People are people wherever you go. While preparing for short-term mission trip a few years ago, I did some research that has always stuck with me. It’s funny to encounter something so close to home while you’re almost a world away.
The Quiché people of Guatemala, whose belief system is derived from Christian and Mayan roots, have an interesting approach to relating to one another. They believe in the concept of limited good, which asserts that there is only a fixed amount of good in the world. If you're not getting good, you're getting evil. Each of us can hope for a hearty helping of blessing, but—at the end of the day—if someone else's cup overflows, yours is going to run dry.
Imagine for a moment the implications of this view. If you believe there is only so much good to be had in this world, how does this affect the way you respond to your neighbor's snazzy new car? Your co-worker's promotion? Your brother's wife's cousin's cancer diagnosis? I offer a few theories. If this worldview has had its way in you, you are prone to think that the good in other's lives is an enemy of your own. When this takes root, you don't have a fighting chance at truly being happy for others. Their success stands as a reminder of what you are less likely to enjoy. The converse is perhaps more disturbing. If something bad happens to someone, you are apt to find yourself breathing a twisted sigh of relief. There is now one less chance of you having to suffer a similar fate. And you secretly celebrate -- party of one.
I realize this sounds extreme and that—for most of us—this belief doesn't manifest itself with such severity. But this worldview shapes our hearts, my heart. Your friendly neighborhood anthropologist may tell you this belief is most common in traditional societies and not industrialized ones like ours... but I think we know better. These roots run deeply in us; and they cannot be doused with the pesticides of concerted effort.
I especially see this in (gulp) the ladies. Let's be honest. How often has your rejoicing been stunted because you feel, somewhere in the deep recesses of you heart, that the "good" thing that happened to your sister (whatever that "good" thing is) would or could never happen to you? She has perfect children. I will never have perfect children. Her husband is the man. Mine is... not. Her fiancé planned out the perfect proposal. I would be lucky to get a guy to ask me what time it is. Her life is a-ma-zing. Mine will always be bo-or-ing. And (this one is harder to admit), how often have you walked a little taller knowing that your life is not as bad as "hers?" You're a little smarter? You look a little better? The truth is, the concept of limited good is only good for one thing: making us ugly.
We need to get to the roots. If we're plagued by believing in limited good, even in the most subtle sense, we need to repent, turn back toward God. If we are captive to the notion of limited good, we are ultimately saying, "Sorry, buddy. You're not too good at the whole 'giving gifts to your kids' thing. You keep getting it wrong." I implore you to think better of him. Believe the truth. Esteem him much, much higher. Also, take some time to think through how you define "good." In God's economy, putting yourself first puts you on the fast-track to finishing last. Thinking of yourself as wiser than God confirms you are a fool. Sometimes “good” looks like a new car, the perfect day or a thriving marriage. Sometimes “good” looks like a worst-case scenario, the loss of the irreplaceable or the words you never wanted to hear. How? "...We know that for thosewho love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according tohis purpose." (Romans 8:28) The truth is, there is no limited good because there isno limit to what God can make good. Because of him, we are free to rejoice with others because their good is no longer the enemy of our own. We are free to glory in Jesus, who suffered the worst, in order to share his best with us.
Thank you, God, that we can rest in this. And thank you that there really is enough good to go around.