When Unfair Stings

The sight of them stung. Seeing all their kids set me off. The venom stole in under my skin and I started to scratch.

Am I the only one who overreacts to the sting of the unfairness bee?

Discontent is a fretting humor which dries the brain, wastes the spirits, and corrodes and eats the comfort out of life. Discontent makes a man so that he does not enjoy what he possesses.  Thomas Watson

Their kids were invited to the birthday party. Ours were not.

There were chairs to spare for all their kids and not two more for ours? I scanned the room for a logical reason why our boys were excluded: age or distance or relation? Nope. None of those fit. And the heat and the itch of that venom spread fast like when the real wasp stung.

So where are the boys tonight? a friend asked.

At home, <scratch> I said.

Then scratching again, I mumbled- and this was a bad reaction- They weren’t invited.

Envy and discontent spread. The more I scratched, the more I itched, like an out of control allergic reaction.

I knew what I had to do.

Stop that scratching.

Stay in your own lane. Mom Considine

I had to heed my mama. I had to do what Mom tells the grandkids to do when they compare their gifts then complain: Stay in your own lane. 

Stay in your own lane when you or someone you love is not invited. Stay in your own lane when your friend is gifted with a two weeks of tropical timeshare as you save all year for your five days on the beach.  And when a friend’s lucky connection lands him a job you’d love to have. Stay in your lane- and oh, this can be so hard- when marriage and babies and health come easy to some but not so easy to you.

You can take Mom’s advice too. Don’t scratch when unequal or unfair tempts you to discontent. Do what you’re supposed to do. Don’t complain. Run the race marked out for you

But I needed a pit stop before I could steer back to my own lane. So I pulled over and gave myself a good talking  in the ladies’ room: The hosts invited Jim and me to their party. We had no right to any invite with or without sons. Then my own words to those sons echoed loud: It’s okay that Sam’s invited to Jack’s house and you’re not, Gabe. Life’s not fair. And that’s okay. 

Stay in your own lane.

Or do you begrudge my generosity?

Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? -Jesus

Do you know that parable Jesus told about the vineyard owner who hired workers at 7 am and 9 am and noon and at 5 pm, too? It’s in Matthew 20, and here’s how it ends:

Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius.11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’

Does even reading that make you itch? The guys who worked 10 or 12 hours got the same amount as the guys who worked one hour? Really, Jesus? That seems so unfair!

Fair isn’t equal.

Fair is whatever God wants to do –Leif Enger

I don’t know if it’s fair. but it certainly wasn’t equal.

Wise teachers and parents tell their kids, Fair isn’t equal. It’s getting what you need. And in his wisdom God deemed those vastly unequal hourly rates, were exactly the right wages- fair is whatever God wants to do. And I remember, getting invited to work in the vineyard was itself a gift. Any invite is a gift. But unfairness stings and discontent spreads when we begrudge others’ generosity.

Russell Moore explores this in Jesus Doesn’t Keep the Minimum Wage Laws: Following Christ When God Doesn’t Seem Fair

We don’t think the way God is bringing us into the kingdom is fair. So we grumble. We don’t understand the free heartedness of God. God knows what he is doing in your life. He is doing what it takes to conform you to the image of Christ…What we want is for it to make sense now, so we compare to others. We grumble against God. And Jesus is saying, “Don’t you see? You get to work in this kingdom?”

We get to work in the God’s kingdom. Do we see? Do we see past the second causes and believe God is working through even unfair stings  to conform us to the image of Jesus? Seeing that by faith is Benadryl to my soul. And I hear Jesus tell me, “Abigail, I have done you no wrong. Didn’t you agree to come? Don’t begrudge my generosity.

But for some of us with stronger reactions, Benadryl’s not enough. We need an injection to help us see.

Our EpiPen against unfair: You follow me.

Complaining is not a bad habit. It’s evil and satanic. It is a repudiation of the Gospel. -David Prince

These three words are the strongest antidote to the soul-killing effect of discontent’s venom. If Benadryl slows the spread, then these three words are the EpiPen that stops it dead. 

Remember at the end of John’s Gospel, when the seven disciples had just finished fish and bread breakfast on the beach, cooked over coals by the resurrected Lord. Now Peter and Jesus are alone. Peter has just confessed his love and reaffirmed his call to follow Christ. All is well.

Then Jesus ends their little talk with some hard words for the Rock, to show him by what kind of death he was to glorify God. Peter turns and sees John, the disciple whom Jesus loved.  And I think the unfair bee stung Peter just then. Because he asks, “Lord, what about this man?”

I can hear Mom say,  Stay in your own lane, Peter. Jesus says it this way,

If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!

You follow me. Down a different, unequal but still grace-lined path.

Because overreactions can kill.

[T]he angry man lays all his comforts at the mercy of every wasp that will strike at him. –Matthew Henry

It might seem little, this little party invitation sting. You’re right, in a way it is. The stinger is tiny but the venom- actually the body’s over-reaction to the venom- can be deadly.

I know this. Because 20 years ago a single wasp nearly killed me. One little sting was all it took to land me in the ER with a racing heart and dizzy, with puffy Gumby-like limbs and an irresistible itch from my scalp to my soles. But the epinephrine injections stopped my body from its out-of-control anaphylactic response.

Basically, my immune system overreacted to the venom and released chemicals that led to horrible allergy symptoms. I overreacted. So it wasn’t the sting itself that brought me to the ER. It was my own body’s response to it. Attempting to protect itself from the sting, my body stung me worse.

And discontentment, like an anaphylactic reaction, is more deadly to our souls than “provocation” of the sting.

Be a spiritual bee. 

There is no provocation given us at any time but, if it be skillfully and graciously improved, there is good to be gotten by it…It is an ill will indeed out of which the spiritual bee cannot extract something profitable.-Matthew Henry

I could have let the sting come between the host of the party and me.  I could have kept scratching that unfair itch.

But really, I couldn’t have.

I’ll explain: After my scary, allergic reaction I knew I had a problem. With as much as I loved autumn running and hiking, the risk of a worse reaction was all-too-real.

So I signed up for five years of desensitization shots. They “taught” my body to handle the venom in the sting of even a hundred wasps and bees. And living years under God’s grace has trained  me not to react so badly.

Obviously,  I still react. The sight of the kids provoked me. It stung and I scratched.

Desensitize yourself by grace.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. –David

But instead of continuing to scratch that itch, I auto-injected truth. Like how the lavishness of God’s grace to me is as far from fair and equal as east is from west. Like how complaining is conduct unbecoming a child of God. How scratching the itch by venting and complaining is not merely a bad habit. It is evil.

To gripe about unequal grace is a repudiation of the Gospel. And to move out of my lane and refuse the divine antidote- YOU FOLLOW ME- is to begrudge the God of all grace who gives to each one of us- not equally, but unequally and lavishly – as He wills. God gives us what we need to grow us up like Jesus. Our Father knows best and I want to be His spiritual bee.

So I left restroom and returned to the party room. My friend Meg’s son sat alone at our table. I plopped down and asked, How old are you now, Tim? You’re getting so big. Just then Meg came back with food for Tim and asked, So where are your guys anyway?

This time I didn’t scratch. They’re having some good Grandma and Grandpa time tonight.

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