From the Archives: Living Better, Not Bitter

Debby MaddenFaith Nurture, From the Archives, Spiritual Practices

During Lent we will be reposting some excellent articles from our archives aimed at supporting you, the Educator, during this season of reflection, prayer and spiritual renewal. You may find a new idea or two for future Lenten programming, as well. Debby Madden’s article originally appeared in our Winter 2009 print issue.

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You shall not covet…anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:17 NRSV)

We have all said it, “If only.…”

“If only I were smarter, thinner, richer, just like Mary.”

“If only I could play the piano, shoot 70 on the golf course, could buy a new car just like Art.”

“If only my children would listen, my mother’s tests are negative, my husband could find a job like Suzy and Bill.”

Then and only then would life be . . . be what? Good, perfect, okay?

What would really happen, if the “if only” were granted? Most of us would begin to wish for the next “if only.”

There is nothing inherently wrong with having goals and dreams. Wishing and praying for a prosperous and healthy existence can be motivation for work, study, and accomplishments. Desiring a better life for your family and community is a natural sentiment, resulting in many good works and inventions. Yet have we learned what is enough?

When we constantly measure ourselves against the world, we are living a life of competition, setting up a continual process of winners and losers. Life is measured in increments on a scale and we are forever judging others and ourselves. The process is time consuming, anger producing and self-defeating. If this is your way of thinking and living: Stop! Relax! Breathe!

Now write down five things or abilities you covet and why you want them. Next write down five items or characteristics you possess and what is special about each of them. Compare the lists. Would you exchange some items? Would you be willing to take the time and effort to gain items on your wish list? Mull over your choices and write the list again the next day. Does anything change? Do you want to add to your wish list or to your possession list? Be honest with yourself. Live in delight and joy with all God has given you, gifts of talents, abilities, possessions and assets. Be brave. Admit the failures, heartbreaks, losses and disappointments. Life is not easy, but it can be easier. Stop living as if life were a game with winners and losers, and think of it more as an experience to savor and explore.

When we can live into our own gifts and talents, there is one final step to take. Review your list of what you covet about others and then celebrate their gifts. If possible, write a note to them and explain how you admire their musical talent or their home. If you are embarrassed or uncomfortable to offer compliments, say a quiet prayer thanking God for these gifts and your ability to enjoy and appreciate what another has been given.

As Reformed people, we can look to the theology of John Calvin and strive to live in grateful response to the gifts God has given each of us. As people of Scripture, we read these words in Psalm 92:1, 4 (NRSV):

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High….

For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

May we desire to be the better person, the person God created us to be; rather than the bitter person we make ourselves.

(from Winter, 2009)  Debby Madden serves as director of education and programs at First Presbyterian Church, Carlisle, PA. Prior to this call, Debby worked for 25 years in accounting as both a department manager and payroll tax specialist. Debby served as the Eastern Region representative to the APCE Cabinet and moderator of the Advocate committee. She is an Associate Certified Christian Educator and has a certificate in Spiritual Formation from Columbia Seminary in Decatur, GA. According to her family, she is also certified baseball crazy!