Growing up in the United States can be difficult in many respects. To be sure, there are many blessings living in this land but there are also pitfalls. For those who wish to know God and serve him whole heartedly, the "American Dream", capitalistic perspective, and consumeristic lifestyle are often heavy threats.
I'd say that it might just be me but I know I'd be lying. For many of us who wish to follow Christ and love God while living in the U.S. there are hurdles to jump over. Our culture tells us that we need more of everything and we need it to be fully ours. The new car, the trophy spouse, the nice job, the big bank account, the luxurious home, etc. Even in our congregations some of us have been told that we need to prioritizing obtaining a good spouse, to make money, to own a home, and more.
Marriage is good. Hard work and a job are good. Making money is not bad. Luxuries aren't evil. However, there is a vast difference between the perspective that claims a person must obtain all these things since they are high priorities and the perspective which claims that these are gifts and blessings that are given by God to a person in due time.
I often find myself looking at the lives of my friends. I see their marriages, jobs, families, homes, incomes, and the different blessings that they have. Instead of rejoicing in what God has given them I envy what they have, wishing it were mine. It's one of those moments where the grass looks infinitely greener on the other side of the fence. "If only I had this or that I'd be content" I tell myself. Yet, I know this to be untrue and unhealthy. I've been raised by my culture to think that I'm missing out and even failing because, at the age of 27, I do not presently have a wife, great job, impressive income, property, family, or the luxuries that my friends have.
I'm often told to value these things more highly than they deserve. After all, as good as these things are, they are all fleeting. They all fade away. I was not born with them and I can't carry them through the grave.
Too often I forget that all these things are gifts from God so that I may praise him with them. Too often I think they are things I seize for myself. Marriage is not for me. Family, home, income, a job; these things are not merely for me. If I had none of these things I would survive and I would even live richly in spirit. Many have. Many shall.
When I want what others have I must remind myself of several truths. 1) Whatever God does and does not give me is gift and worthy of thanksgiving and praise. 2) The blessings that others receive is worthy of my thanks and praise. 3) Whatever is given to me is not merely for my sake but for the building up of others and the glory of the God who gave the gift(s) to me. 4) Whatever I possess right now on earth is fleeting and thus it can not be nearly as valuable as love. 5) God wants to give me the desires of my heart when I am faithful to him and he will not leave me high and dry. 6) I can trust God at all times for he brought me into this world, gives me all I need, and will take me out of the grave and give me all I need for eternity.
When envy finds its way into my heart I return to a few key scriptures. I remember to pray that God my Father in heaven would provide me and all others with our daily bread, giving us enough (like with manna in the desert). Then I turn to Matthew 6:19-34 which states,
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. For those of us who get caught up in the rat race, these scriptures serve as a good reminder that our God knows what it is we need and it faithful to provide it. We, in return, must live in thankfulness, faith, hope, and contentment. I am not my friends and I do not need their lives for I am who God has made me to be and, accordingly, I have my life. I can trust God with my life, allowing him to be my master and for my heart to be in his kingdom and not here on earth seeking to serve and obtain all that the world tells me I should.
"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
"No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
May our hearts be at peace, giving life to our bodies, so that we do not envy others and find our bones brought to rotting (Proverbs 14:30).