September 21, 2009

'Tis the Gift to be Simple

"Better is a dish of vegetables where love is than a fattened ox served with hatred."

Do you believe that? That it’s better to be poor, simple … and loved than to be rich and unhappy? I am sure most of us would agree with Proverbs 15.17, at least in principle. But it’s another thing in practice, isn’t it? For most of us aren’t used to not being able to eat our favorite foods, or not being able to have our air conditioning, or our television, or the various forms of high speed technology upon which we rely so heavily. And so, if push came to shove, I think a great many of us (myself included) would have a hard time putting Solomon’s words into practice. We are far too used to having it all.

Indeed, far from being happy with the fattened ox, we grumble because it’s not cooked right; because it’s too salty, or not salty enough. And we do the very same thing when our television reception, our internet service, our automobiles, and our health care options aren’t just the way we want them. Sometimes we even do the grumbling at the very ones we claim to love. And I say we are addicted to having it all and having it our way … to the point that, if we were put to the test, some of us might just choose the “fattened ox served with hatred” rather than “the dish of vegetables where love is.”

Truth be told, I must confess that I am the chief of sinners in this regard. I was admiring, not long ago, Vincent Van Gogh’s painting, The Potato Eaters (public domain, pictured below) – a simple portrait of five poor, plain, but dignified and contented family members sitting around a table with nothing but potatoes and coffee to fill their stomachs. And the painting, along with Solomon’s maxim in Proverbs 15.17, made me long for simpler days – for simple and happy family life; for real contentedness.

But often those longings aren’t genuine longings; they aren’t longings about which I am actually going to do something. They are just the butterflies of nostalgia fluttering in my breast. For when the rubber meets the road – when the food is no good; when the internet fouls up; when the digital converter box doesn’t work like it’s supposed to – I don’t often say to myself, ‘Well, I have a wife and kids that love me, and a Father in heaven that does, too. So what’s the big deal about some burned toast?’ Rather, I get irritated … and murmur, and complain, and frustrate myself and everyone around me. And I suspect that some of you do the same.

So we need to learn the lesson of Proverbs 15.17. We need to really believe (and act like we believe) that it is better to be poor, simple … and loved than to have everything we thought we wanted, and still be unhappy. And maybe a starting place is remembering how much we have been loved by Jesus. The Creator of the universe gave up His only Son … for us? Jesus endured the agony of the cross … for me? Isn’t that enough? Do I really have to have the American Dream? Or can I say with Paul that “to live is Christ”? Can I say that I am thankful for whatever “dish of vegetables” God has seen fit to give me … so long as I have Jesus? And can you?

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