Several friends of mine have recently had to oversee the settling of their parents' estates. To their surprise, they became very stirred up when it came time to divide up personal effects among their siblings. Unfamiliar feelings of rivalry, possessiveness, anger, and hurt feelings surfaced, threatening to create serious rifts in the family.
As they tried to get past these feelings, they found themselves being self-righteous, and this got in their way. Self-righteousness and healing are incompatible. God has a way to restore harmony in the family, but self-righteousness needs to go in the process.
When talking with one of these people, I was reminded of something that happened a few years ago. My wife and I were visiting a longtime friend, along with another couple who had a toddler. It was a lovely afternoon, but we were in one of the most unbabyproofed houses around. Lovely antique porcelain horses covered the low coffee table. Other valuable pieces could be seen everywhere.
They sure caught the toddler's eye. His parents kept a firm, nervous watch on him, snapping him up every time he reached for another "toy." Our friend told them not to worry. But it was hard for them not to.
When they pulled their son away once again from the low-lying table, our friend spoke up. "Stop it. When I grew up, my mother told me, 'There isn't a material thing in the world that is worth a child's tears.' Now everything is going to be all right."
And it was. The tension dissolved, and the visit was a success. What our friend had said, in effect, was, "I love you more than this vase." That was genuine love. It restored harmony and brought the whole afternoon under God's law of order.
When we place our happiness in material things, then our happiness is as fragile as those things. The Bible gives the history of Jacob. His greed led him to cheat and defraud his brother, Esau. But instead of ending up with happiness or satisfaction, Jacob had to flee for his life. His angry brother vowed to kill him.
Many years later, after considerable spiritual reformation, Jacob was reconciled with his brother. When they met he offered his brother a large gift to compensate for his past actions. But Esau replied, "I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself" (Gen. 33:9).
Jacob had suffered many years for his dishonesty and greed. But his brother Esau had not been deprived of any good. Maybe Esau had overcome his own anger, and discovered that God's blessings were unlimited. Maybe he had learned that his life could not be harmed by Jacob's selfishness.
It's just as possible for us to throw off self-righteousness and feelings of victimization - and so find our relationship with God. God truly is the source for all the good in our lives. God does not play favorites. His goodness flows to all, equally. Jesus showed this by reaching out to rich and poor, male and female, slave and freeborn. All who responded to his message found it filling their lives with evidence of God's goodness and love.
In "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Mary Baker Eddy wrote: "In divine Science, where prayers are mental, all may avail themselves of God as 'a very present help in trouble.' Love is impartial and universal in its adaptation and bestowals. It is the open fount which cries, 'Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters' " (pgs. 12-13).
It should be embarrassing to be found fighting over things. Precious memories aren't things - they're memories. Our memories of love and joy, of happiness and special moments, have always been independent of things. When we remember to be alert to how God has made us rich with spiritual good, we'll be on guard and won't allow our precious memories to be poisoned by current disputes.
I love you more than a vase are actually words worth living by. When a sense of God's unlimited goodness grows more real, we learn that's the most important kind of good to have! And nothing can deprive us of it. By His law, we have it without exception. Remembering this, we won't be taken advantage of. This law can reign in all hearts. Isn't the family's love, and most important, God's love, more significant than anything else?