A Subtle Refusal
By: Josh Waidley
There is nothing more natural than coveting. In some ways it is our most primal nature. The accumulation of things to benefit oneself at the expense of another is the essence of the survival of the fittest. In nature it is often bloody and brutal, your life for my dinner. In humanity and in my own heart covetousness is often far subtler. Covetousness is the refusal to recognize the integrity and personhood of another as you seek to accumulate something, be it material goods, power, status, security or influence, at that person’s expense.
When Jesus warns us to, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions,” (Luke 12:15) He has in mind a heart that chooses, again and again throughout a day to put one’s own desires over and above another’s. A heart that covets refuses to recognize the other person it is taking from as a creature created by, sustained by, and loved by God. It is a heart that says, “I see you, but I’m going to do what I need to do to get what I want”.
Covetousness is me cutting someone off in traffic in order to get where I’m going two seconds quicker. It is me in conversation with a friend making an offhand comment meant to remind them that they don’t know as much as I do, that my taste is better, or that I am in control of the conversation. It is me trying to hoard the attention of someone I want to respect me at work at the expense of a co-worker. It is me, gasp, telling someone looking for a seat at church that someone is sitting next to me when really there is no one because I’ve had a long week, I need my space, and I don’t want to talk during the four minute meet and greet. The more I ask the Holy Spirit to make me aware of any covetousness in my heart, the more I realize that it is not only there, but is often my heart’s status quo, its default setting.
The antidote to covetousness is gratitude. A heart of gratitude is one that recognizes daily life as the inexplicable gift it is and rests in the knowledge that everything else around it is superfluous, a manifestation of the sustaining love of Jesus, by whom “God made everything and through whom we have been given life” (1 Corinthians 8:6). A heart of gratitude stops and considers the person it is tempted to take from as a creature of such uniqueness and importance that Jesus would give His life for them. It is a heart that, as one writer puts it, “lingers and remains with another long enough to be amazed with their presence and astounded by their particularity…remaining open to the mystery that each person is” (Norman Wirzba, 2011).
In gratitude I look around and am content with both what I have and what I lack knowing, knowing that both are a gift. Gratitude is me taking the time to thank God for a co-worker who is annoying me, recognizing that that person is loved by our Creator. It is me stopping before a meal to recognize the mere fact that I am eating is a gift. It is me crying after a film like Toy Story 3 because it touches something so deep within me that I’m thankful even if slightly sad tears are the only response. It is me, in the midst of exhausting depression, expressing my despair to Jesus, remembering the words of 1 Peter 3:18 that “Christ suffered once” and being grateful that He understands my sadness and doubt because He experienced it Himself at Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-41). It is me knowing that when I cry out, “Where are you God, why have you forsaken me?”, Christ understands me because he cried that once on the cross (Mark 15:33).
Gratitude is me, in the midst of great suffering, thanking God that I am not alone, remembering the Psalmist’s words that even in the valley of deep darkness He is with me. It is me holding my newborn son in one of those “moments made eternity” where my heart bursts with so much thanksgiving it hurts and there are no words. Gratitude is me making a list of all the things I’m thankful for this morning and starting it with the big things, “Alex (my wife), Liam (my son), puppies (all of them)” and ending it with the silly ones, “the word ‘cucumber’ and YouTube videos of exercise ball fails”. Gratitude is me, in a dozen little ways throughout my day, echoing the Psalms, having a posture of heart that says, “Thank you God. You are good. Your perpetual, life sustaining, steadfast love endures forever”.
If you could consider both the things you have and the things you lack as gifts from God, how would that change how you pursue your needs and desires? How could you adjust your perspective to esteem those around you as beloved creations of God instead of entities to gain an advantage over? Take some time to list out all the things you are grateful for, no matter how big or small they seem, and offer them up in thanksgiving to your Heavenly Father.
This blog is a part of our Live Into Who You Are series where we share personal reflections of how the Holy Spirit redeems a heart. Traditional vice and virtue pairings are used to help share and structure these reflections. Read more posts here.