Something I’ve been learning a lot about as I’m re-navigating my faith is jealousy, what it actually is and why it’s such a damaging emotion.
What does it mean to be jealous of someone? According to the (mostly) trustworthy Google, jealousy can be defined in four ways:
- feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages
- feeling or showing suspicion of someone’s unfaithfulness in a relationship
- fiercely protective or vigilant of one’s rights or possessions
- (of God) demanding faithfulness and exclusive worship
It is clear, then, that jealousy can either mean being protective of what belongs to you (your possessions, your spouse, or in God’s case, your people) or desiring what belongs to someone else. Therefore, jealousy can be either positive or negative. Clearly, it is important to be protective of your belongings. Some people may criticize you if you refer to your spouse as “belonging” to you, as in ownership, but that’s not exactly what it means. It goes both ways in a marriage: a wife pledging herself to be loyal to her husband is the same as a husband pledging to be loyal to his wife: they belong to each other, not to anyone else, in the sense that if, say, a woman desires another woman’s husband, then she is desiring what has already been pledged to the other woman. Such is the way with God: Christ belongs to His Church just as Christ’s Church belongs to Him.
But when you are jealous of someone else, jealous of their possessions, what does this really mean in a spiritual sense? Here’s what I’ve discovered:
You are jealous of the other person – coveting what belongs to them – because you are unhappy with your own lot.
The other person is rich? You are unhappy with the possessions and the wealth that you have. The other person is smarter than you? You are unhappy with your own intelligence. The other person is more popular than you? You are unhappy with the number of friends you have, or with your social skills. The other person is prettier than you? You are unhappy with your own appearance.
So when you are jealous of someone, you need to consider this: would having what that other person has actually benefit you? If not, then change your perspective. If so, then change yourself.
First, let’s think about when you might need to change your perspective. For example, if you are jealous of someone because they are more social than you, do you want to be more social because you feel lonely, or because you want the affirmation they receive? If you want to be more social because you feel lonely, then you need to go out and interact positively with society. Help people; make meaningful friends. Don’t sit there being lonely and jealous. If, however, you want to be more social so you can have more people praising you, then think about what this means. Do you have to give up some core beliefs for many people to like you? Do you have to bend to everyone’s will? Are you unhappy with being yourself proud of your own accomplishments? Then this is an instance where you would have to change your perspective.
But, you may say, what if we feel jealous because we could have had what another person has, but some external force in our life has prevented it? Maybe you had to take time to recover from some tragedy in your life. Maybe you have a disability – mental or physical – that you needed time to adjust to. In this case I would say hey, don’t be jealous of that other person because they had a different path, maybe a different purpose, to take in their life. Maybe they struggled just like you did and you just happen to be seeing the positive result of that. In that case, be inspired. Maybe they didn’t have to struggle like you do because at the end of the day, they have a different story to tell. Maybe they have greater responsibilities that they have to deal with. Maybe the difference with you is that you need to tell the story of a survivor at the end of your struggles. Or maybe you’re not seeing the whole picture. Maybe they’re putting up a front and doing great with one particular thing, but inside they’re really struggling with something else, something that they see is equally difficult for them as your struggle is for you.
Overall, everyone’s life is different. You can’t control the success of others, but you can control the success of yourself, whether that means working harder and improving your own self, or simply being content with what you have.
“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” -Proverbs 14:30