Daily Proverbial, from Ecclesiastes, 10 July 2012

And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Ecclesiastes 4, verse 4.

You and I, we depend on each other. I like to write and feel very privileged to write these commentaries. It is something I get to do, not something I have to do, and I believe that when the words are written well, it is not me writing them but a gift from God. The words, however, mean nothing unless somebody reads them. That’s where you come in. If you enjoy them, if you learn something, if you are moved or taught or encouraged or built up, then I also believe that it was God at work in you through the words. I take no credit for them: it’s all God. I simply get to be the scribe and that’s more than satisfying for me.

Thus, I hope you can see that, without you, what I do means nothing. If I haven’t said it in awhile, thanks for letting this be part of your life. I value our relationship.

What I don’t do is envy you. Some who read these are better off than I am; some are worse off. I’m thankful for your friendship as a reader and a friend, but I don’t envy you. I hope you can say the same thing because our relationship is, in part, based on caring and love, not on envy. When I work hard on these messages, I do so hoping they speak to you and touch your heart somehow.

Envy results when you let yourself feel antagonism because somebody has, is, or does something that you don’t have or aren’t. So I don’t envy you and I sincerely hope you don’t envy me. There’s nothing about me that’s envious. If you’ve done well with your time and talents, I’m happy for you. If you are in trouble, I’ll be glad to do what I can to help. If you’re lonely, contact me because I’ll listen. There are any number of ‘if’s’ that I could list here but I choose to leave out the one that says “if you have something I want, then I envy you.” I feel that way because I agree with the verse. Too much that is bad in the world has resulted from envy. Everything from adultery to addiction to this year’s political class warfare rhetoric: there is nothing good that results from envying what our neighbor has. If you live your life always looking around for what you don’t have, when your life is over all you’ll have is a handful of ashes.

One of my friends is a pastor who preaches that some of the most insidiously evil places on earth are in the suburbs. The suburbs? Really? I mean, where I live is hardly Wisteria Lane. That’s true, except that on my street alone I can identify people who have done and dealt drugs, people who have cheated on their spouses, thieves and vandals, a man with gambling problems, women who have had secret abortions, people who dishonestly abandon their leases and responsibilities, people who regularly and willingly break city and state and Federal laws, and people who gladly, openly and publicly flaunt both their promiscuous sexuality and their problematic alcoholism.

Can you name a few neighbors like that? I think I know your answer. Given that, perhaps my pastor friend isn’t too far off the mark.

Perhaps the worst thing I notice about living in the ‘burbs is that it’s the home of keeping up with the Joneses. We do what our neighbors do so that our place looks better. We snicker and make snide comments about what our neighbors do, and we covet their cars, their belongings, their spouses, their clothes. Stop me if I’m wrong but isn’t the foundation of all that little more than envy? How is any of it anything but sinful, even downright evil? I think I know the answer to that as well and here’s the real kicker about it: I live in what one survey called ‘the fastest growing city in America.’ The second fastest growing place is the next town over, where my daughter lives. I live smack dab in the place where more people want to move than anywhere else right now. They envy those of us who live in my town. They want to live where I live. If only they knew what I knew…

…Then perhaps it would make no difference at all. People will want to live someplace for many more reasons that would outweigh any negatives I could list here. In reality, the town actually is a nice place to live. It’s very convenient, people are friendly, taxes are low, the climate is good and our real estate market didn’t tank like the rest of the country during the last 3 years. Most important, the town is (largely) a climate ripe for believers. It’s the southern latitude of the Bible Belt. It’s easy to live here and believe as I do because there are many others who believe likewise.
Like I said, the suburbs. Yet don’t forget, too, that this is the home of upscale envy. All that petty coveting is part of living here and that’s the negative, sneaky-evil part. This is the place where status counts for much more than it ever should. This is the place where some of the uglier traits of human existence fester and perpetuate except that here they have a shiny veneer of new construction and false fronts. The worst part about it all: you don’t have to live in the north Dallas suburbs to live in a pit of pathetic human envy.

After knowing all that, I can’t blame you if you drop off reading these words and walk away. I mean, I may not envy you and you may not envy me but it’s still something that plagues both of us. Through it, we also get to depend on each other for reading, for friendship and for more. By our relationships, we get to involve the Creator in our lives and through that He lives and moves among us. That’s the cure for the common envy. The verse is right: everything that we do of this world springs from envy, from doing things to keep up with our neighbors. Without God, nothing good comes from that. With God, nothing becomes impossible.

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