The lesson in our painting class was on portraits. Portraits are hard! One slightly wrong proportion can change an identity. One difference in angle can create an unintended expression. After an embarrassing failure some years ago, I thought I was ready to try again.

I can assure you that this painting does not look like the model. I didn’t throw it out though, because there was something about the expression that did look like the model’s. I changed details like hair, face shape, colouring, and clothing so she couldn’t be identified, but I kept the expression. The side glance and slight sneer reminded me of the look of jealousy. The painting sits on my dresser as a reminder that jealousy is not becoming to anyone, no matter how attractive they are physically.

I’ve often wondered why Jesus told people not to tell anyone about what he had done for them when he healed them. It would seem like a good P.R. move to advertise by featuring the familiar lame man’s new dance moves or the mute woman’s singing. In the early days of his ministry, Jesus emphatically did not want the kind of attention fame brings.

Fame can bring attention and revenue and influence, but just as often fame creates toxic atmospheres and attracts hatred. As Proverbs 27:4 says, “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?”

A few moments spent reading the comments section of almost any popular publication will reveal that. I am convinced that a great deal of nasty criticism and slander aimed at popular Christian speakers and writers is not motivated by the belief that they are irredeemable charlatans, rather it is propelled by jealousy toward the target that success and attention has painted on their backs.

People may insist that they are merely “rightly dividing the word of truth” or “just being Bereans” or “declaring the whole counsel of God” when they walk away from the bullet-point ridden body left bleeding in the dirt, but jealousy, envy, or covetousness lingers in the eyes and on the lip. It tells you there was no love in this exchange, no desire to create a relationship that encourages change or growth or rewards indications of acts of greater goodness. The jealous want the object of their envy to be hauled away and never heard from again.

We’ve seen it before amongst people who want to maintain control. When Paul and Barnabas spoke in Pisidian Antioch, the religious people in charge there “were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.” (Acts 13:45)

Acts 7:9 tells us the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph and sold him as a slave to rid themselves of their young brother whose favour with their father annoyed them to the point of violence.

The story of Jesus’ crucifixion contains this important piece of information about Pilate’s politically-motivated choice to release Barabbas, the career criminal, instead of Jesus: “For he [Pilate] knew that it was out of envy that they [the religious leaders] had delivered him up.” (Matthew 27:18)

God’s jealousy for us is a passionate loving zeal that we would not be seduced and pulled away by the evil one. Human jealousy is uncontrolled passionate hate that would harm and destroy. It is the result of already being under the influence of the evil one who said, “Oh, you’re worried that there is not enough love to go around. I can help you with that.”

The moment we become aware of that voice we have a choice to make. We can turn and run to God and ask him to heal our wounded hearts with his abundant grace and fill our empty places with his relentless love, or we can submit to a power that destroys not only the object of jealousy but our own souls.

I guess that’s why I keep this painting. It’s a reminder that every day I have the choice to bless or curse and how easy it is to make the wrong choice. I can bless because I am blessed. I don’t have to curse. I don’t work for that boss anymore. I am not authorized to listen to his voice. Jesus freed me. He is enough.

Love in the Deep

Cranbrook swimming pool slide PICT1389

Choose love not in the shallows but in the deep.

~ Christina Rossetti

Falling in love, as wonderful as it feels, is mostly about the way someone makes us feel. Love is not limited to romance. An uplifting sense of approval prompts us to carry our heads higher when a person we admire offers praise – or better yet, asks our advice. Feeling loved allows us to see ourselves through the eyes of another and enjoy the view. Awakening to love returns us to the place of early childhood. Babies receive love but they don’t extend love very well. There is more.

My neighbour taught me a new word this week. Firgun. In contemporary Hebrew it means the opposite of Schadenfreude – that perfect word describing the guilty pleasure we experience when seeing someone we dislike humiliated. Schadenfreude may occur when the… ah… um… person who just sped past us on a dangerous curve is now parked on the side of the road in front of a vehicle with flashing lights. That shamefully satisfying feeling is Schadenfreude,  not firgun.

Firgun is simple unselfish pleasure that comes from seeing another person receive something especially good, even though we ourselves may have been overlooked for a similar honour or windfall. Firgun is rejoicing with those who rejoice. Firgun is jealousy-free genuine joy. Firgun is mature love.

Years ago, on a hot summer day I joined my sweet friend in a cool private swimming pool. We had it all to ourselves and happily wallowed in the shallow end to cool off. I didn’t know she couldn’t swim. She didn’t know the pool had a deep end.

She took a step over the line that marked the beginning of the plunging floor. When she couldn’t touch bottom she panicked and flailed about so dramatically I thought she was joking. She wasn’t. I could still touch bottom so I reached out to grab her.

My kind, sweet, caring, gentle friend nearly drowned me.

She pulled me into the deep end with her and tried to push herself up with hands on my shoulder and head. That pushed me under. The problem was that she wouldn’t let go of my hair as she strove for air.

Finally I broke free, swam to the edge, got out of the pool, and, when I was on solid ground, extended the pole that hung on the fence.

We both lived, but she avoided me for a while. I knew she couldn’t help it. Desperation drove her, but the feeling of being held under the water until I feared blacking out stuck with me for a long time, too. She had not been in a position to be considerate of my needs and without anything to stand on I became just as vulnerable.

A verse in the Old King James translation of the Bible talks about provoking each other to excel in doing good. A more contemporary translation says this:

Discover creative ways to encourage others and to motivate them toward acts of compassion, doing beautiful works as expressions of love. (Hebrews 10:24 TPT)

Healthy competition inspires by demonstrating what is possible. I’ve seen too many people, including couples who have sworn to love each other and friends who have known each other for years, engaged in unhealthy competition that looks more like a desperate attempt to keep heads above water by pushing the other one under.

Sometimes we can depend on another person to carry us in a way that makes us turn them into an idol who will eventually disappoint. Sometimes our desperation turns them into someone we treat as expendable in the face of our overwhelming need. In desperate times we can cling with such ferocity to a human source of support that we nearly drown them. Sometimes we are the ones who need to disentangle and leave before we can help.

I’ve been thinking about why love is so hard. I wonder if reaching out to love other people when we don’t feel loved ourselves is like being pulled into the deep end against our will. Love has to be a choice or it is not love.

Love in the shallows (and I’m not just talking about couple love here) becomes love in the deep only when we no longer cling to another mere person for approval or for our sense of identity. Love in the deep is love that gives, because it has learned how to receive from the source of love and has something to give.

Mature lovers know that even in the deep they can be grounded in rest and on the firm foundation of  Jesus Christ’s love. They also refuse to let themselves become a god to anyone else and instead help them to connect to God themselves. They can stand firm and extend His love like I extended the pole to my struggling friend.

How do we know the difference between mature love and self-serving love? Firgun. Can I be genuinely happy for another person’s healing, or financial gain, or  recognition without triggering my own sense of lack? Does their success give me pleasure and release a flood of praise to the Giver of all good things? For close family and friends perhaps, but for most people, on my own,  no.

I can’t give what I have not received. But when I am in Christ and he is in me? Then I can remember that the love the Father has for the Son includes me. When I center my life in Him, and focus on who He is, His grace empowers me to do the creative good works he designed for me. He will show me how to become a mature lover of others without drowning in old pain. He makes me into a giver with firgun.

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 after many years of making dieting and exercise a full-time occupation (to the point of eating like an 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. I’ve come to believe one of the best ways to attract nasty critics in “Christian” circles is not just being be good at what you do, but receiving attention for it.

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 unexpected 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. The 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.