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Thou Shalt Not Covet My Hovercraft

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I wanted a hovercraft. But not just any hovercraft. I wanted to build my own. I only lacked two things: the instruction kit as featured in the back of my Boys’ Life magazine and the motor from the family vacuum cleaner.

Every month my copy of Boys’ Life would come in the mail. The first thing I would do was to turn to the joke pages in the back. Then, I would look at the advertisements. The very idea of having my own personal Air Car made my Cub Scout imagination spin.

However, it wasn’t meant to be. My mom stood in the way. Sure, the plans only cost $4.95, but the sticking point was the vacuum cleaner motor. My mom was unwilling to let me borrow hers. I promised that I would be very careful and remember how to put it back together. She still refused. I think there may have been trust issues.

No vacuum cleaner motor meant no need for the plans and, ultimately, no hovercraft. It was obviously my mother’s fault, and I let her know how I felt.

I think my quest for a hovercraft was one of my earliest recollections of coveting. Boys’ Life was what I now consider one of my earliest “Covet Books.”

Over the years, my Covet Books have evolved. At various times, they have included Sharper Image catalogs, computer catalogs, Auto Trader, and travel magazines. When I’m bored on an airplane, SkyMall is a great Covet Book.

Now with technology, I don’t need Covet Books. I have the world’s largest Covet Book at my fingertips. I can browse to my covetous heart’s content.

Coveting is one of the more famous sins. It is one of the Big Ten: Thou shalt not covet. Oddly, we don’t hear much about this one of the Ten these days.

The Lord makes no specific mention of hovercrafts in the scriptures. He focuses more on houses, people, and things that belong to our neighbors.

In modern revelation, the Lord did make it more encompassing when He commanded Martin Harris “that thou shalt not covet thine own property.”(D&C 19:26)  It isn’t enough that we can’t covet our neighbor’s stuff—we can’t even covet the stuff we already own!

Covet is a tricky word. We all want things, we all have desires. It is good to want some things, good to have goals and dreams, right? But somewhere along the line, those desires cross over a line that separates desiring from coveting. The Guide to the Scriptures explains that coveting is to envy someone or to have an excessive desire for something. 

Excessive. That is one of those words that seem to have a different connotation for every person. One man’s excess might be another man’s poverty. 

One of the tricky parts of coveting is that sometimes we don’t even recognize that we are mired in it. We tend to associate it solely with materialism—materialism that can’t even exist without coveting leading the way. Not all things we covet are even material; fame, power, and authority can be coveted as well.

As I have tried to figure out the demarcation between desiring and coveting, I have decided on my own personal “Covet Test” to determine when, or if, I have crossed from wanting something to coveting something. Here is the test:

Does what I want interfere? 

Interfere with what? I made a list:

1) Does what I want interfere with my relationships?

My quest for a hovercraft caused contention between my mother and me. Whenever something I want creates conflict with those I love, I am crossing that line. We’ve all said the expression “People are more important than things,” but we contradict ourselves we say the words, “It’s my money, I earned it, and I can do whatever I want with it.” 

I want a boat—my wife wants to remodel the kitchen. If we fight about it, not only do we both lose, we both sin.

The contention doesn’t even have to be about money or stuff. Friends and family relationships can suffer if we are on a covetous pilgrimage. 

2) Does what I want interfere with my obedience?

Do I want something so badly that I will commit a crime to get it? The jails are full of people who did just that. There are the obvious methods of fraud and stealing and the less obvious methods of lying or a conveniently editing a tax return.

Modern prophets give us clear counsel, but sometimes we ignore it because it doesn’t agree with what we want. Not long after President Hinckley counseled us —repeatedly—to live in modest homes, we went out and purchased a much larger house, with a much larger mortgage. I’m quite confident that I’m not the only person who has “looked the other way” regarding that specific counsel.

Fast-forward a few years: The economy crashed, money got tight, and President Hinckley’s counsel appeared even more prophetic—and I felt the consequences of my disregard for his counsel. In a few years, I will have to ask myself if my worldly financial obligations will prevent me from heeding the call to serve a mission with my wife. That day is already barreling down the tracks.

If our personal desires get in the way of following prophetic counsel, paying our tithes and offerings, and being generous with our resources, we can be quite confident that we have crossed into the covet zone.

3) Does what I want put me in debt?

As long as I can remember, the Lord’s servants have pleaded with us to stay out of debt. Just this past month, President Monson reemphasized this counsel in the First Presidency Message in the Ensign. They make allowances for modest homes, education, and maybe a first car, but it dries up after that.

There are some things they have not included as debt-worthy: cabins, vacations, ATV’s, cosmetic surgery, big-screen TVs, Christmas presents, boats, jewelry, etc.

Debt is probably the easiest determiner of when I cross the line from want to covet. If I have to go into debt to buy something I want, I’m in the covet zone.

4) Does what I want interfere with gratitude?

President Monson said, “If ingratitude be numbered among the serious sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest of virtues. Someone has said that ‘gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.’” 

Over the years, I have learned that the more I focus on the things I don’t have, the less grateful I feel for the things I do have.

I also have an unfortunate tendency of trying to figure out a way of acquiring things I like, even if I shouldn’t. Too often, I am successful. That is why I don’t really like to window shop, tour model homes, or test-drive new cars. I live in a beautiful home, but there are always others that are bigger, better, and more opulent. If those fancier homes cause me look at my home with any kind of disdain, I am in the covet zone.

5) Does what I want interfere with my time?

If I am fixated on all the things that I have, or want, then I am not focused on the things in life that really matter.

For me, if I have an Amazon Wish List with 50 items, or a Pinterest board called “Things I Covet” of 500 things I want to buy, eat, wear, or visit, then I must have I spent a huge amount of my time seeking out more things to want. Who has time for that?

If I plan on spending my “Golden Years” playing golf every day, serving a mission might be problematic. 

Time spent on a quest for something that I don’t need, or should not have, is time wasted.

6) Does what I want interfere with my emotional well-being?

If I can’t have what I want, does it change me? Do I allow myself to feel hurt or angry? Do I have a chip on my shoulder? Am I jealous? Do I start making a case for fairness? Do I let the things I do not have dictate how I look at the things I do have and taint my perspective?

More simply put: Does NOT having something make me unhappy?

The Savior expressed it this way, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” 

I don’t want my heart to be defined by credit card bills or Covet Books. I want to learn to get beyond the materialism of our day and focus on what God wants for me.

I don’t want to surrender my emotions and time for things that are not mine, or are not meant for me to have. I want to learn to be content with what I have and recognize God’s hand in all that I am already blessed with.

But if God wants me to build a hovercraft, I’m not going to argue.

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Middle-aged Mormon man is a featured contributor for LDS Living. Check out more of his articles at middleagedmormonman.com and follow him on facebook at facebook.com/middleaged.mormonman.