I was a member of a prestigious professional association for all of two weeks when I showed up at their national convention in Atlanta. My name badge—unlike most others—didn't sport a single special ribbon or honorary designation. I was—horrors!—unknown. Unimportant.
My heart cried out, I'm nobody here, Lord!
People squinted at my barren name tag, then kept walking, looking through me like so much clear glass. I sat through one presentation after another, sinking lower and lower in my seat. Then, alone in my hotel room, I reviewed the day's notes and ended up weeping, feeling frustrated, inadequate, and overwhelmed. How could I ever hope to reach their level of expertise?
I kept telling myself I wasn't so much jealous as I was discouraged. It's not envy, Lord, I'm simply feeling left out . . . .
As the years passed, doors began to swing open. Soon I found myself dealing with a new set of unfamiliar, unpleasant feelings: How come she's moving along faster than I am, Lord? Why did they honor her instead of me?
I wasn't jealous, of course. Merely, uh . . . competitive.
The awful truth revealed itself one gray morning when I received an announcement from a colleague who'd been blessed with an opportunity I was convinced should have been mine. I tossed the letter across the room in an angry huff, whining, "It's not fair, Lord!"
He chose that moment to get my attention. Was the cross of Calvary fair, Liz? Have I called you to succeed—or surrender?
I was undone. Jealousy, envy, and strife were alive and well in my jade-green heart. After a time of weeping and confession, I knew what needed to happen next. I sent a heartfelt memo to more than sixty peers in writing and speaking, women who love and serve the Lord and who—here's the ugly truth in a nutshell—push my jealousy buttons without even knowing it. Included with my note was a brief survey that encouraged my sisters to help me—help all of us—deal with the seldom-discussed reality of professional jealousy.
Their candid answers began pouring in anonymously, as requested. I was especially touched by one role model who wrote, "I could be really spiritual, but I'll be truthful instead."
Just as I'd hoped, my anonymous contributors offered several specific suggestions for experiencing victory over Ol' Green Eyes.
Confess and pray. The business world uses phrases like "friendly competition" and "may the best person win." In Christian circles, we declare we're "working for the Lord"--but sometimes the truth is less honorable. Although I've sung "To God Be the Glory" for fifteen years, I'm finally realizing it's "easier sung than done."
Once a week, someone calls me to say, "All my friends think I'm as funny as you. How do I get started in writing and speaking?" The "outside" Liz used to smile and say, "Isn't that wonderful?" while the "inside" Liz gritted her teeth, thinking, Oh, perfect. Another competitor.
First, I have to admit my jealousy is a sin: "If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth" (James 3:14, NIV). Then I ask for forgiveness and healing, just as one of my friends puts it: "I pray for a clean heart and confess honestly to God about the status of my 'green machine.'" The freedom and release of prayerful confession sets me free to move to the next step.
Rejoice! The surest solution for feeling down is looking up: "Celebrating with others who succeed is energizing for me," one of my colleagues has discovered. Another friend wisely points out, "If one person succeeds, there isn't less to go around. The truth is, there's more available because they got the ball rolling!"
I keep a stack of postcards ready to send out when I hear of someone's success. The postage stamps are already on them so I can't change my mind after I've written, "Way to go, my friend!" (What, and waste twenty cents?!)
"I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4, NIV).
Stay on task. My obsession with "who's on first?" means I'm diverting attention better spent on my own calling. "I make sure my own work is solid," one woman wrote. "What others do is God's business, not mine." Another wise soul decided to "take all the time and emotional energy I used to waste on jealousy and put that energy into doing a better job."
No doubt about it, the effort wasted on fighting the green giant is significant, which is why I've posted on my office wall that important Eleventh Commandment: "Thou shalt not whine."
Be patient. If you're not in the spotlight, count your blessings, including the freedom to not have all the answers. "I'm in process, in training," a friend of mine has realized. "Every time something good comes my way, the Lord is widening my boundaries, in his time, in his way."
Many a career or ministry has collapsed under too much, too soon. I'm slowly learning to relax with the tasks I've been given rather than long for something bigger, better, or faster. Scripture tells us, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded" (Luke 12:48). Sometimes less is already enough to worry about!
Befriend your "rival." Not to be confused with "love your enemy," this good advice has made all the difference for me. As one peer put it, "I try to see the 'winner' as a person, not a competitor. This helps me feel joyful, rather than resentful . . . usually." Another woman has found that "taking the initiative to get to know the woman behind the headlines has transformed my green-eyed monster into a cheerleader." One professional woman who thought she'd just met her biggest rival "heard God's voice saying, 'She's smart, energetic, and sharp . . . just like you. You could be best buddies.' It was a revelation! We've developed a wonderful, lasting friendship."
Plan ahead. Taking care of ourselves is also good insurance against a roving green eye. "If I exhaust myself, skip quiet times with the Lord, forget to exercise, or neglect the friendships that uplift me, negative emotions like envy can get a foothold," admitted one woman. Personally, I've found that when I'm worn out, envy not only gets a foothold, it takes hold of my mouth as well!
Finding partners to fight the good fight has proven to be productive. One woman offered her specific strategy: "Twelve of us who share the same profession formed a covenant two years ago to pray for each other and meet annually. It's hard to be jealous when you have this kind of accountability." My own solution is a '90s thing: I meet with a small group of Christian writers online. When we laugh, cry, confess, and rejoice with each other, the seeds of jealousy are crushed before they can take root.
Lean on the Lord. What a relief to know I no longer need to fight this battle myself, since the Lord stands ready, willing, and able to conquer my sin through the power of his Spirit. "The Lord is sovereign, and we cannot add one inch to our stature, physically or any other way," a good friend recently reminded me. "He guides us every step and his ways are perfect. It has nothing to do with us!"
It's been said that "comparisons are never productive unless Christ is the mirror." He is the one who is "jealous" for us, desiring that our whole heart, mind, body, and soul be focused on him. A friend who admitted to once being a nine on the jealousy scale is now happily living at a one: "The more we hear his voice and are settled in what he is calling us to do, the less we are vulnerable to envy and jealousy," she says. "If we keep a grateful heart, we can rejoice when others succeed!"
The ultimate litmus test was the day I opened my e-mail to discover a post from a dear friend who was meeting with two Hollywood honchos to discuss turning her book into a movie. A movie!?! The "old Liz" would have turned the air green with jealousy, but the "new Liz in Christ" tapped into the keyboard, "Praise God for his blessings on your work, my friend" . . . and meant every word!
I wept with joy for her success, and in a small way, for my own victory over a foe that has plagued me for years. As long as I remember to confess, rejoice, and lean on him, I can sing "To God Be the Glory"—and hit every note.
Liz Curtis Higgs is the bestselling author of numerous books, including Here Burns My Candle (WaterBrook). A busy conference and retreat speaker, Liz lives with her family in Kentucky.
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