I’m a Christian who lives in the United States. In other words, I’m a Christian who lives in a part of the world where my religious convictions face relatively little resistance, contra Fox News. Sometimes this observation leads to a bit of existential angst. While I’m not ready to pray for the opportunity to suffer for Christ (at least not really, like my siblings in other parts of the world suffer) nor do I sense the willingness to confess my posh way of life can serious contradict the very Gospel I proclaim. I tell people that I believe that Israel’s God resurrected Israel’s Messiah from the dead inaugurating the renewal of the cosmos (usually not in those exact words, but you get the idea), yet I live as if I must be the master of my destiny. I spend some portion of each day thinking about my “legacy,” my “identity,” my “brand,” myself. Sometimes it is as if my brain is the ESPN of Brian LePort: all Brian LePort, 24/7. In an effort to repackage my own narrative I must tell myself that I am not a Christian who has been given much and therefore is required much. Instead, I must tell myself that I am a Christian who has less than I need to do something worthwhile with my life and therefore I need more. If God the Father does not give me more money, talent, creativity, and influence then what can I do? Poor me, I could have done much for the Kingdom, but I couldn’t get past my 1/4, 1/3, and forthcoming 1/2 life crisis. I tell people that I anticipate a resurrection, but I live this life as if it is my only life (i.e., YOLO), and when I live as if it is my only life I clutch my privilege, possessions, and pleasures closer to my chest in fear that someone might steal them.

Almost a year ago I relocated to Texas. Admittedly, this may have been the most depressing, self-loathing year of my life. In spite of the many good things that have come from the move it is the negative things that win my attention. I am a pessimist (maybe a bit by nature, maybe a bit by nurture) and I don’t always “look on the bright side of life” (cue the Life of Brian soundtrack). In my mind I know that things are not as bad as I imagine them. In my heart it doesn’t matter, because I don’t like things, like a two year old throwing his breakfast across the kitchen. Sure, the cereal may be tasty, but I didn’t want cereal, and as a two year old I haven’t developed the vocabulary necessary for a mature exploration of other breakfast options with my parents. I miss my family, and I miss living in northern California, so I make sure to tell anyone who will listen that I’m not happy.

Instead of reminding myself that I have it easy in comparison to many I began to envy others who live the sort of life I want to live. These people may live in a place where I want to live, or have the job that I want , or have done things I’d like to experience. Why them? Why not me? Me, me, me, me.

It dawned on me: I’m full of ingratitude and covetousness.

I don’t think I’m alone. In fact, while money may be the root of all kinds of evil, ingratitude and covetousness may be the water that sustains the root. I have convinced myself that I am not materialistic because I don’t need to own a fancy car or a massive house. This doesn’t mean that I am not covetous. I envy others all the time. Instead of asking myself, “Who around me has needs?” I ask myself, “How come that person has what I want?” Covetousness for the lives or possessions of others begins with ingratitude for what one possesses already.

This realization has created something of a panic. My problem is not other people. My problem is not location, at least not completely, though I am doing all I can to escape Texas in a few years. My problem is between my ears. My problem is my hardened heart. My thinking needs to be recalibrated.

Maybe I need to stop dreaming of the great things I could do with my life “if only…” and start asking myself if a great life can be a simple one (something I think Anthony Bradley rightly proposes, in gist, in articles like The New Legalism: Missional, Radical, Narcissistic, and Shamed). Maybe greatness looks nothing like what I want it to look, and maybe in the pursuit of false greatness I am ignoring what it means to be great, truly. Maybe greatness begins with gratitude and charitableness?

I have been asking myself, “How does one become grateful? How does one become charitable?” Now, I know the Spirit must do a work within me for these things to happen, but I also know that I am terribly resistant to the Spirit’s work to make me more virtuous. Maybe I shouldn’t be asking, “What can I do?” Maybe I should be asking, “What should I stop doing?”

Christians have turned to the disciplines of prayer and fasting over the years at times like this. I know this sounds like something you “do,” but I think it may be something you “stop doing.” Prayer is when you stop being a god giving way to the true God. Fasting is when you stop acquiring, or seeking to acquire, to allow yourself to be reminding that life is not acquisition. I have struggled with the discipline of fasting because my upbringing around radical Pentecostals who fasted to fight demons or force God to give them nice, new things seemed off putting. I was reminded by a recent blog post written by Ian Paul that fasting can be done for other reasons, many which are reminders that you don’t need what you think you need and you have more than many others have (see Nine reasons why you should fast).

Prayer can be an antidote to ingratitude and covetousness as well. When you pray for others you stop thinking about yourself, even if but for a few moments. When you pray you have the opportunity to hear yourself speak honestly, which can be frightening. When you pray you have the opportunity to say, “thank you” to God. I admit, sometimes I struggle with saying “thank you” to God because I think that if I acknowledge that God has given me good things or allowed good things to come to me then I am implicitly saying that others who suffer more or who have less than me do not share this divine favor. I don’t think that is the point of expressing gratitude in prayer. While we may never know this side of the resurrection why God has allowed the evils he has allowed this does not follow that we should be ungrateful for the good things he has allowed. Gratitude does not have to be, “Thank God I have this while others don’t.” Instead, gratitude can be “thank God I have this, and maybe I don’t need to spend all my time striving for more because maybe I have enough.” A prayer of gratitude shouldn’t leave us smug and superior, but humbled and desiring to give to others.

In Anne Lamott’s newer book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers she writes the following:

A lot of us religious types go around saying thank you to God when we find a good parking space, or locate the house keys or the wandering phone, or finally get a good night’s sleep. And while that may be annoying to the people around us, it’s important because if we are lucky, gratitude becomes a habit. [1]

I know that I’ve been annoyed when I’ve heard people pray for parking spots. I understand why this annoying. I know that I’ve prayed and been thankful for small, silly things too. I’ve had a flat tire where I’ve been upset about it, but I found myself thanking God it didn’t happen on the side of the highway. I’ve prayed to get home safely in dangerous storms, and thanked God when I did, though I can’t explain how God acts, how God answers prayer, or why someone else crashed on their way home. I do know that thankfulness doesn’t have to be precluded by omniscience. One doesn’t need to know all the workings of the divine to be thankful. Instead, gratitude may be one of those things that reminds us how chaotic a world surrounds us, and how every moment of life and health and sanity is grace. If I had to choose between being a person who is overly grateful toward God and others, or one who tips toward ingratitude, while I am currently the latter, I’d prefer to become the former.

In a world that tells us that we are insufficient and that we need more (watch TV for thirty minutes and you’ll be told by a dozen commercials that your life needs more things) we have to be intentional in recognizing we have enough and we may not need more. We may need less. We may need to give away a few things. This is something I’m trying to learn. I imagine it is a lesson that one must keep revisiting until the day we die.

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[1] Lamott, Anne (2012-11-13). Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (30 Minute Spiritual Series) (pp. 48-49). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

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