The title is the last of four books by James Herriot, recounting his days as a veterinarian in Yorkshire, England in the 1930s. It is also the fourth line of a hymn by Cecil Frances Alexander first published in 1848. The first stanza of the hymn served as titles for each of Herriot’s memoirs. Originally written as a children’s hymn, it extols the diversity of creation as God’s handiwork.
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.
When we look around outside, we can find God’s creative diversity all around us, from whales to hummingbirds, dandelions to redwoods. As far as we know, none of these suffer from envy. Robins don’t seem to wish they were eagles. Slugs seem pretty content as slugs, not wishing they were rabbits. Sunflowers and sycamores never bicker over which one is better.
So why do we do this to ourselves? Why is envy such a constant temptation even though the Tenth Commandment warns us against it?
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
Exodus 20:17 (ESV)
The opposite of covetousness is thankfulness. We do well to be thankful for what we have and who we are. Whether my analytic, introverted ways come from nature or nurture, it seems highly unlikely that I’m going to become a crowd-loving emotive person anytime soon. At times, I have wished for more extroversion, more ability to interact with people in what to me are awkward (and usually unnecessary) social situations, but that is not my lot in life.
Within the church, we see various gifts and callings — monks and missionaries, deacons and bishops — and we are tempted to want to be more like someone else, yet this often stems from our pride and jealousy. Churches have missionaries share their “adventures” with the congregation, but not the junior accountant or the plumber, or at least not nearly as often.
In my pride, I desire to be consulted, to be sought out as a source of wisdom and knowledge. This desire has driven more of my life than I probably care to admit, from thoughts of teaching, to preaching, to writing these very words. Others pursue their “15 minutes of fame” in different realms. The desire might be to win a local 5K race, to showcase musical talent, or to be acknowledged as “the best” by peers at work. It seems a common human failing.
I can learn (and I have) from both monk and missionary, but I will likely never be either. I may have some gifts that would lean toward one or the other, and obviously, people do become both of these things, but I should not feel envious of anyone that God has called or gifted differently than me. The hummingbird glorifies God not by soaring like an eagle, but by flitting like a hummingbird. May I glorify God by being who he created me to be.