For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
James 3:16 (ESV)
I recently interviewed Shannon Popkin, author of Comparison Girl: Lessons from Jesus on Me-Free Living in a Measure-Up World. (The podcast drops next week). During our conversation I recounted my relationship with a childhood friend to whom I compared everything about myself. My grades were good, hers were better. I had good friends, she had more. I could skate. She performed pirouettes on wheels. You get the picture. The more I compared myself, the more jealousy seeped into my heart, and my knees buckled under the weight of a lie: "not good enough". My heart was susceptible to deception. To keep myself from feeling inadequate I began hiding truths about myself, withholding my thoughts and feelings, embellishing and lying. The "not good-enough" lie, and subsequent envy, gave me a diabolical image of myself.
It's an exhausting enterprise keeping a healthy view of self, based on how you are measuring up to the people around you. There's a boatload of renegotiation that occurs when the people serve as the barometer for your life and they succeed at something you want, or obtain a new badge of status. Envy and comparison are drivers. There's no encouragement, comfort, or shepherd in these emotions. They deplete our worth, creating a void which demands to be filled. Only nothing can. There is always someone prettier, smarter, more talented, with a better marriage. And there's no room for it in the life of a woman loved by God, and following Christ.
THE ISSUE WITH LIVING GREEN
A close friend once said to me, "What are friends but the best of competitors?" There was something wrong with her assessment but I didn't know how to articulate what worried me. Something in her belief was decidedly unChristlike.
Living green environmentally is wonderful, living green emotionally is painful and Scripture knows it. The writer of Proverbs was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write: “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?” (Proverbs 27:4). Look at the comparison scripture draws. Fury is bitter and brutal, but you can remain steady against it. Animosity can paralyze and stun you into surrender, but you can persevere. But, jealousy? Who is able to oppose or overcome it? Jealousy is controlling, demanding, and you feel like you cannot escape it. It drives you to compete and compare and view with suspicion people who are meant to bless our lives.
Be honest. Have you ever interacted with someone whom you envied? Your stomach clenches. You're tense. Pained. Have you ever interacted with someone you knew was envious of you? It's almost the same response. The Bible tells us in Proverbs 14:30 "Envy makes the bone rot." Jealousy is more than insecurity. It's an infection that eats you from the inside out. As you sit comparing your intrinsic value to the external lives of others, Jealousy is making a meal out of you.
So, what's a girl to do?
HOW I GOT OVER MYSELF
Some years ago I decided to get honest with the Lord about the insecurity I was feeling. As I cried and justified the many reasons I had to feel insecure, the realization of what I was doing dawned on me. And it horrified me. Determination set in to get free of the rebellion, masking as insecurity, masking as jealousy. I took the following steps:
Prayer. Specifically, repentance for telling God that His plans for my life were not good enough.
I began to appreciate what I do have. My skin may not be as flawless as someone else's but it rehearses my unique story. Every wrinkle is a laugh I've laughed. My stretch marks indicate I've carried life. My scars are reminders that I'm a survivor. Gratitude and thankfulness took up space and crowded out comparison and envy.
I began living for His glory. In other words, I asked myself, how would me having what that person over there had glorify God.
I began to celebrate the people around me. I have been blessed to know wonderful, beautiful people and their shine did not diminish mine. Together we could shine brighter.
I started praying for people who I used to envy. I discovered I could not sincerely pray for someone while hoping to replace them or own some aspect of their lives.
I got to the root of what was missing in my life that caused me to envy someone else. Was it health? Was it recognition? I discovered what was missing, what I treasured and valued. Then I...
Some of the desires I had were good desires the Lord placed in my heart. I learned to differentiate between which desires were from Him and which were rooted in my ego.
My focus shifted. Focusing on Christ and His purpose for me kept me from comparing myself to others.
WHAT ABOUT HER?
Very few of us are immune to envy. You know what? I found out later, my childhood friend, was jealous of me as well. Despite her talent, intelligence, and popularity, she was jealous of things and people in my life. We actually had a lot of admiration for each other. If only we had learned to be friends versus competitors.
If you find yourself wrestling with jealousy, I want to encourage you to cry out to the Lord for help, insight, and strategy.