Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The House with the Golden Windows

There is a story told about a young boy who lived with his parents in a cottage on a hillside overlooking a valley. Every evening, he would sit on his front porch and looked over to another house that is situated on another hillside at the other end of the valley. His favorite moment was when the sun was sinking in the west; the other house would burst into a dazzling golden light. How happy these people must be who live in a house with golden windows, he thought. He would fantasies about living in such a house. How happy he will be. He looked around his own house and wished that his house had golden windows too.

One day, this boy packed his favorite toy and a loaf of bread and set off to the house of his dreams. The journey took longer than he thought. It was sunset when he climbed the other hill slope. He was disappointed when he reached the other house. It was a cottage like his own home, smaller and more rundown. The windows were ordinary and were not golden at all! He was so disappointed. The kindly folks in the cottage offered him a bed for the night as it was too late for the journey back. He shared supper with the simple folks and went to bed early. The young boy was eager to start his journey early the next day and leave this disappointing house behind.

Early the next morning, he let himself out just when the sun was rising to get an early start. He looked across the valley toward his own house. As the ray of the rising sun struck his home, it burst forth in a dazzling golden light!

We have often heard the phrase, “The grass is always greener on the other side”. How often have we packed our bags, like the boy in our story, and seek greener pasture? And how often have we been disappointed when we reach the other ‘pasture’ only to find what we left behind is better. What is this part of our personality that is never satisfied with what we have and always wants more? We always feel is if only we have a little more money, we will be happy. “If only” becomes our fantasy. If only we are more well-known, more powerful, more beautiful, then we shall be happy. If only our house have golden windows.

The Church Fathers have a name for this attribute: “covetousness” or greed. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defined “covetousness” as (1) marked by inordinate desire for wealth or possessions or for another's possessions, and (2) having a craving for possession. This is one of the seven deadly sins. The other deadly sins are lust, gluttony, sloth, wrath, envy and pride.

Covetousness or greed can be an all consuming obsession. To become richer, more famous or more powerful demands a great investment of our time and efforts. To achieve that sales target we are willing to work hard. To meet that deadline, we are willing to give more of our time and effort. This obsession is a demanding mistress. It takes away all our time, effort and perspective so that we do not have time for anything else. Unfortunately our society rewards this obsession. Our society calls this obsession “success”. Success is defined in our society in terms of what you have, not in terms of who you are. The Church Fathers recognize this as a deadly sin because being consumed with covetousness or greed will leave behind broken marriages, dysfunctional families, traumatized children and lost souls. Jesus asked the question, “What does it profits a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” Covetousness or greed will divert our attention from things that are important to a delusion of things that will not satisfy. If only my house have golden windows.

Covetousness or greed not only becomes a magnificent obsession but it may also replace God in our lives! It is so easy to change our allegiance from God the Father to the “Money” god. The temple of worship of the god “Money” are the world’s stock exchanges and financial institutions (including banks). If you find you spend more time with the stock exchange or banks (unless you work there) than in church, check who your God is. It is often a subtle change, a short step from wanting more money to worshipping money. Money is fame. Everyone knows who you are if you have money. You will never lack for company if you have money. Money is power. Money gives you more possessions. Money is success. Satan tempted Jesus by offering Him all the kingdoms on earth and their wealth. All Jesus had to do is to worship Satan. What Satan was doing is to appeal to the weakness for covetousness and greed that is in our hearts. Jesus did not succumb but not so for many of us.

I am not saying here that we are not to want to improve our standard of living. We have a duty to provide for our loved ones and family- financially, emotionally and spiritually. There is nothing wrong with working hard and making money. What I am saying is that we must learn contentment. We must learn to say when “enough is enough”. We must exercise caution in that the desire to provide for ourselves and our family do not cross the line into covetousness or greed. We need to reexamine our life and review the reasons why we are working so hard. Is it to provide for ourselves, our family and our children’s education? What happens when you have saved enough? Do you still want to earn more because it is never enough? Or would you consider giving the excess to Kingdom work or to charitable organizations. When is “enough is enough”?

If you do not know when “enough is enough,” you will keep working, making money and chasing that elusive dream of “the grass is greener on the other side”. You will become obsessed with money or even worse, commit idolatry; when your money becomes your God. It is my hope that you will not end up like the young boy who discovered too late that the house with the golden windows is his own house. T.S.Elliot writes in the Four Quartets:

“There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives - unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle.”

Soli Deo Gloria

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