The regimental surgeon made us squirm as he held up what looked like medieval torture devices, but were really medical tools used in the Revolutionary War.
A farmer’s wife rolled a slightly wrinkled potato in a barrel of sand, lifted the lid to a jar of pickled eggs, and ran her hand through the dried fruit and beans she had prepared.
At the encampment, the soldiers drilled us on firing a cannon before shouting out, “make ready” and signaling us all to cover our ears for the blast.
This summer we’ve toured two of the three major historic sites in our area, asked all the usual questions about 17th and 18th century life, and chatted about whether we would want to live before refrigeration, air conditioning, indoor plumbing, voting rights for women, the abolition of slavery, the discovery of antibiotics, and the creation of Wal-Mart and Target.
We think not.
But we happily visit to see how people lived in other times without experiencing extreme levels of discomfort ourselves.
Sure, we might be losing ten pounds a day sweating in the middle of July while listening to the interpreters talk about cooking in clay ovens and fighting the British army.
But, we’re wearing short sleeves and shorts and we retreat to air conditioning as soon as the tour ends.
And really, aren’t we always prevented from fully experiencing life as another person?
We might glance over someone’s life, making judgments and assumptions from a safe distance, but we’ll never fully know what it feels like to be her.
It’s a lesson that trips me into pits of envy and shocks me into disappointment over and over again.
Women I’ve thought were perfect, the ones I envied, had the houses, the marriages, the kids, the finances, the vacations, the looks and style I wanted–everything just exactly right–these same women shouldered burdens I couldn’t see and carried weights I couldn’t comprehend.
I made my assumptions based on superficial evidence and my envy grew based on inaccurate and unfair comparisons between what her life appeared to be and what I knew my life was.
Yet, inevitably the façade collapses. The truth is no one’s life is perfect. Too often the closed doors of her pristine home concealed struggles and strife no one expected or knew existed.
If we’re ever to overcome envy, we have to stop being duped by projected images and pretend lives.
Instead, we choose contentment in our own real lives with our real husbands in our real homes with our real kids.
Because the endless comparisons cost us contentment, rob us of peace, and steal our joy.
Kay Warren writes:
Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right and the determined choice to praise God in all things (Choose Joy)
In a similar way, George Fox wrote this prayer:
Grant us, O Lord, the blessing of those whose minds are stayed on You, so that we may be kept in perfect peace: a peace which cannot be broken. Let not our minds rest upon any creature, but only in the Creator; not upon goods, things, houses, lands, inventions of vanities, or foolish fashions, lest, our peace being broken, we become cross and brittle and given over to envy. From all such, deliver us, O God, and grant us Your peace (Yours is the Day, Lord; Yours is the Night, 42).
We choose peace when we discipline our mind to be content with what God has given us.
More than this. We don’t just accept the gifts God gives; we are grateful for them. We find ways to give thanks even when it’s hard.
We redirect our mind whenever we focus on what we don’t have and choose instead to praise God for what He’s done and how He’s blessed us.
Proverbs tells us:
“A tranquil heart is life to the body, but jealousy is rottenness to the bones” (Proverbs 14:30 HCSB).
Envy can eat us up like cancer, destroying us from the inside out. It’s crippling, devastating, and, if left untreated, all-consuming.
But that tranquil heart is a heart at peace, content with God’s gifts, certain that God uniquely designed you for these blessings and this life.
Yes, His gifts to us are good.
It’s a heart quietly and purposefully thankful for what is real rather than fooled into wanting imagined perfections, fictional ideals, faulty perceptions, and mistaken judgments.
Contentment requires getting real and getting grateful, recognizing that we don’t need perfection in order to have joy; we just need Jesus.
Originally published 7/19/2013