Sunday, June 27, 2010

A part of me I don't like

I've never thought of myself as covetous person. I've been aware of my struggles with sins "further up the list" - especially in light of Jesus' warning in Matt 5:21-32 - but coveting? I knew the commandment was there, but never thought it applied much to me.

Then again, I suppose fish don't know they're wet.

I've been getting a lesson recently in my own pettiness and covetousness thanks to reconnecting with a high school friend through a social networking site. We don't interact much, but she uses her presence there mostly as a personal blog, with lengthy posts about her life and circumstances. Through these posts I learned that shortly after high school she married a man who worked for an auto company. They raised three children, and he is now retired.


I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to pay for next month. I have a paltry retirement fund into which I haven't been able to put a cent in over two years. I don't know if I'm ever going to be able to retire, and here one of my high school classmates ALREADY IS! On top of that, one of the hobbies she and her husband enjoy is taking cruises. That's right - cruises on liners to places like the Caribbean and Alaska and Spain. They do at least two of these a year, and sometimes more if they catch a good deal. I've never been on a cruise, and consider myself lucky if someone asks me out for a ride on their boat.

How does she rate? That's what the covetous part of me growls - that covetous part that I wasn't aware of.

Of course, her posts also intimate that she has experienced a good deal of relational turmoil in her life. She's still happily married, but apparently there have been problems with the children, and painful rifts with siblings and cousins.

Ahh, so that's it! She might be retired and enjoying ocean cruises, but she's paying for it with relational pain of the sort I haven't had! At least that's how the covetous Roger reasons, with an outlook that would do credit to an author of Greek tragedies. The great cosmic pan-scales will be balanced, so though she's retired while I have to work for the living into the foreseeable future, she's having to PAY for that!

Pretty ugly stuff, eh?

Of course, I don't really wish any of that on her. She's an old friend and sister in Christ, and I pray that her family relationships heal and bring her no more pain. What I really want, when I give the Redeemed Roger a chance, is that she enjoy the blessings of the life God has for her - the retirement, the cruises, the seemingly good relationship with her husband, and God's grace in the places which aren't what they should be. I don't want her to suffer as some kind of metaphysical payment for marrying a guy who got a retirement package.

So I guess I'm not as free from covetousness as I thought. In fact, it seems I'm shot through with it, waiting just below the surface, waiting to emerge in the proper circumstances. I covet her early retirement and ocean cruises, and it's astonishing how quickly that covetousness eclipses all the blessings God has given me. When I'm coveting, I don't think about the wonderful Stratford weeks that God has given us, or the generosity of friends, or the blessing of our children. I don't even think about the blessings in Heaven that I consciously and deliberately chose to build up, over blessings on this earth. I just think about what I don't have. And the next step beyond that is envy - the part that would gloat if she had to post "my husband's retirement has been impacted by changes in the auto industry, and it looks like he'll have to go back to work." It shames me to admit that there is part of me that would be gratified to see that.

Clearly, I need a lot more work. I don't want those covetous and envious parts. I want all of me to be generous and rejoicing when good happens to others. How can I reflect Christ to the world if I'm full of covetousness and envy?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A different Father's Day post

Many people have written thoughtful pieces on Father's Day, mostly in praise of fathers (understandably). I'd like to write one from a slightly different angle. (I have an excuse for being a couple days late for this - I was out of state for a wedding over Father's Day weekend, and only returned to my computer today.)

As a father, I'd like to express my appreciation for my children. Father's Day is usually when children express appreciation for the guidance and counsel of their fathers. This is appropriate, but I also want to take a minute to express how much I appreciate my children: their character and integrity, and the soundness of the choices they've made. If I deserve any credit for raising them well, then they deserve at least as much credit for letting themselves be raised, and for making good choices in the long haul of their lives. They are all now adults, and I'm proud of them all.

Since correction is part of parenthood, especially fatherhood, parents can be prone to focus on the shortcomings of their children. They are (or should be) naturally attuned to when they make poor choices, in order to guide them in the right direction. I know full well that my children made some poor choices while growing up, sometimes directly contrary to instructions and advice meant to head off just those choices. But here's the important thing: they didn't make many poor choices, and they didn't keep making them. They learned from them, and corrected their choices to be ones that honoured God, themselves, and their fellow men. And that's what really mattered: the choices they made once they'd left home.

Some years ago, in the midst of trying to teach my children important life lessons, it was very liberating for me to realize that it didn't really matter how poorly my children learned them while they lived at home. The important thing was that they remembered the lessons once they left. Sure, it could be trying if they didn't learn earlier, but the critical goal was prepare them for what happened when they walked out the door. Fortunately, I had a handy example of someone who "learned late": myself. My father and mother tried to teach me a lot of things while I still lived at home, but I wasn't learning. When I got out into the real world, I remembered very quickly, and then I was extremely glad that they'd been so persistent. My children were wiser than I, and mostly made good choices even while they lived at home. By the time they reached adulthood, I can say without reservation that they've made choices that have made me proud to be their father.

So here's my Father's Day meditation: I have wonderful children who have made good choices. Sure, sound parenting has its place, but lots of better parents than I have had children who have turned away and chosen folly. If I deserve credit for my work in raising my children, they deserve at least as much credit for making good choices in life. God bless you, my precious children. I'm so proud of you.