Thursday, September 19, 2013

Monday Morning Meditation #27: Thou Shalt Not Covet

Having found out late last night that I am leaving Lithuania tomorrow, with the last day of class and a slate of student appointments uncovered, I was tempted to pull an all-nighter in order to get everything done. Unfortunately, I am not a college student anymore, and all-nighters, while I have occasionally done them, create ever greater wear-and-tear on me. So, I tumbled into bed late-ish, started a dialogue with God, and quickly fell asleep, surrounded by the pervasive and somnambulating warmth of His love. I woke up that way, too, a couple hours later than planned. Oops! And so now I am squeezed on my Monday Morning Meditation time. I never skip it, and I hate shortening it, but this day is a two-fer: I have to squeeze all of Monday's and Tuesday's work into one day. As for the reading, I did not have to read far to encounter an event worth reflecting upon. In I Samuel 18, David and Saul return from the slaughter of the Philistines, and David receives more praise than does Saul. Saul becomes jealous, then angry, then attempts to kill David. At that point, God protects David and abandons Saul. It is a very potent 6-verse passage.

Reading: I Samuel 18:6-12

Meditation: God asks us to be humble, and it would seem that envy and humility simply cannot co-exist. If we are envious of what someone else has, we think that we are as important or more important than they are. That is not humility; that is pride. As it is said, "pride goeth before a fall," and Saul's pride caused him too great a tumble.

Upon very rare occasion, when I think back on my life both as a child and as a parent, there is a fleeting thought as to how things might have gone had we had more money, more ability to gift each other, a higher socio-economic standing instead of living in poverty first as a farmer's daughter and then through the impoverishment that accompanies raising several children with birth defects. The thought is always fleeting, though, because of the other ways in which my life has been enriched. I would not change any part of it, including the really difficult stuff, because all of that is who I am and from all of that I have learned tremendously and have been able to share the learning and make friends all over the world in the sharing.

I am pleased that my children have grown up without feelings of envy although they have always been surrounded by children with more than they have. When Lizzie, our oldest, was six, she found out that the neighborhood children all received many gifts for Christmas, and she had received only one, but it was a special one that we had to save for and that she had really wanted. "Shall we take your gift to your friend across the street," we asked her, "and trade for all her gifts?"

"No, no!" she said. "I want mine!" And that was the end of it.

The other children seemed just to follow in her mold. Of course, it helped that money was so tight that we would have weekly family meetings and have the children weigh in on whether they would prefer less to eat, a few days without electricity, or give up some opportunity in order to make ends meet in a family where pampers and catheters for an incontinent child had to purchased before a crumb of bread and life-supporting medical supplies for the youngest, who was long-term trached, had to come even before the pampers for that was a matter of life and death. Those kinds of experiences bonded the children in ways that are truly unbreakable and gave them an outlook on life that parents cannot pass on didactically. They very much like who they are perhaps because of those trying experiences and that bond of love.

I realized the depth to which the lack of envy had penetrated my children when someone asked paraplegic Noelle when she was a teenager if it bothered her that she could not walk. Her reply was priceless. "Does it bother you," she asked, "that you cannot fly? You have never flown, so you don't know what you are missing. I have never walked, so I don't know what I am missing. So, no, it does not bother me that I cannot walk."

It is interesting to watch my son, Shane, and his wife, Lemony, react to the many medical difficulties of their daughter, Nikolina (who, by the way, whizzed through her follow-up appointment at Stanford University Hospital on Thursday, leaving her attending physician walking on air over how well she is doing). They would like her to be able to walk, but if not, they will look for the best physical therapy and set of braces that they can get. As Shane says about Nikolina, "Walking is not a deal breaker; she is a keeper."

It seems that through him the lack of desire for anything beyond the bare necessities has quietly crept into the next generation. Little Nathaniel (age 8 as of Christmas Day) IM'd his Aunt Lizzie a couple of months ago and asked her what she needed. It was early in the morning, and she had just arrived at work. "I need coffee," she IM'd back.

Nathaniel corrected her, "Error code. You want coffee."

And that is truly what envy is all about, isn't it? It is something we want, not something we need. I cannot remember God not giving us everything we needed. Wanting is something else entirely, and, in my experience, wanting is not worth the effort or emotions that it causes. Just look at the difficulties it created for Saul: he wanted David's glory, and not only did he not get it but he also lost the presence of God in his life! Definitely not worth it!

And that is far as I can go with you this Monday morning. I must retire to prayer to repent for those times that I may have had one of those fleeting thoughts that having a little more than I need would be nice, to thank God for always taking care of my needs, and to give praise for His incredible wisdom in knowing precisely where to set the line between mathemagenic suffering and undue suffering for me and my family. After that, I will spend time in contemplation, my favorite part of the day, letting God take over the direction in which my relationship with Him moves. It will be far too short today, but no matter how much time I have, it always seems too little.

I will now leave you to your prayer and contemplation, but first, I would like to bring to your attention a Monday morning prayer post that you might enjoy:

Fr. Austin Fleming, priest of the Archdiocese of Boston and pastor in Concord, Massachusetts, posts a prayer each Monday morning that he calls "Monday Morning Offering." I enjoy his prayers very much. I hope you also will find them inspirational. He has graciously given me permission to include a link to his blog on my Monday Morning Meditation posts.

For additional inspiration throughout the week, I would point out two sets of blogs: (1) the list of devotional blogs that follow the enumeration of Monday Morning Meditations on the sidebar of this blog and (2) my blogroll, where I am following a number of inspirational priests and writers about spiritual matters. I learn so very much from all these people. I highly recommend them to you.

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