“Crabs in the Bucket”
When I was little I remember hearing my parents discuss the “Crabs in a Bucket” mentality that folks have oftentimes. I grew up on the gulf coast and so this concept instantly took root in my mind. If you have never see crabs in a bucket, they are pretty amusing to watch.
Basically, all the crabs are moving around and a few crab will make it to the top of the bucket but the other crabs around it is steadily pulling he/she back down. Unfortunately, the crab at the top will never make it out of the bucket because the other grabs are dragging him down. According to my parents, the same is true of people. Sometimes when one person rises to the top or succeeds, the rest of us will work to claw them back down to our level. Crabs in a bucket….
I know a bit about this. I have been the crab at the top of the bucket being pulled down by my brethren. Equally, I have been the crab pulling other success stories back toward me. I’m ashamed to admit that I have been that person. I believe most people would like to think they are generally ready to congratulate the success of others versus being the Debbie Downer who plunge the successful into the abyss of unhappiness.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, I know this is inconsistent with the way I am called to live and behave. Since meeting Jesus, he is my paradigm of Godly attributes usable to confront the darkness in my heart. Lucky for me, the outcome of the confrontation is I become a better person and closer to God. I mention this because ultimately I know God desires that I respond to his offer of grace with obedience and love to him and kindness to others. I know that he has called me to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice…” (Romans 12:15a NIV). So why do I become envious and downright nasty sometimes when one of my brothers or sisters receives a blessing? Yesterday, I finally figured it out.
During a conversation with one of my coworkers, I mentioned that I might purchase a home in the near future (near future meaning next 2 years or so). She agreed that this was a great time to buy a home if one had good credit and some collateral. She asked where I planned on purchasing and I stated that I’ve always wanted to live in the District of Columbia in a rowhouse. She frowned and said, “Well, those are expensive and the problem with living in the district is that everyone is so transient. There is no sense of community. Plus, you get less house for a bigger price tag.”
What’s interesting is that I never said I wanted a big house or that I was worried about living amongst a transient population. In previous discussions, I mentioned several times how I valued convenience and commutability over a spacious house. I currently live in an area where I can walk to the grocery store, restaurants, shops, etc. I like the idea of never having to move my car. I enjoy being environmentally friendly. Being in walking distance of most things has helped me build a habit of daily exercise which in turn has granted me more physical well being and general health benefits. Furthermore, I believe God has given me a vision involving the purpose of my purchasing a home in Washington DC.
So once again, I described to her my factors for a housing purchase. With an upturned arched eyebrow she said, “If that’s your thing, then you do what you want.” She almost sounded angry. Then it occurred to me. Is she jealous? Now, I’m not someone who thinks everyone wants me or wants to be like me. What would I have that she could want? As usual God spoke to me right on time. “Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:44-46 NIV).
I remembered several conversations she and I had over the past few weeks. She is very frustrated with her job and management. She just moved into a new house that she bought before the marked housing decline and because the house is an hour away the commute is really costing her. She struggles with her weight but can’t seem to lose any. In a word, she’s FRUSTRATED. Not so much with me, but with herself and her life. Why do the things she desire elude her?
Upon looking at my life, I’m sure it seems like I’ve lived a charmed life. Recently, I had a job offer that literally came out of the clear blue sky, but I know it was God granting me grace at the right time. I’ve lost weight in the past year. I’m saving toward a down payment for a home and have paid off a considerable amount of debt. To her, I’m moving higher and higher and it seems like she’s standing still. What she doesn’t know is that I’ve been praying and seeking God on these issues for many years and I’m just starting to see movement in these areas of my life. This didn’t happen overnight.
But I understand her reaction. When my friends, who are getting married or are now starting families, announce their impending nuptials or baby news, a few times instead of being completely overjoyed, all I could think was, “Why hasn’t the Lord sent me a husband? What am I doing wrong? Why are they getting everything and I’m receiving nothing? I’ve try everyday to be pleasing to him. I’m no more sinful or sinless than them. Why, Lord, why?” Yes, on the surface my lack of enthusiasm for their blessings appears to be jealousy. And it is jealousy, but the root issue is grounded in my frustration.
I believe her frustration is what was at the heart of her argumentativeness toward me. Her behavior reminded me of a parable Jesus told in Luke 15. This story he spoke of involved a man who had two sons. The younger son went to his father and told him that he wanted his share of his inheritance right then and there. By asking this of his father, he was essentially stating that he wished his father would die so that he could have his inheritance. How would you feel if your kid said, “I wish you were dead so I could get your life insurance money now?” Yep, that’s pretty hurtful.
The father gave the younger son his portion of the wealth and of course, the kid being young and wild spent his money in a hot Vegas minute. To make matters worse, right as he ran out of money a famine swept the land. Well, you can guess the rest of the story. The youngster ended up doing some things that no one should ever have to do to survive. Eventually, he goes home to his father to beg for forgiveness and wouldn’t you know it, the father was waiting with open arms of forgiveness and love for his baby boy.
Now here is the interesting part of the story. The older son sees how the father throws this celebration feast for his returned younger no good brat of a baby brother and literally seethes with anger. When the older son is confronted by his father about his attitude he says, “All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!” (Luke 15:29-30 NLT)
What must the father have thought at his elder son’s outburst? Isn’t he happy his brother is home? Isn’t he glad that his brother is safe? The father responds, “…Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!” (Luke 15:31-32 NLT)
When reading those verses it is clear to me. God has not withheld anything. All the things he has for me (his plan for my life, marriage, children, etc.) is already mine (Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing. You guard all that is mine. Psalm 16:5 NLT)
The problem is my focus. When I focus on what I do not have, I begin to fall into this nasty place called “The desert of ‘I Deserve’”. Somewhere along the line, I really believe that God owes me. For what you might ask? Well, for being good or trying to be good. Being kind to others or working for kingdom purposes. I know, I know, I can’t earn God’s gifts but we live in a society that preaches at us constantly, “If you are going to have anything, you must work for it. Nothing is free!”
The reality is God’s grace and mercy is free--covered by the life, death and resurrection of Christ our Lord. He is my inheritance. And truly when I am focused on God, I see my blessings more clearly and the actual abundance of them are overwhelming. It is not about what other people have, but who God is. He is the blessing! Psalm 37:3-7 (NIV) says, “Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed…”
When I find myself teetering toward the “Crabs in a Bucket” mentality, I find the Holy Spirit reminding me that my focus is off and that every thought I have must become obedient to Christ. In doing this, He gives me the strength and joy to walk away from my frustration and jealousy and to find true delight in him.