This is the first in a series of Saturday posts about dealing with jealousy, based on a talk I gave to high school students about this destructive emotion.
Moving to another culture can make you feel a whole slew of things you might not have even known existed in your emotional vocabulary. Often, when new people arrive here in Nicaragua, I tell them to not worry because they can blame all their failures on culture shock. Remember: whatever happens in your new culture stays in your new culture, right?
Maybe not so much. I’ve started to realize that a lot of the things I’m learning have forever-value in my life, and they are most certainly lessons I don’t want to ever forget or leave behind. So when I was asked to speak to a group of teens about something that might resonate with them, I felt as if God had handed me my topic on a silver platter. I dove head-first into researching one particular emotion I had just recently recognized in my life, to figure out how it came about and what to do with it.
My initial step was to simply define it. What exactly was I feeling? And where did it all come from? I had started watching new friends and acquaintances, wishing I enjoyed the sort of connection they appeared to. I also had what I now realize was a pretty paranoid fear that I might be left alone, without any deep friendships in my new home.
I won’t say it consumed me, but any amount of time spent focusing on what I didn’t have was too much. I had never before found myself so distracted by these emotions. At first it seemed innocent enough, but then I allowed myself to have negative thoughts about the people around me who had or appeared to be developing deep friendships. I found ways to make myself feel better by putting them down, even if just in my head. And then, one Monday morning I was sitting in Bible study working through the third chapter of James when I read this:
But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.
Ugghh! Is that what I’ve been doing? Is that the name I can apply to this uncomfortable-sorta-like-I-swallowed-a-porcupine-ugliness that I can’t seem to shake? Jealousy!? I knew it wasn’t exactly loving to think about other people that way, but I surely hadn’t considered it demonic.
So as soon as I got home I checked out that same bit of scripture in The Message, just to get another take on it and see if God would let me off the hook with the whole demonic thing: Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the further thing from wisdom – it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at each others’ throats.
That’s the thing I’ve come to realize about jealousy: it often masquerades as something else entirely in the beginning, so as to trick you into buying into the feelings before you realize their true colors. And if we aren’t careful, the fear can lead to anger, which can turn into a major problem of sin, separating us from everything pure and holy and right.
This caused me to define jealousy like this:
Jealousy = Fear > Paranoia > Anger > Rage = Sin
For this reason, we must consider jealousy to be extremely dangerous. Proverbs 27:4, tells us “We’re blasted by anger and swamped by rage, but who can survive jealousy?”
That same jealousy causes us to do absolutely destructive things. For example, do you recall any Biblical characters who suffered from jealousy? Here are just a few to help jog your memory:
- Cain was so jealous when God thought his brother offered better stuff… that he killed his brother.
- Joseph’s brothers were so jealous of him (because he was their father’s favorite) that they sold him into slavery and told their father he died.
- King Herod was jealous of this new baby who might be king, so he had all the baby boys in his kingdom killed.
- The Pharisees were jealous of Jesus and all the attention he received... that they put sent him to die on the cross.
In each of these cases, the jealousy started with selfish fear… fear that someone else had better stuff, or was more loved, or in line for a certain job, or just had more friends. That fear — even founded in truth — then progressed to paranoia, anger, and rage, causing a whole slew of truly destructive murderous sin.
When will we stop wanting what other people have?
When will we stop comparing our insides to another person’s outsides?
I want to look at one set of characters in particular to see what else we can learn, and particularly how to fight it. In order to do that, let’s meet King Saul, his trusted adviser, young David, and eventually his son, Jonathan. We’ll pick up with their story, next, in Part 2.