or satisfied and nothing they attain or achieve is ever good enough.
At this point I feel compelled to make two disclaimers. First of all, I am absolutely sure that we all fight this battle; it’s just that there are varying degrees of covetousness and some are more successful in overcoming the obstacle than others. Jeremiah 6:13 tells us that “from the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is given to covetousness, and from the prophet even to the priest,everyone deals falsely.” Even the most content among us has likely been envious of others at some point in their life. So if you are reading this and thinking “My humble Potentate of Profundity has lost his mind. I’ve never felt what he is describing.” then either you are a very blessed individual or you are lying to yourself. Call me cynical, but my money is on the latter. Secondly, no one is saying that folks are wrong for buying a fancy new car, jumping ship to a better job, or taking a fantabulous trip to an exotic locale. The point is that others are wrong for secretly cursing those folks under their breath and wishing they could have the car, the job, & the trip.
Covetousness is such a big deal to God that He includes it in His Ten Commandments. Specifically, the tenth commandment in Exodus 20:17 states ““You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.” So covetousness is right up there alongside murder, theft, lying, and adultery in the pantheon of things we are not supposed to do. Colossians 3:5 instructs us to “put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Mark 7:21-23 says that “From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t give a rat’s petoot about my neighbor’s ox or donkey, if I even know anyone that owns such animals. However, I darn sure notice other guys’ pretty girlfriends, wish I’d been to cool places like Vegas & Italy like a lot of folks I know, and wonder occasionally why I wasn’t smart enough to move to the beach like half of my graduating class. The problem is that The Bible tells me I may as well be out robbing banks, killing people, and sleeping around because I am still wallowing in sin when I covet. What is the punishment for these evil thoughts?? Ephesians 5:5 tells us that “no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” 2nd Peter 2:12-15 warns us about false teachers that will come along and “speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime.” These false teachers and the things they put forth “are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you, having eyes full of adultery that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children. They have forsaken the right way and gone astray.” The question that one must ask of themselves is “Is my soul unstable??”.
I don’t like to dive into these kinds of topics without being able to offer a solution, and what I have found is that the answer is always pretty much the same. You aren’t going to find what you seek in a pop psychology book or on an infomercial. Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Dr. Ruth, and Dr. Laura aren’t going to assist you any more than Dr. Dre, Dr. Seuss, Dr. J, or Doctor No. These sources might provide some answers, but they won’t deliver t-h-e answer. There is only one foundation that will bring stability to the soul, allowing a person to withstand the false teachings so abundant in our world. The psalmist, in Psalm 119:36, prays to God “incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to covetousness.” Receive your instruction from God instead of a talk show or the inane ramblings of some empty-headed, soulless pseudo celebrity and you should be on solid ground. Hebrews 13:5 implores us to “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Luke 12:15 says to “take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” I think it is okay to identify good people, look up to them, and attempt to emulate their finest qualities. But if you want to know what kind of person you should be just refer to Paul’s advice to Timothy in Timothy 3:2-4, in which he says that we should “be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence.” Paul didn’t seem concerned with keeping up with the Jones…or the Kardashians…so maybe we shouldn’t either.
- You Shall Not Covet Your Neighbor’s House (communionwithjesus.wordpress.com)
- You Shall Not Covet Your Neighbor’s Wife, or His Male or Female Servant, His Ox or Donkey, or Anything That Belongs to Your Neighbor.” (communionwithjesus.wordpress.com)
- The Ten Commandments: Commandments 9 & 10 (slapioneer.wordpress.com)
- Day 83: Under the Covets (davebetts.org.uk)
- 25 Famous Bible Verses (christianpf.com)
- George Carlin on the Ten Commandments (georgedpcarlin.com)
- The Ten Commandments: You Can’t Always Get What You Want (lbtk.wordpress.com)
- Time to get controversial (taochild.wordpress.com)
- Standing For What Is Right………The Truth Is Not A Matter Of Perception (niecey456.com)
- J. John’s just 10: Missing the Point of the Ten Commandments (thebiblerunner.wordpress.com)
- Desire (jonathanscorner.com)
- Churches adopt new Ten Commandments (telegraph.co.uk)
- Should Churches Update The Ten Commandments? (revivalandreformation.wordpress.com)