Some people, at least on the surface, appear to have it all. They’re good looking, smart, and athletic. They’re surrounded by loving families, and not just the immediate spouse and children, but the extended family too. There seem to be no missing pieces in their lives. Their homes are larger, backyards more spacious, and the conveniences of life more prevalent. They’re educational opportunities were greater and their children’s opportunities are just as great if not greater. This isn’t right!
As I reflect on my own life, I recognize that I’ve gotten a pretty good deal. I had a 15-minute walk to school, which I enjoyed. I mostly liked my teachers. I did well in school and got good marks. I had a group of friends to hang out with at lunchtime and during recess. I had one best friend, Scott, and we played sports, board games, hung out, and did school projects together. My dad was committed to one vacation every year, and we usually spent that week in Daytona Beach, FL. My whole family got together on major holidays. I went to amusement parks. I was decent if not outstanding at sports. I have not-so-great memories but also a bunch of great memories too. Some would say I hit the lottery.
There were problems too. My dad had a drinking problem and my mom’s health wasn’t that great, but that’s the life I knew. It was a good life in many ways. The kids I went to school with had pretty similar upbringings and family situations. I thought it was a rich life —— not wealthy “rich,” but full and satisfying.
High school was comparable. There were hard times, but good times too. I had a high level of stress some days but I survived and graduated and went on to college.
Some of my college friends were from similar backgrounds to mine. In particular, my best friend in those days, John, came from a middle class suburb in Cleveland. He had two brothers and a sister; his dad was an English teacher at the high school John attended, and his mom was a friendly, doting, funny homemaker.
I had other college friends, some of whom lived in suburbs of Dayton, OH, where I grew up. That’s when I began to notice my rich life was not as rich as I had supposed. Their homes were larger, their backyards more spacious, the conveniences of life were more prevalent and educational opportunities were greater!
For the last 20+ years of my life I’ve been a suburb dweller too. My kids have grown up in this environment. My wife, whose family began in Dayton, moved to a suburb called Kettering. Her parents carved out a simple and good life there. And we’ve been able to provide a decent place to live in a comfortable, safe community with really nice schools.
Since I’ve lived here 20 years, I’ve encountered neighbors and friends who have always lived in this sociological equivalent of a quilted comforter. And that started bugging me a little.
I began to wonder why God set me in a family where I was destined to attend an inner city public school system. Granted, the inner city school system of my era was not the same as today, but it was still inner city. Why are they living in a city where they know everyone from generations back and my classmates from high school are scattered all over the place and not as well connected? Why did their life incubator provide them so much love, support, and material blessing?
OK, so before I indulge any further in this self-absorbed judge-fest, I will acknowledge that just being born in the United States, even if I’m poor by American standards, makes me one of these over-blessed people. “According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the poverty line for an individual in the 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C., was $10,830 in 2010,” says Courtney Blair at PolicyMic.com. “Someone at the poverty line in the United States is in the top 14% of the global income distribution.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Enough hard facts about how great I’ve got it, back to me-absorbed bellyaching.
I’m not the first to wrestle with these blessing disparities. David verbalized it in Psalm 73:
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. (v.2-6, NIV)
Of course, I can’t really say the people I envied were evil nor did I ever see them clothe themselves with violence. They seemed clothed in niceness and decentness. Actually, they might even be godly. But they were still blessed more than me. Argh!
So this is the part of the blog where I’m supposed to offer several tightly-edited life nuggets gathered from this journey of self-discovery. But really, I’m led to five questions that won’t tie this down neatly but just provoke more questioning:
1) Can I learn to deal with this? That’s really the question. God has given more to some than to others. The starting point is different but the ending point for Christians is the same. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1, NIV). We each have a race to run. Will we run our race, our way, with Him as the coach? How much ability to run, or how difficult the course, neither is in question in this verse. But will we run to the same finish line? That’s it.
2) Do I really believe God is fair? There’s something to the whole “to whom much is given” warning. Jesus says in Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” God is a blesser. He’s also fair. His scales are accurate. That should be sobering for me, especially as I consider what I have compared to lots of other people in the world.
3) He’s either able to fulfill Romans 8:28 or he’s not — what will I believe? Familiar passage here: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (NLT). Some people have been given a rough start in life. They were beaten, abandoned, and abused from day one. They don’t know one or more parents. They’ve been shipped around to other people’s homes all their lives. Without minimizing the pain of all that, I must still ask myself: can he make good on Romans 8:28 or not?
4) Do I sincerely believe this life is just a warm-up for eternity when all these differences in gifting, etc. won’t matter anymore? The only question that will matter then will be, “Was I faithful with what I had?” If I can’t get past the apparent disparities of today then my hope is really probably that this life is the end-all and be-all.
5) Can I still be grateful for all He’s done for me that I clearly don’t deserve? I should be thankful, but will I, by faith, choose to be thankful?