Loving the Tenth Commandment
What can we do when we feel overwhelmed and deprived by apparent inequity?
“Thou shalt not covet” (Exodus 20:17 ) is among the first lessons young Bible students learn—the final of the big “not supposed to” rules that Moses received from God. But of all the Ten Commandments, it might feel like one of the hardest to obey.
On the surface, goodness often appears to be divided up unfairly—some people get a lot and some very little. For example, beauty, intelligence, talent, even lovability are thought to be personal attributes, and it’s tempting to compare one person with another and judge how much of each attribute he or she has.
The Amplified Bible explains this important rule for individual behavior this way: “You shall not covet [that is, selfishly desire and attempt to acquire] . . . anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
I have sometimes struggled with this charge. Growing up, I loved singing and studied music in high school and college. Soon, however, as I pursued my own progress, I noticed how often this placed me in competition with others. Auditioning for solo opportunities or special training programs meant that someone would win the role, and the rest would go home empty-handed. It always felt fundamentally unfair, even when I was the winner. It was difficult to see how one could come away from a subjective competition without witnessing or feeling covetousness over the prestige, attention, and financial support that the winners often received.
What can we do when we feel overwhelmed and deprived by apparent inequity? Fortunately, there is a healing solution to this challenge. It starts with getting a clearer understanding of God and of ourselves as God’s daughters and sons. Jesus taught that God is our heavenly Father and explained, “If ye . . . know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:13). Our Father is the source of all our abilities, and He is infinite and impartial.
Because our divine Parent is always pouring out unlimited spiritual goodness to each of us, we always have all that we need. The most powerful solution to perceived lack or inequality always lies in striving to identify ourselves and everyone else spiritually. This identity is whole, satisfied, and forever blessed with spiritual qualities that we each uniquely reflect. Because God is One, the goodness we reflect is not portioned out or divided up any more than sunlight pouring onto an open field could belong to one person and not another. As spiritual ideas of God, we are never in competition with one another for love or goodness in any form.
I realized that, ultimately, I just wanted to feel loved, and the powerful understanding came that I was already completely loved by my Father-Mother, God.
The willingness to confront in prayer the aggressive mental suggestion—the pervasive belief—that good is limited can even result in physical healing. One time, I had been selected along with a group of other young artists to receive a grant from a local opera guild. All the award recipients were invited to attend a dinner, where we would each perform an aria as the evening’s entertainment. I showed up ready to sing and was seated at a table with the rest of the performers. As we ate our dinners, though, I began to feel physically ill with a migraine headache and nausea that got worse and worse as the performance grew closer. I felt desperate for relief and wondered if I would need to let someone know I couldn’t perform.
Turning to God in prayer and asking what I should do, I recognized right away that I had been comparing myself to the other singers in my group and feeling inferior to them. One girl in particular was so attractive and talented, I found myself feeling quite envious of all the love and approval I was sure she would receive from the audience. It took humility to admit that I had been entertaining this line of thinking, selfishly wanting that love and approval for myself.
I soon realized that, ultimately, I just wanted to feel loved, and immediately the powerful understanding came that I was already completely loved by my Father-Mother, God, who had put me at that table that night. And this love wasn’t a human emotion that someone might or might not feel for me after I performed. It was the love of divine Love, God, which is infinite and embraced everyone at my table and in the whole room. I felt divine Love flood my thinking, and before I knew it, the headache and nausea had vanished.
I was able to perform with freedom and joy and with a generous affection and appreciation for my fellow performers and everyone involved. I experienced the practicality of this biblical directive and promise: “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5).
I can’t say that I have never again had to face competitiveness or the temptation to compare my abilities or success with that of others. But I continue to learn more about the constant presence of God’s outpouring gift of grace, which is able to conquer any suggestion that someone else has what I want or need.
The unlimited generosity of our heavenly Parent applies to every aspect of our lives, including such things as financial supply and health. The clearer we are about this fact in our consciousness, the more proof we will have of it in our experience. So when we notice covetous feelings coming to thought, we can recognize that they are impersonal temptations to forget Jesus’ teachings.
Discussing obedience to God’s law, Paul states, “Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Romans 13:9).
Writing to the Corinthians about all the different talents people express, Paul urges them to “covet earnestly the best gifts” and points them to the “excellent way” of love (see I Corinthians 12:28—13:13). The ability to love one another and to want the best for everyone—that is something to wholeheartedly desire to possess. And we all have that ability now.