Come with me on a stroll down my high-school corridors. Since it’s the late 1980’s, you are seeing permed hair, big bangs and frosted lip gloss on the girls, flipped Lacoste collars and Jordache jeans on the boys, Benetton rugbies on both. The locker doors are decorated with the heart throbs of John Stamos and Heather Locklear, The Brat Pack and muscle cars. You’re hearing excited conversation of where your friends are headed off-campus for lunch – Burger King or the mall food court are just close enough to make it back without tardy slips! It’s in this haze of aqua net, Gorgio perfume and liters of Tab, that our English Literature teacher had us read La Parure (The Necklace) by Guy de Maupassant.
Thirty years later, I can still imagine the huge diamond pendant necklace the main character borrows from a friend (wow – how fun would that be to wear!) and remember my likely reaction of “Oh …Expletive!” (in my pre-Christian vernacular) when Madame Mathilde Loisel discovers she lost it. Instead of telling her friend the truth, she and her husband sell everything to take on a high interest rate loan to replace the necklace. It’s the ending that provides the unexpected sucker-punch. Ten years later, Mme. Loisel who is worn out from working to pay back the debt, runs into her former friend. She finally shares the deceit of losing the necklace, to be told that it WAS A FAKE to begin with, only worth one percent of the necklace replaced.
Stop for a moment and return with me to the 80’s. This was before the costume jewelry craze. Women wore beautiful, unique jewelry: from double-strands of pearls, sapphire and emerald cocktail rings and multi-carat diamonds. Even at 16 or 17 years old, I could relate the Mme. Loisel’s desire to wear a beautiful piece, and also could appreciate the expense of replacing it. I’d already been taught by a middle-aged co-worker how some seemingly-wealthy women will covet an amazing piece, wear it to a gala and returning it the following week “unused”. But I bet it was the first time the entire scenario played out on the pages in front of me: Mme. Loisel desiring to be seen as an aristocrat, as well as her friend who didn’t have the humility to tell her is was a fake when she leant out the necklace, gave me a full picture of people being unsatisfied with their life, jealous of others’ belongings, while making appearances and putting on airs to fit the image they desired. It was a lot to digest.
Why was our English Lit teacher exposing us to Greed, Pride and Jealousy? Maybe he thought by opening our eyes a little, he could prevent us from buddying up with these three chums, who would likely lead us to Loneliness, Disappointment and Unfulfillment. How I wish my English Lit teacher was able to connect this theme to the tenth commandment “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor”. Exodus 20:17. Even if he used a modern translation of: the neighbor’s smokin’-hot husband who adores her, Family Home (as in Estate, not mc Mansion), her close group of friends, Porsche convertible turbo, designer closet with lit display units for shoes, purses and hats, and/or the cutest and best dressed puppy on Insta!
As I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve learned that God doesn’t want these feelings for us. He doesn’t want the “Oh No’s, the deception, or the sucker punches. He loves us, cares for us, has a plan for us, and wants us in community with others that love Him:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[aI will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23
“God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:5
In His great Wisdom, God will test and discipline us. He wants to know our heart and uses tests to refine our faith, draw closer to Him and grow in obedience and reverence to Him (Deuteronomy 8:5-6). He won’t tempt you, that is the enemy. “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed”. James 1:13-14.
God asks so little of us. Yet, He knew from the very beginning that we would stumble, so He gave us guard-rails in the form of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) which He spoke them to the Israelites in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and He added nothing more. (Deuteronomy 5:22).
He clearly told them: “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments”. (Deuteronomy 5:9-10).
The Lord goes on to say “I have heard what this people said to you (Moses). Everything they said was good. Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:28).
I took an inventory of the Ten Commandments and decided there are somethings I need to clean up in my life. Take #1 for instance:
- “You shall have no other gods before me and you shall not make for yourself an image”.
I never build an altar to other gods, but I definitely idolized the god of the huge diamond ring, the gods of Jimmy Choo and Carolina Herrera, and the god of penthouse apartments with a big city view. These indulgences were in fact other gods I was worshipping.
Re-reading the Necklace as a forty seven year old, It struck me how Madame Loisel worked all those years for nothing. She worked to the bone for a fake. She missed out on a number of blessings and didn’t even recognize or enjoy how adoring her husband was to her. That’s when it clicked. What is the opportunity cost to myself and my future lineage? What am I missing out on because I am focusing away from my Heavenly Father?
Our God asks so little, but so much is on the line. To think I might be paying the sin (or a diamond necklace debt) of four generations before me … I’ve met my great grandfather (my Dad’s, Dad’s, Dad), but that is only three generations back! And the choice is mine. My sin today will affect my children’s unborn great-grand-children!! Or, my obedience and reverence will bless thousands of generations to come.
Please pray with me: Lord, please seek my heart, know my weaknesses and remove any feelings of desire, coveting or envy that aren’t from you. Help me memorize your ten commandments and stay true to them. Please sharpen me and refine my faith that my life resembles you, Amen