Bickering, take 2

On a recent Wednesday morning, I was at my daughter Mary’s house to take care of my three grandchildren while she went to work. With breakfast finished, 3-year old Lyla img_2539-2disappeared into the back playroom while 5-year old Joshua launched into his first imaginative scenario of the day. As he spread a flowered quilt on the floor, he explained it was a bee garden. He went on to describe several activities, such as bee races and honey tasting, and asked me to visit his garden. As Joshua was concluding his description, Lyla re-emerged in full Minnie Mouse regalia, including distinctive slippers and ears. In addition to donning her special attire, she had been setting up a picnic to which we were also invited.

I barely had time to think, “Our morning is getting off to such a pleasant start. They’ve each settled on something fun to do”, when Joshua spied a small money pouch in Lyla’s hand. He immediately demanded Lyla hand over his money, saying he needed it for his bee garden. Mind you, up to this point money had not been mentioned in his elaborate explanation. Lyla, in turn, resisted, saying she needed the plastic coins to buy food for her picnic. Just that fast, our blissful morning dissolved into a battle of words and wills, with me struggling to play referee. I tried reasoning with them, reminding Joshua he’d said nothing about an admission fee. Likewise, I told Lyla the money was technically Joshua’s and suggested she ask him if she could borrow it. Her request was met by a resounding “no” from her brother. He did, however, suggest we divide the stash of gold doubloons in half. That seemed reasonable to me because there were so many of them. I proceeded to portion them out, one for Joshua, one for Lyla, until the pile was depleted.

Joshua was satisfied. Lyla was inconsolable. As a matter of fact, her sniffling and distress continued for the better part of an hour. The tone of our day had changed and we never quite recovered. I was still contemplating the turn of events when I crawled into bed that night. The sight of Lyla’s woebegone face was etched in my mind. I felt I’d failed miserably in my endeavors to keep the peace.

Yet, once again, the Lord had set before me an object lesson I couldn’t ignore. The tenth commandment tells us not to covet anything belonging to our neighbor.[1] A quick scan of several online dictionaries provides consistent descriptions of the forbidden act and can be summed up as “eagerly longing for something someone else has”. The last phrase is key. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong about longing for something and working toward acquiring it. But yearning for something someone else has – sometimes wanting it simply because they have it – and determining to take it from them is not permissible. James, writing some 2,000 years before the episode I recounted above, said, “You covet but you cannot get what you want so you quarrel and fight.”[2] Truly an apt description of the doubloon incident.

The children’s behavior wasn’t the only thing I mulled over that night as I lay awake. I considered how easy it is for us to consider dividing things evenly to be fair and reasonable. In his infinite wisdom, our heavenly Father gifts us with different abilities,  relationships and material resources and he expects us to be good stewards of all he’s entrusted to us. [3] Furthermore, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”[4] But wait – it gets even better! He’s promised to meet all our needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.[5] Shortly before Paul assured the Philippians of God’s provision, he confided, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”[6]

Amazing! God has lovingly created us, given us good works to do and promised to equip and enable us to accomplish his purposes. No need for coveting or bickering or grasping for the gifts he’s given others. Instead, may we give thanks to the One who knows us intimately. He wisely gives us unique, tailor-made gifts, as he conforms us more and more to the image of his Son.[7]

[1] Exodus 20:17

[2] James 4:2, NIV translation

[3] Romans 12 and Matthew 25:14-28 address spiritual gifts and stewardship, respectively.

[4] Ephesians 2:10, NIV translation

[5] Philippians 4:19

[6] Philippians 4:12-13, NIV translation

[7] Romans 8:28-29

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