I mentioned yesterday that I have been having deep thoughts lately about coveting. Notably, I have been second-guessing the premise of my entire year-long challenge. Have I, for perhaps my entire life, been confusing the idea of appreciating something I don’t have for coveting something I don’t have?
The definition of “covet” is yearning to possess. The definition of “appreciate” is to recognize the full worth of or be grateful for something.
Were I to step back and examine the feeling that I was hoping to eradicate this year, it was definitely the first one. I was hoping that I would learn to stop yearning to possess what I could not, should not and will never possess, as a way to pursue contentment.
But I am certain that in the process, I have made it impossible for myself to recognize the full worth of something, because I still, after fifty-some-odd weeks, I am still afraid that by appreciating something, I will come to covet it. Perhaps, and problematically so, even more afraid.
I am discovering that it should have been the fear–that deep, inherent distrust of myself that I should have been trying to work on. The things themselves were never the problem. It is the fear that I cannot be trusted that I should have been trying to take head-on.
If this all seems highly overthought, just remember, I am the person who overthinks the joy out of everything. If overthinking was a sport, I would be world champion.
I want to share something that happened last week with my youngest scalawag. While the parallel with everything I have said above is perilous at best, the situation resonated deeply in my soul, and it is what unearthed that treasure trove of thoughts on the topic of coveting. Read on.
Toy Catalogs are Evil
In an article entitled Pandora’s Box, I shared my reasons for hating toy catalogs. If you haven’t read it, but you find yourself wondering why a toy catalog could send me into a tailspin the way it does in this anecdote, then, before you write me off as intolerant or crazy, read that article.
One day this week, when I picked up my youngest scalawag for lunch, he was brandishing a toy catalog.
I had thoughts in the moment. You see, the last time we went to my in-laws house, those children got their hands on toy catalogs, which each one had perused to within an inch of their lives. They had circled, crossed out, un-crossed out and re-circled nearly everything in the whole catalog. They had gotten into fights over whose catalog was whose, over who was allowed to circle what in the catalogs.
Pandora’s Box spewed the knowledge of things about which those boys did not ever need to suspect the existence. They now had very firm opinions and intense hopefulness about possessing items that they would never own. I eventually, very subtly, absconded with the catalogs and made them disappear.
So when I saw that my littlest had a toy catalog in his grubby little paw, I had thoughts. I thought I threw that away? Is it a ghost, haunting me?
I asked him what it was for, confused as to why he would be bringing a toy catalog home from school. He was so proud of himself. He handed it to me with so much joy.
His teacher saw me looking confused, and noticed what he was handing me. She said that it belonged at school, that they used it for crafting projects, to cut things out of etc. She took it back, and I was so, so thankful.
I hate toy catalogs. I hate what they represent. I hate the commercialism and the potential clutter and conflict they contain on their pages. I hate the way they tempt my children with images of things, the existence of which they did not suspect until the moment they opened the catalog.
I hate toy catalogs, but what I hate more is the dissatisfaction that they sell.
I know that toy catalogs are not my enemy, but as a parent who wants her children to pursue contentment and satisfaction and serenity, toy catalogs are a deadly, incendiary weapon thrown at our efforts to pursue our Ideal Life what I believe to be best for my children.
Real, genuine tragedy
The little guy refused to leave the school courtyard. I saw something on his face that concerned me: it was one of those looks, a kind of guilty look, a look that says he knew he did something wrong, but that the thing he was trying to do held significant importance to him. There were deep thoughts and emotional ties to that look.
I know this child like I know the back of my hand, and this look is not one I see often. His heart was hurting. Over a toy catalog.
He began to cry. He said there were things he wanted to show me, and things he knew his brother would like, too. He believed that seeing the things on the pages of that toy catalog would make us happy, because they represented some (misguided) idea he had of happiness.
As illogical and irrational those tears might have been, they were real and they represented a real broken heart.
I let him lean on me while he cried. He cried for a long time. He got angry at one point, shouting at me that he was going to bring that catalog home after school in the afternoon.
He kept crying while we walked to the car with his brother, who had eventually joined us. He cried, he cried, he cried.
As the parent in this situation, I was glad that the teacher had taken the toy catalog back. I didn’t want that thing anywhere near our home. But now, also as the parent, I was dealing with the fallout of my little boy’s disappointment.
After we got settled in the car on our way home, a verse popped into my head: “My ways are above your ways and my thoughts are above your thoughts.”
Grown-up Temper Tantrums
I have been throwing a temper tantrum at God for about three years, of the same kind as the one my youngest gave me today. I don’t have that temper tantrum every day. And maybe it is unfair to myself to label it a temper tantrum: there is a dissatisfaction in my life that is recurring and that I have been trying to get God to notice.
It has to do with wanting something that I don’t and shouldn’t and can’t have.
It has to do with feeling incomplete in the depths of my soul, and believing that this one thing that I don’t and shouldn’t and can’t have will complete it.
In the space of a nanosecond, I could see this thing that I don’t and shouldn’t and can’t have with different eyes: I saw it as the clutter-filled potential for conflict that is the dreaded toy catalog.
In that split second, I came to see thing I desire as something that could not ever be good for me, even though it was (and still is) highly desirable.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with a child possessing toys, neither is there anything truly evil about toy catalogs. In the same way, the thing I desire and have wanted for the last three years is not inherently wrong.
The line, however, between appreciating and coveting in just this one small thing, has caused me to distrust myself across all the areas of my life.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”Isaiah 55: 8-9
As I consider this last year of trying not to covet, I realized that it was a misguided attempt to learn to trust myself, while never having addressed the actual problem. Finally, here, at the end of the year, I have come to see that the one thing I have been coveting, in the eyes of God, is like that toy catalog. Full of potential conflict, dissatisfaction, clutter, and ultimately, would make me less content.
But letting go of something that has become an object of desire, something that became crystalized in perfection the longer we lived without it, is not easy.
It feels like a genuine, real-life tragedy.
At the end of the school day, my littlest walked proudly out of his classroom holding me two pages of the toy catalog. Just two. The two pages were marked up with his wish list: things for him and things for his brother.
He shoved the two pages of the catalog into my pocket and said, “This is what I really, really want.”
I know that there is no negotiating with God about the things that I want that he is never going to give me. But I also know that God has a parent’s heart. And if he ever feels the way I felt, as I looked at my little boy who had reconsidered his temper tantrum, but still came away with deep longing and a specific request, then I can understand why God might be swayed to answer prayer.
Not the whole toy catalog’s worth of coveting. But a pair of pages, clutched in a sweaty palm, with a sincere, expectant hopefulness, passed from that little hand into his pocket?
That might be doable.