Bicycle Envy

In the 1980’s I took a job with the “liberal media”, It was an important role with the publishers of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.  I worked in distribution; the main focus of my work was getting our information into the hands of the common man as close to 6 A.M. as possible.

When I took the job there were only two things you needed to be a good paperboy: A reliable alarm, and a working bicycle.  I had recently come into possession of a fine Casio AM/FM clock radio with combination snooze and light bar, and I was already the proud owner of a “ten-speed”.

Handed down to me from my father, by way of my brother, in the ancient tradition of the lost North American paperboys, my ten-speed was a thing of beauty.  It was a bright red American Flyer with a water bottle holder, optional spoke reflectors, and curved ram’s horn handlebars wrapped in supple, top grade, black leather… ette.

I never doubted the adequacy of my occupational transportation until one crisp, autumn morning when I saw John Pletsch pedaling my direction.  John delivered The Valley Press, a regional paper (and a real piece of fish wrap if you ask me).  That morning he seemed to float past me, comfortably seated atop the most remarkable contraption I’d ever seen: an eighteen-speed mountain bike.

I’d never previously considered delivering newspapers in the mountains, but I knew that if I came across a mountain in suburban Los Angeles, my ten-speed would never cut it.

I was instantly filled with envy.

Never minding the fact that I’d shifted gears maybe twice in my three years of pedaling through subdivisions, I arrived home for breakfast thoroughly dissatisfied with my inexcusably deficient bike.

I didn’t hate John or his bike, I wished I had his bike.  With John’s bike, I would surely become one of the legendary paperboys.  Collecting subscription money would have been a joy, and the girls at school would probably line up to hitch a ride on those shiny chrome motorcycle style handlebars with the graphite brake triggers.

I didn’t want to ride my ten-speed any more.  In fact I was embarrassed by it.  The more I looked at it the more I found wrong with it:  The kickstand didn’t stay up tight against the body, the color was passé, and the big orange bike-flag that my mom had made me mount off of the back was killing me with the girls.

How could I be expected to perform successfully without the proper tools?

I saved money, bought a mountain bike and wouldn’t you know it, I was still the same guy the next day.  In fact the only thing that really changed was that I now had sixteen gears that I didn’t use, and I was $200 lighter.  Having a more exciting bike didn’t make me a better paperboy, it just meant that I now had a 10-speed I didn’t ride.

I think we still get caught up in this same stuff today; envying what others have.  I’m finding that envy not only makes us unhappy with what we’ve got, It can also paralyze us.

The idea that envy can paralyze us flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Culturally speaking we tend to believe that envy is an ideal motivator; it drives us to achieve what we don’t have.  I’ve learned that this is mostly true in situations that deal with “things”. In situations that deal with personal attributes, Envy usually robs us of the motivation to act on important urges.

When situations arise that call for us to serve others, we can be guilty of waiting for someone “better” or “more gifted” to jump in. Many times we feel our heart pricked by the need of others and instead of jumping in, we sideline ourselves because someone with “experience” or “more time” should be handling it.

That inactivity is envy rearing its ugly head.

When we use the “giftedness” of others to excuse ourselves from obedience to God, we subtly reveal our belief that God hasn’t given us what we need to be successful in doing his bidding.  This isn’t a rare occurrence, in fact Moses tried pulling this with God thousands of years ago.

When God told Moses to confront Pharoah, Moses replied by telling God that he wasn’t a good public speaker and words didn’t come naturally to him, “Pick somebody more gifted”. The irony here is that Moses was actually doing a pretty good job of confronting God and arguing his case…

…until God told Moses that none of this had anything to do with his gifts.  God didn’t try to flatter Moses into doing his will, he just plainly stated that he would “be with Moses in the process“.  When Moses wrongly asserted that success would come through God using someone “more gifted”, God plainly stated that success was as a result of divine participation, not our talents.

This is why the Bible records God accomplishing his purposes through

a pregnant teen,

a drunk,

a murderer,

a liar,

the selfishly ambitious,

even a donkey.

When we place our focus on what others posses, or what we lack,  we begin to live lives filled with envy towards others and bitterness towards God for short-changing us.  This is the paralysis of disobedience in action.

To play a vital role in God’s Kingdom we place our focus on Christ.  When we see who he is, where he is going, and what he is asking we then only need to respond in obedience.

As we obey, the success that God delivers causes us to experience lives of satisfaction regardless of our inexcusable deficiencies.  As we live free of envy, our obedience becomes the demonstration of a newfound gratefulness for how he made us.

Do you see yourself as an inferior creation or as a superior talent?

Both definitions will crush you.

How do you see God?

Because that definition liberates us from envy, freeing us to live in obedience.

4 Responses to “Bicycle Envy”

  1. Sharon O September 21, 2011 at 1:22 pm #

    I see God as faithful and forever loving no matter what I do or think or say, He loves me.
    Yes I do sometimes wish for the fancy home or the fancy car or the gift of speaking or stronger faith, in the midst of that process though it is important for me to ‘see’ with different eyes.
    For example: The other day three grand daughters were running around in the house and my words were, “I know this isn’t a big house so let’s try to just make it work” my oldest grand daughter said, “it’s bigger than ours it is very nice grandma.” Immediately my grumbling spirit left and my heart was thankful for what we do have.

  2. Jon September 21, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    Such a good word. I love that your “small house” doesn’t keep you from hosting!

  3. Joe September 21, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    I have envied people that are more generous than I am, or more faithful to living out Jesus’ ideals, and it makes me work on “what should I do different?” or “how do I hear Jesus’ voice today?”

  4. Brian P September 22, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    If you still had the red 10-speed today it would be the apple of everyone’s eye in Portland.

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