Envy: Devoured From the Inside Out

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I watch her fingers glide over the keys as carelessly as the breeze gently bending the tall grass. She doesn’t even look at the piano keyboard yet her hands move surely and confidently and the notes that spill out speak of her God-given talent. It’s very natural for her and I’d bet she doesn’t have to think too much about where her fingers should go next. I watch and am awed…and something else.

Her house is lovely! It’s spacious and well decorated: a place for everything and everything in its place. She seems to instinctively know what a room needs to make it comfortable and yet beautiful. And it smells so nice! Plus she can really cook. She has a way of putting flavors together that rivals the legendary Julia Child, but somehow her kitchen never gets dirty. I love to visit her home…but there’s something else too.

Her voice is a symphony of praise all by itself. She sings with poise and perfection – no stumbles or bad pitch to be heard.   The air shimmers with what sounds like it could be the voice of an angel. The notes linger and I feel the rightness of it all speak to my heart and I’m stunned…and something else.

I love her dress! It’s colorful and fun and looks great on her. She has such a sense of style that I imagine she must wake up every morning already put together. Her hair and makeup are flawless – no wonder she has a smile from ear to ear and moves with such confidence! When I stand in front of my closet and wait for inspiration to strike, all I hear are crickets. I watch her walk by and am impressed…and something else.

I read her blog post and the words just seemed to flow. The message was clear and the delivery was like poetry, words fitting together seamlessly in ways I had never heard before. I could feel my soul agreeing with everything she said, and I must not be the only one because that post is going viral. I’m touched by her words…and something else.

Her kids are always so well behaved! They use their manners and they always look neat, with nice (and modest) clothing and clean, brushed hair. They sit quietly in church and actually seem to listen to the sermon. They get good grades in school and are excellent athletes and leaders, and they always seem to be winning some award or other. I’m happy for her…but there’s something else.

She’s got a great job and a beautiful home. She’s worked hard to get where she is and it is clearly paying off. She trades cars every two years and takes fantastic vacations with her family to places I’ve always dreamed of visiting, and I know this because of the pictures she posts on social media. Furthermore, people really seem to like and respect her. I do too…and something else.

The “something else” is this: I want to be her. I want what she has.

Envy. Jealousy. The green-eyed monster. I am all too familiar with it. It’s eating me up from the inside out.

It always seems to be lurking around every corner, tarnishing my view of the world.

Why is it so difficult to remember that she is she and I am I? Why can’t I just be content with God’s design for me and my life?

It’s hard to watch other people do and be the very thing that I wish I was, and do it so well. That’s one part of it.

Another part is that when I see beauty, I’m attracted to it and want to be as close to it as possible or better yet, be a part of it myself.

And don’t we all want to be seen, known, recognized, appreciated? I know I do.

So many times I am unsure of my own talents – am I good enough? Is this what I’m meant to do? What if I’m supposed to be doing something else and I missed my chance at it? Am I wasting my life?

But each one of us has been created in God’s image, with unique gifting that defines who we are in Him. Longing to be like someone else effectively wastes my talents in an attempt to copy what someone else has. My purpose is dying on the vine while I sit around comparing myself to everyone I see.

I don’t think that’s how He meant it to be.

I believe God created us to be in community and being in community means working together, not competing with each other. There are enough gifts and talents to go around. God didn’t skip any one of us. Yes, you read that right: we are all gifted. And like parts of the body we have different functions and must work together. Comparing my own function as a, say, hand, to another person’s job as a kidney is just ridiculous.

If you want to sing/play/write, etc. but don’t feel like you have a natural gift, you can always take lessons and practice. The world needs good and good enough musicians and artists and writers too. You might just be the one whose words touch someone’s heart, even if those words are clumsy. (Also? Perfection is a myth. Strive for your best but don’t be so hard on yourself that you can’t accept good enough for right now.)

Personally I find that jealousy most often rears its ugly head when I am not taking the time to nurture my own talents and passions. When I make time to write or sing or create it’s much easier to clap for my friends and cheer them on because I feel like part of a team instead of an outsider looking on.

