Last week I stumbled face first into jealousy. I didn't see it coming. Didn't even recognize it when it hit. But five minutes into worship (yes, jealousy can even strike at church), I felt the full force of conviction...
That morning I'd had a run-in with a fellow writer. We work in the same circles, find ourselves on the same lists and blogrolls and write for a similar audience, but he's more popular than I am. More people ask him to speak places. He's written a book. His blog posts get more "likes."
Anyway, I'd run into him that morning, and he'd introduced himself. Which was awkward. Because I knew exactly who he was. And he did not know me.
I knew, even in that moment, that he had no obligation to know my name. Honestly, I hadn't expected him to know it. But still...
He walked away and my stomach started churning. For the longest time, I couldn't quiet the stupid voice in my head whispering, "It should have been me who didn't know his name."
Jealousy says, "I deserve what you have."
Jealousy is an irrational, ungrateful fool.
I had a person tell me once, "I am so jealous of you." She listed her reasons machine gun style, not giving me a chance to butt in, and then she said, "But I know you're really just as messed up as I am."
I didn't know what to do with that. But I suspect I know where it came from.
A few years ago I sat around a table with a group of ladies talking about jealousy. We said, It's so hard not to want what other people have--their kids, their jobs, their excellent bone structure. We said, Their lives look so perfect from over here.
And then we said what Christian women always say to one another when they struggle with jealousy. We said, If you only knew the things she's struggling with, then you wouldn't be so jealous.
If you only knew...
If you only knew how hard things are for her. If you only knew that her house is usually a wreck. If you only knew that she yells at her kids. If you only knew that she really hates her job. If you only knew how much she despises the salads she has to eat every day to stay that thin.
If jealousy says, "I deserve what she has." Our response to it is usually, "What she has isn't that great."
And it's a terrible response.
Because, for one, sometimes what she has is wonderful.
One of my favorite lines in the long list of love's marks in I Corinthians 13 is this:
Love...believes all things.
I heard a preacher say this means, "Loves believes the best." He said, "When you don't know something about a person you love, you should always assume the best." Assume they're telling the truth. Assume they didn't mean to hurt your feelings...
When I think of the "if you only knew" approach to jealousy I wonder if it's loving.
I wonder if we really have to drag other people down to feel better.
And I wonder, too, if "feeling better" ought to be the goal at all.
Here's something I've noticed in my 16 years of adulthood: Some people have more than other people. Some people are better at stuff than other people. Some people don't have to work as hard as other people. And often, those discrepancies have little to do with what we do or don't deserve.
Life is not fair. And in some ways, God's the one who made it that way.
God gives and takes away. He gives some people more--talent, money, influence. He gives some people less. In Romans we read that God even assigns people differing measures of faith (Romans 12:3).
There are people in this world who are better at parenting than you are. There are people with nicer homes and better jobs. People with great hair. Popular people. These people might actually be happy and healthy, mature, wise, and wonderful. They're not perfect, no, but they may be farther along on their journey toward Christ-likeness than you are. Maybe.
And while you may be tempted to be jealous of their progress or wholeness or happiness, or to pull them down to your level by assuming the worst, there's a better option:
Sitting in church that morning feeling jealous I decided I had two choices:
1. Run through a long list of ways my writer "friend"'s life was probably messed up in an effort to make myself feel better about my not-popularity.
2. Celebrate the work God was doing in him.
I know, I know. This is not a satisfying option. All I wanted was to wallow. To list the reasons I deserved what he had. But the Spirit of God in me had different plans.
I started praying. I thanked God for the work He'd done through this man. I listed the ways I saw God developing him and blessing him. I asked God to give him more wisdom and more influence. I asked God to help him where he needed help and affirm him where he needed affirmation. I prayed that God would fill him with the living Spirit. I prayed for his family and his church family and his community...
And when I was done, I didn't want what he had so much as I was grateful for what God had given him and given the church through him.
But I didn't stop there.
Because I've been jealous before, I know that nothing kills jealousy like an honest word of affirmation. So, when I got home, I sent his wife a Facebook message. I told her how much I appreciated the work they were doing. I told her how sure I was that God intended to work through them in their community. I said only positive things. And I meant it. All of it.
And by the end of the praying and affirming, I didn't feel anything like jealousy. I just felt joy.
Here's the bottom line: When you start to feel jealous, don't pull others down; lift them up.
It seems counter-intuitive. It seems like saying nice things about them and praying for them would just make you feel worse. But it won't. Praying for them and affirming them reminds you that every man's blessing is every man's blessing, that God never intended for us to compare our lives, measuring ourselves against one another, but that we exist for one another, to bless one another in our strength and depend on one another in our weakness.
Jealousy says, "I deserve what you have." Love says, "I celebrate what you have because what you have blesses me (and you and everyone)."