As I drive between errands I pass houses that would hold two or three of my houses. My house isn’t small; it’s just that we live nestled between some rather affluent neighborhoods. There homes may cost millions of dollars. There landscapers do-si-do with the the housekeepers while nannies take toddlers to Montessori schools and mothers take Audis to the gym, all working to keep the properties and families in meticulous shape.
These are my Joneses.
I would be lying if I said I don’t struggle with envy. Not all the time, mind you. Most days I am thoroughly content to live in my beautiful 90-year-old house squeezed onto a tenth of an acre. But there are days I ache to have more. There are days I wonder what those people think of me. I wonder if the wealthier people from our church feel uncomfortable in my home (kind of like I feel uncomfortable in theirs). Does it dampen my ability to serve? To reach those of greater fortunes?
Fortunately, I have other Joneses to consider.
New Jersey gets a bad rap, thanks to reality TV, the mafia, the traffic and certain areas that quite literally stink. But it really is a beautiful state. We have gorgeous rivers, mountains and hills, not to mention the ocean! And, of course, the best views of the Manhattan skyline. Between all of that are the highways and communities which are beautiful, too, each in their own way.
We live in the northern part of New Jersey, where nearly every highway hugs a wildflower preserve. They’re gorgeous! Blankets of pink, yellow and lavender rise every fall, right about this time each year. No one tends them. They just grow and delightfully, carelessly fill the space.
These, too, are my neighbors. To which should I look?
An old message made new
I don’t often read The Message because it’s a paraphrase. When I study the Bible, I want don’t want a paraphrase; I want a translation. I want to know that what I am read is God’s Word without alteration, connotation or embedded commentary.
But I must admit that, after twenty years of being a Christian, some passages grow stale. Not because the Word is stale, but because I’ve read it so many times I mistakenly believe I know it through. My eyes glaze over and, rather than gaining fresh understanding, I … well, I fall asleep.
I don’t want to sleep. I want to pursue God and know Him in multifaceted ways. So, I pull out a new version, sometimes a paraphrase, to give me fresh eyes.
Check out how Eugene Peterson phrased Jesus’ words in Matthew 6.
“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you?
What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
Isn’t that beautiful? Our God is so great. We don’t need to fret about material things or chase after worldly distractions. God’s got this. He won’t let me miss out on anything I need, on anything He has planned for me.
What I learn from this, too, is that the more I focus on these distractions, the less I will recognize God’s faithfulness. I cannot be where He wants me, if I’m busy elsewhere. I cannot see what He shows me, if my eyes are trained inward.
So, I have a choice. I may look to the Joneses who worry and fret (the ones with the big brick houses and marble foyers who can never get enough) or I may look to the Joneses that don’t (the ones growing in the autumn breeze, wearing glorious coats of color).
Today I choose the later. I choose to breathe deep peace, trusting that God loves me more than these delicate little weeds.
TALK TO ME: How do you keep your eyes and thoughts focused on God and not on yourself or competing with those around you?