Maybe you’re not sure of where your talents and gifts lie. There are online spiritual gifts inventories that might give you some ideas. Or ask someone who knows you to tell you some things you do well. You might just find out that other people are envying your talents.

And if you find yourself in the unenviable position of resenting another’s place in the Kingdom, just remember what my grandmother used to say: Tend to your own knitting. Pay more attention to what YOU are doing and less to what others do. One day you will stand before God and account for the tools He has given you, not what He’s given Sister Susie down the street.

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Hope is a Dare

Recently I took my four-year-old granddaughter to a new-to-us playground and had a fantastic time. She was absolutely enchanted with all the play equipment and cried when we had to leave. The next day I decided to take her back and as we were driving, out of the blue she started telling me why she wouldn’t be able to play there again. Basically she told me that “they” had probably taken the whole thing down so she couldn’t play there.

At first I thought it was just pessimistic thinking and I tried to cheer her up. After all, I was driving her TO that very playground and I was pretty sure that nobody had plans to disassemble it any time soon.

She continued to insist that the playground would be gone.

Somebody took it apart in the night and she could never play there again, she said.

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It was right about then I realized what she was doing: she was insulating herself against disappointment. She was afraid to hope.

My little one wanted to enjoy that park so much that she was scared to look forward to it. She was preparing to have the rug jerked out from under herself. I felt my heart break a little for this baby who already felt the need to protect herself from hurt.

Now, in fairness, we all have to deal with disappointment, and I don’t believe my grandgirl has had any more disappointment than other kids her age.

But I sure have caught myself in the same line of thinking. Afraid to hope for the best. Scared to believe that God has anything good for me. Thinking that if something seems too good to be true then it probably is.

I’ve been a settler most of my life. Not the kind that explores new territory, but the kind that “settles” for less than the best. “Good enough” has usually been my “best”. I don’t think I’ve done myself any favors with that attitude.

I don’t set my sights very high because somewhere down deep inside I don’t feel like I deserve anything better than “good enough”.

I don’t dare to hope for more because what if I don’t get it? Who wants to set themselves up for that kind of disappointment?

Ultimately I lay that failure to hope squarely at the feet of my shaky faith.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:11

I don’t dare to hope because sometimes I have trouble believing that God is good, and that He is on my side. I try to pretend it’s humility but it’s really a weak confidence in myself and in Him.

If I can believe Him then it’s safe to hope in Him because even if things don’t go the way I hoped, He will be there to help me pick up the pieces. One of my favorite passages in scripture is in Daniel, when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are brought before the King to answer for their refusal to worship the golden statue. Right before they are thrown into the fiery furnace, they lay it all out:

 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:17-18

Paraphrase by Kim: We know that He can, but we accept that He may not save us for reasons of His own that we cannot understand. Either way, no thanks. We will not worship your man-made god.

That is faith, friends.

We know that He can, but we accept that He might choose not to. (This truth is especially wrenching when I think about my history of miscarriage and infertility.)

In the end, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were indeed thrown into the furnace, but just as they predicted God delivered them and the fire did not touch them.

He can be trusted. He has proven Himself over and over, even though He doesn’t have to.

Even when the situation seems impossible, He can see the ending.

I don’t have to be afraid to put my hope in a God who can protect three men in a fiery furnace. And that same God is for me and has good things planned for me. Why is that so hard to believe?

Hope feels like a dare to me. Hope is standing on the end of a diving board not knowing if the pool below is full of water to catch me, or an empty hole promising only a hard fall.

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The truth is that either way He will be there to catch me.

Emily Dickinson said:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

I don’t pretend to understand all of it, but it sounds like hope is hard to squelch. I can pretend I don’t care and expect the worst, yet hope can still be quietly singing the tune without the words.

My sweet girl was thrilled to see that the playground was still there, just as she left it the day before. We’ve been back since then and she has never again mentioned the possibility that it would be gone.

So maybe it takes realizing how my hopes have been fulfilled over and over to keep hoping even during those times they’re not.

And just a little bit of faith.