by Brian Carpenter

I have two daughters.  Jordan is four and Evelyn is five.  My girls are both adopted, and their birthdays happen to fall within two weeks of each other in February.  In spite of our best efforts as parents, the girls are often furiously competitive with each other.

I don’t know what it is, but there seems to be a “princess gene” somewhere on every little girl’s chromosomes.  As soon as Evelyn and Jordan were old enough to talk, both of them expressed their fervent desire to be princesses.  It must be genetic.  That’s the only explanation.  Our girls only get between one and two hours of TV per day.  We’re very careful with what we let them watch when they do watch TV.  It wasn’t so much that they got their desire from the Disney cartoons as it was that the Disney cartoon princesses simply gave form and structure to a preexisting longing.

One of their favorite princesses is Ariel, the Little Mermaid.  If you’ve ever seen the movie, you know that Ursula, the wicked Sea Witch captured Ariel’s voice in a seashell locket in exchange for making Ariel human for three days so that she could woo her handsome prince, Eric.

Well, about a month before Jordan’s birthday, my wife found a plastic seashell necklace with a Chinese sound chip in it that yodeled with Ariel’s voice when you pressed a little button on it.

They were on sale, so she got two and put them away for the upcoming birthdays.  I told my wife that she did well buying two necklaces, since I was sure that these would be highly prized items within the Carpenter Princess community.

Jordan, the youngest, had her birthday first.  Of course the seashell necklace was a big hit.  They both thought it was one of the coolest things they’d ever seen in their short lives.  Jordan graciously allowed her sister to wear it and play with it while she was preoccupied with other presents.  Over the next couple of days Evelyn was frequently seen garlanded with the howling plastic seashell.

I could see clearly that Evelyn really coveted the necklace.  I started talking with her about the Tenth Commandment and how it applied to the life of a Christian little girl.  She always agreed that it was wrong to covet, but you could see that the thing had pretty well captivated her heart.

One afternoon I was going to take the girls to nearby Rapid City to do some shopping and give my wife a chance to clean the house without two little tornadoes undoing everything as fast as she did it.  Evelyn appeared wearing the necklace and I told her that she needed to leave Jordan’s necklace at home so it didn’t get broken or lost.  She went upstairs to put it away, came back down, and we three hopped in the minivan to go to shopping.  About 15 minutes later my wife texted me.  Evelyn had hidden the necklace under her own pillow.

I got home about four hours later, and asked Evelyn where the necklace was.  She said, “I’ll go and get it for you!”

“No,” I said, “I want you to tell me where it is.”

She knew she was caught.  She burst into tears.  “I hid it under my pillow!”

“You know that’s Jordan’s necklace.  Why did you hide it under your pillow?”

“I’m sorry Daddy!” she cried.

“But it’s Jordan’s necklace.  You know that.  Why do you want to hurt Jordan’s heart by taking one of her birthday presents away from her?”

“Because I wan –an –an -anted it!” she wailed.

How silly to be so enamored with a plastic bauble.  How silly to covet, and to take, and to hurt her sister’s feelings.  How silly to sin against God in order to posses something of such small value for just a few hours.  What a terrible bargain!  How silly it is to damage a precious relationship by taking something from her sister that her Mom and Dad were going to give her for her own in less than a week anyhow.  We all begin to devalue things after we have possessed them for a time.  That’s fallen human nature.  Certainly within a couple of weeks the necklace would be abandoned in favor of some new desire, unless it broke first.  Within a few years it would be despised as a childish thing, unworthy of the growing sophistication of an older child’s affections.

The baubles and trinkets we desire as adults are more sophisticated than the childish ones things my girls covet now.  Most of them are certainly more expensive.  We think we can’t live without them.  We think life won’t be worth living and the world will grind to a halt unless we can obtain the thing we desire.  We covet and we strive.  We cheat.  We lie.  We lash out at those whom we see as competitors for the affections of our hearts.

Women leave their husbands and men leave their wives in obedience to this desire.  Families are neglected.  Children go ill-supervised and neglected, raised by strangers being paid seven dollars an hour.  Friendships cool.  The Lord takes a backseat, if he merits our attention at all.  Why?

What will these things look like from the perspective of eternity?  Will they even seem very valuable from the perspective of old age on this earth?   Where will the car be in ten years?  What of the house?  Or the promotion?  Will these seem as worthwhile on our deathbeds?  The Lord Jesus bids us to ask, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul?”  All of our worldly strivings are nothing more than a more adult version of longing after the plastic yodeling seashell necklace.

And yet people line up in their millions to trade their souls away in favor of worldly profit.  Most have even convinced themselves that the Lord must surely bless such a pursuit.  I tell you on the authority of God’s Word that he does not.  He heartily disapproves, as a matter of fact.  James 4:1-4 says:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.  You adulterous people!  Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

The Puritans and older Divines had a phrase to describe this hot pursuit of the world’s vain and passing pleasures.  They called it “licking the earth.”  The pursuit of God and the pursuit of the world are two incompatible activities.  The precise moment you begin to do the one, of necessity you cease to do the other.  You simply cannot do both simultaneously.  You must choose one or the other.  You must do it today.  You must do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.  Eternity hangs in the balance.

Recommended further reading:

Wilhelmus a Brakel: The Christian’s Reasonable Service
Thomas Watson: The Art of Divine Contentment
John Calvin: The Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life