I recently had a conversation with a friend whose place of employment had issued a wave of layoffs. He was one of the fortunate workers who were able to keep their job, while many of his former colleagues lost theirs. As he shared how blessed he felt to be able to still have a good job, he mentioned that it all makes him feel a little bit guilty too. "Why should I get to have my job, and they do not? Doesn't seem fair."
Have you ever felt that struggle before? The "it's not fair" feeling? You may have had a similar situation with your job, or perhaps you've travelled to the less affluent parts of the city you live in, or you visited a third or fourth world country. It really can be a sick feeling to realize you that have so much when someone else has so little.
Now, no one would argue that it's a bad thing to have empathy for others in their need, as this can motivate us to be generous and to share and care out of our abundance with those who have less than us, which couldn't be a more Christlike quality. But, it's all too common that we go beyond feeling empathetic to feeling downright guilty, which is not, I think, what God intends for us to feel when we've been blessed. And that is what I said to my friend, "God doesn't give us good gifts to make us feel guilty; He gives us good gifts to make us feel grateful."
Here's what I know to be true.
Comparison robs your joy; gratitude completes it.
Most people credit the late US President Teddy Roosevelt with being the first to say that "comparison is the thief of joy." Whether or not it was him who came up with the statement, we can all agree the saying is 100% accurate.
We've all felt the feeling of the loss of our joy in something we had when we saw someone who had more or better than us. Your house was fine until your best friend bought theirs, now it feels small and outdated. Sound familiar?
And...I think we can all relate to my friend, and the feeling of being uncomfortable with something you have after seeing someone else who you care about has less.
I have found that comparison will rob your joy any way it can. It will steal the joy from you because you think you don't have enough, and it will steal your joy because you think you have too much. Either way, comparison always produces discontentment.
So what are we to do? We live in a world of massive inequality and wealth gaps, as well as gross unfairness and inequity. And it's possible, whether you have much or little, to be unsettled and unsatisfied with what you have. How are we to find contentment in this world in which we live? Do we turn a blind eye to everyone around us and simply not look, ignoring people's needs in our abundance in an effort to keep safe our joy? Or do we pretend like there aren't incredible joys that come from having money, resource and materials, and try hard to convince ourselves that my Motorola flip phone is just as good as your iPhone Pro Max? Do we live in delusion? Is the answer to contentment found in keeping our eyes off the blessings or needs of others? No, contentment is a matter of focus, but contentment has nothing to do with what we have or don't have and more to do with who.
The Apostle Paul gives us the secret in his letter to the Philippians after receiving a generous (presumably financial) gift from them. Look at what he says;
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. 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.
Did you catch it? He says, I have learned how to be content regardless of the situation, through Christ. Paul is reminding us that Christ Jesus is the ultimate source of contentment. If we have much, we thank Jesus for these material blessings. If we have little, we thank Jesus for grace and riches that moth and rust cannot destroy. In any case, the secret of being content, according to Paul, has less to do with how much you have or how much you need, and more to do with holding fast to Jesus in each and every season, learning that He is more than enough. Not only is He enough, but if our joy is in Him, nothing on earth can rob it, steal it or destroy it. (See John 10:10)
So, this week, whether you are in plenty, or you are in want, whether you have a job or are on the job search, the invitation is the same, be satisfied in Jesus, trust His ability to provide and treasure Him above anything else, and nothing, ever, can rob your joy.