Jealousy: the Worst Form of Hate

portrait at 30

Can I tell you about a path I took that spoiled my journey for many years? Part of the purpose of this blog is to leave markers for those following. This is a big one that says “Not this way.” It will suck the joy right out of your life.

It’s a well-worn trail with many people on it. I still have to guard my instant thoughtless reaction from heading that way, but it’s a killer trap after a while. Avoid it at all costs.

It’s jealousy.

The Bible says jealousy is hate. Who can stand against it?

I don’t know where it started but I have a feeling that when I was a child and people were held up to me as examples to follow, or when others received praise and rewards I didn’t choose to honour them, but rather wished for their downfall. I do remember being compared unfavourably to better children. “Why can’t you be more like Carolyn? She cleans her room without being told. Why can’t you be more like Mary Beth? She practises piano for hours every day and wins at the music festival. I’m sure you could do it if you tried harder. You have just as much potential.”
Carolyn and Mary Beth used to be my friends. They weren’t after that.

At the heart of jealousy is a problem with comparison and a feeling that there is not enough love, attention, reward, or acknowledgement to go around. If there is only one winner somebody has to lose. I used to wish that the perfectly groomed girl in high school, with the matching shoes and bag for every outfit would trip and fall dramatically in a mud puddle. I wished that other singers would catch a cold before a recital or contest. Of course I learned to smile and say polite words giving false encouragement but the feelings inside me were ugly ugly ugly. The bizarre thing was the more I silently wished ill on others (also known as cursing) the more often I fell in mud puddles and caught colds.

The biggest temptation for me was to hate physically attractive people. I grew up in a culture where a woman’s value was judged by her slenderness, her shiny hair, her straight white teeth and unblemished skin. I have fought a weight problem since puberty. It wasn’t until many years of making dieting and exercise a full-time occupation (to the point of being anorexic for two years but still being heavier than the charts said I should be) that I was diagnosed with an endocrine disorder that makes weight loss very difficult –and by that time I had destroyed my metabolism with years of starvation.

One day, at a church function, as I sat beside a friend giving me diet advice while she ate a cupcake with an inch of frosting, I lost it. When she lifted it to her mouth I put my hand under hers and smashed it into her slender face. It shocked everyone, but the truth is I had been smashing cupcakes into pretty women’s faces in my mind for years. I had been secretly rejoicing in the embarrassment of all sorts of accomplished people like a schadenfreude queen.

Then it happened. I reached my goal of success. I was in a relatively thin period and accomplished a difficult operatic lead role in front of an audience that included people whose opinions mattered. I could afford to be gracious and encouraging to the ladies in the chorus who gushed admiringly. I was gathering accolades along with bouquets of flowers after receiving a prolonged standing ovation with bravas! when a colleague said, “Just remember – you’re only as good as your last performance.” I saw her barely-contained jealousy and I recognized myself. After that I began to get frequent bouts of bronchitis/laryngitis and developed a horrible case of stage fright. It was downhill from there; my health became worse. The great career never happened.

Here’s the thing about success: you will gain fans but lose people you thought were friends. You will gain public criticism for peripherals (nice paintings but the wine and cheese were not the best) and you will lose family who talk about “swollen heads” and rarely give compliments – “for your own good.”

You can’t reason with jealousy. The only way to ease jealous reactions is to step down, to become less accomplished, less of a threat.

The fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control) raises people up to fulfill their potential. The deeds of the flesh (sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these) pull people down. Galatians says evidence that we are not operating from Holy Spirit’s resource cache is sightings of enmity, strife, jealousy, rivalries, divisions, envy…. These are as inappropriate behaviours in a community of believers as drunken orgies! The Greek word for strife is eritheia which can mean a self-seeking desire to promote oneself with a factious partisan spirit in pursuit of political-type office. In other words power-seeking. We can have group jealousy too. Public figures are regularly bashed in social media.

How do we deal with it when we see it in ourselves? We come in the opposite spirit. We rejoice with those who rejoice. We rely on the provision God has already made for us. I needed to go to some people and apologize for my attitude. That was not easy. I needed to learn to encourage and bless people and to earnestly desire their success. I needed to free myself from this path I was stuck on. I needed to turn around and think again.

Yesterday I was talking to someone who said visitors to their church who had gifts of discerning quietly told the leadership that a spirit of jealously was attempting to divide them. They looked around and realized they were right. People who had shown excellence in their callings as well as people who had received unusual outpourings of unmerited favour were being isolated, ignored and criticized for minor things by those who had once been their closest friends. Jealousy affects connection. It shows up most in friends, family and colleagues. Wise leaders decided to do the opposite and held small celebrations of appreciation to honour those who were the victims of jealousy. Out of that is coming a freedom to honour everyone. They can say to that spirit of jealousy, “We see you. We know what you want to do. Not here.”

When I started genuinely rejoicing with people who have received miraculous healings, or sudden wealth, or success in other fields I began to regain my own health and have seen miracles in my life and in my family. I am freer to pursue my calling to encourage others without comparison or competition.
With God, there is always enough to go around. In his eyes everyone is a winner.

A Foretaste

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“Watching and waiting,
looking above,
echoes of mercy,
whispers of love.”

