The joy of not having it all


     By the time the calendar reaches November, fall has arrived here in the Deep South. This month is also associated with Thanksgiving, officially observed as a holiday in the United States since 1863. Thanksgiving is the season of reflection, savoring all good things in our lives and thanking the Lord for His extravagant goodness.


     It is not always easy to command one’s heart and mind to be grateful, though thankfulness is a discipline of spirit that can be cultivated. The middle age of life can often be marked by journeys of remembrance to earlier times, or by the realization that present situations are not what we expected. All too often, discontent and its minions can steal our joy.


     One of these thieves is the “grass is always greener” syndrome, the belief that there’s something better out there in everyone else’s life that I don’t have. Inherent in this faulty way of thinking is the idea that God i withholding from me, yet giving to everyone else. Another of these robbers is the total absorption with self, which prevents one from seeing beyond the end of one’s nose.


     But one of the most destructive of these little bandits is greed. Merriam-Webster defines greed as “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something than is needed.”


     Once loosed in your life, greed is never satisfied and always clamors for more. More food in the pantry. More furniture in the living room. More clothes in the closet. More square footage in a home. More money in the bank account. More, more, more, more, more.


     The Israelites’ wilderness wanderings after their miraculous deliverance out of Egypt are chronicled in the book of Numbers. Though faced daily with difficult circumstances, this nation was moving closer every day to the land God had promised them. Numbers 11 records an example of what can happen to God’s children when they choose their way over God’s.


     The opening verses describe how “the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the LORD” (Numbers 11:1). A small portion of the population kept stirring up trouble. Referred to as “the rabble,” the individuals in this small group had “greedy desires” and incited the rest of the people to complain to Moses because there was no meat (Numbers 11:4). Verse 10 tells us that both God and Moses were displeased by this outburst of self-pity.


     God tells Moses to tell the people that the next day meat will be delivered to them. He also makes Himself clear that they will eat for “a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you” (Numbers 11:20). Doesn’t sound like a dinner party I’d care to attend.


     When the meat arrives — quail falling from the sky in 3-foot-deep piles — the people scurry to gather up all they can carry. The fallen birds are so numerous that it takes the people two days and a night to collect them all.


     Here’s the great irony of this story: Greedy desires never satisfy. Atthe end of chapter 11 we learn, “While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people” (Numbers 11:33). Those who died — “the people who had been greedy” — were buried in a location that came to be known as Kibroth-Hattaavah, the “graves of greediness” (Numbers 11:34).


     C.S. Lewis likened the struggle to control greed to that of fighting a hydra, the many-headed creature of Greek mythology. When one of its heads was cut off, the creature sprouted two more in its place. Left unchecked, greed does the same. It will always create discontent in more and more areas of one’s life.


     An old friend once told me, “Part of being happy is not having everything you want.” Only when I allow God’s Spirit to govern my mind, heart and emotions can I believe this. The carnal side of me is all too convinced that bigger and better and more is the way to go.


     My prayer for each of us this Thanksgiving is that we would be blessed with the rich company of family and friends, comforted and guided by the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that we will always view the cup of our lives as half full, no matter the circumstances. The joy of not having it all may be the biggest blessing of this season.




Sherye Green is a Jacksonian and a wife, mother and grandmother. Sherye and her husband, Mark, are members of First Baptist Jackson. She is also the author of Abandon Not My Soul and Tending the Garden of My Heart.