(from Blessed Assurance by Fanny Crosby)

My husband said, “Let’s go!” So we went.

I wasn’t expecting it at all, but he said he could take a few days off and unseasonably warm weather on the left half of the continent made a road trip in February feasible. We looked at a map and determined the closest place with sandal-worthy temperatures was Northern California.

The first thing I saw when we got out of the car after two and a half days of driving was a tree in bloom.

A few days before we left I kept hearing and seeing the word “adapt” in a dream. Frankly, I started bracing myself for another challenge. What now, I thought. I realized instead, as I was looking for sandals and summer clothes to quickly toss in a suitcase, that “adapt” this time meant adapting to a pleasant surprise.

We’re home now, after a wonderful ten days in a different world with sun and palm trees and spring flowers. There is ice on the sidewalk here and work piles up again. It will be another three months before my plum tree is in bloom, but I feel like I had a foretaste of what is to come.

He does that, my Abba God. It’s a kind of now and not yet gift. He allows us to experience a taste of what He has planned, a remembrance of the future. And it gives us hope.

Hope is vision-led endurance.

Thank you, Lord.

Thank you.

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Acknowledging Our Own Littleness

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Not until we have become humble and teachable, standing in awe of God’s holiness and sovereignty, acknowledging our own littleness, distrusting our own thoughts, and willing to have our minds turned upside down, can divine wisdom become ours.

-J.I. Packer

As a singing teacher I sometimes noticed that students who found change most difficult were those who had received notoriety too soon. They clung to style or technique that had earned them trophies in the past. It’s one of the reasons why child prodigies often have difficulty finding their way in the adult world. It’s hard to let go of success.

Spiritual growth requires a teachable attitude – also known as meekness. There is a line from an old hymn playing in my head this morning:

I will cling to the old rugged cross ’til my trophies at last I lay down,

I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown.

Sometimes trophies can become heavy burdens as we journey on this path. Sometimes we need to lay them down so we can move on.

Enjoy

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Just these two words He spoke
changed my life,
“Enjoy Me.”

What a burden I thought I was to carry –
a crucifix, as did He.

Love once said to me, “I know a song,
would you like to hear it?”

And laughter came from every brick in the street
and from every pore
in the sky.

After a night of prayer, He
changed my life when
He sang,
“Enjoy Me.”

Saint Teresa of Avila (Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada ) (1515 to 1582)

Loneliness: You know what I mean?

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Was it something I said?
Was it something I said?

 

There is a strain of loneliness infecting many Christians which only the presence of God can cure.A.W. Tozer

I don’t remember where I heard this said about people in the arts who venture into the public eye, but it stuck with me: Artists want to be noticed, musicians want to be heard, actors want to be loved, and writers want desperately to be understood.

It takes a certain amount of courage to venture into a field that exposes one’s inner thoughts and then depends upon the approval of strangers to make a living. I suppose the same could be said for other fields requiring vulnerability, from stripping to politics to scientific research. Even accountants and morticians need approval to keep their jobs. But some people have a greater drive to make connections. Some people are more acutely aware of loneliness.

Writers strive to find a dozen ways to phrase a thought hoping to find the one that brings a response to the question, “Do you know what I mean?” Ya know?

Yet even the most successful artistic people in the world can have a profound sense of loneliness. Sometimes a success backfires and arouses jealousy. Have you noticed how the critics are drawn like moths to the flame of a book or article that gains popular approval?

I absolutely love how Lara Merz responded to an interview question about how to handle negative reviews: “I would say try not to take things too personally, especially if the reviewer is someone you are not in relationship with. There is something about honesty from a loved one or deep friend who cares about who you are, and who you are becoming that is often worth taking heed to, but strangers are trickier because we know nothing of who they are, how healthy they are and the why the book was pushing buttons. Buttons get pushed for many reasons and most of them have very little to do with what pushed the buttons, but rather why there are buttons there in the first place.”

For approval junkies like me criticism can be devastating, because I have buttons. The truth is we all have buttons. Until we are perfectly healed and know we are deeply loved by God we are all offendable and will take off  (or bite back) when we feel threatened. Maybe that’s the definition of maturity – having fewer and fewer buttons.

The healing strength of approval and connection that comes from friends and spouses is beautiful but in a way tasting that love can create an even greater awareness of loneliness. Sometimes we find ourselves tempted to compromise on values to maintain those connections. A lot of people use service to the needy as a means to overcome loneliness, hoping dependency on the care-giver will create a strong bond. And I hate to break this to those of you who are in search of the perfect mate. It is possible to be profoundly lonely in even the very best marriage.

There comes a time when we have to admit that our most loyal fans, our closest friends and even our faithful lover do not understand us. When we accidentally touch one of their buttons they will also fly away emotionally. My point is that there is only one reliable source of approval, and that is from the One who created us to be who we are and notices, hears, loves and understands perfectly.

There are some who are called to walk closely with the Lord. Part of their training necessarily involves rejection, and it will occur again and again until they understand that God is jealous for their attention, their love. They cannot give unselfish love until they have received unselfish love from the only One capable of giving it and who heals their hearts.

If you find yourself in a lonely place, pay attention to the quiet. It’s Jesus calling.