It’s true. That’s what I am.
Might as well admit it and get on with the healing.
Envy is the vice that I know, and one that keeps me from being like Jesus. I’m a professional in the way of envy; I have much experience envyoholism.
A definition in case you need it:
•A person suffering from envyoholism.
•One who is addicted to envy, who compares themselves to others constantly: “That envyaholic is at again, measuring his achievements against that 30-year-old billionaire CEO. He’ll never be happy.”
Now let me share an illustrationstory.
When I got the phone call, I was freshly broken up with a girlfriend of several years. It was my brother on the line — my little brother to be exact.
Things had been going well with a lady he’d been seeing. So I wasn’t surprised when he told me his plan to propose.
“This girl is special. It just works, Josh. I’ve never felt so certain about something in my life,” he told me.
I wanted to be excited for him in a normal, visceral way, but I just wasn’t. I congratulated him as best I could.
I’m embarrassed to say I ran through the timeline in my head to see if it was possible to beat him to marriage. This is how ill I was. Could I still come out ahead?
But c’mon! I was born first; I should have been married first. The Universe just didn’t seem to understand. I felt I needed to teach it.
“Hi Universe,” I’d say. The Universe would occupy the only seat in the classroom and I’d be standing in front of the chalkboard.
“See this dot here on the board?” I’d say with a crazy-eyed smile. “Yeah, that’s when I was born. See how it’s before my brother’s dot? Well, you failed the easiest test in the universe, Universe. You know the test with just a single multiple choice question:
Who should be married first?
- His little brother
“It didn’t take much study, Universe. You could have just written the answer on your hand! I wouldn’t mind! Just get it right! Get it right, Universe!”
Anyway, I was in denial for some time, but eventually I had to look reality in the face: my little brother was getting married, and I was EXTRA single.
Now I let me pause. I must admit to brief moment of sanity, however brief, however small. I determined after that phone call that couldn’t change the way I felt about my brother being first in the marriage lineup. My reaction was my reaction. However, I could choose to bless him however possible. The blessing wasn’t in my heart yet, but I could still put on the blessing suit.
So I did.
Shortly after the call I drove six hours one-way from Atlanta, Georgia to Durham, North Carolina to photograph my brother’s proposal. Of course it was magical. There were notes with lovely scavenger-hunt-like instructions, an original song, beautiful food and of course a ring.
Fast-forward to the wedding, which was a handful on months later. I was still putting on that suit, not sure how long I’d have wear it, not even looking for an end to its necessity.
I just told myself I’d have to go through the motions, whatever they were. Be at the wedding. Shave my massive homeless man beard. Smile. Dance. Guard the ring. Make my brother take a shot. Oh yeah, deliver the best man speech (because I was the best man). I couldn’t fake tears, but I could be there. I could get my body there.
But I tell you something happened...
I don’t know when; I don’t know how, but by the time I’d arrived in Durham a second time for the wedding the blessing had sunk into my heart. I wasn’t pretending. I actually had joy in my heart for my brother.
I could finally take off my blessing suit, because I didn’t need it anymore.
I see this as a miracle, just like an instant healing or walking on water. I’d given something nasty to God, and he’d slipped in something beautiful without me even noticing.
By the time I was delivering my speech it felt genuine. I got choked up when I turned to my brother’s bride, and asked her to take good care of him. That’s when it hit me: this beautiful woman is the one my brother is marrying. Just like looking at a sunset, I realized this was equally as gorgeous.
Now I don’t offer this as an exact timeline or model. And truthfully, most of my fights with envy don’t end so happy. Usually it's normal and mundane in the way they pass through. Every envy story is a snowflake (a terrible, disgusting snowflake), but here's some of what I learned:
See and feel the weight of the envy you’re holding.
It’s no use pretending. That’s what AA folks know. You have to call it what it is. You have to let it be as bad as it is. If you hate someone’s guts and want them to die, you might as well admit it (maybe not to their face, but certainly to God and a friend).
I use the verb ‘choose’ on purpose. Trying to get your feelings in line is like faking a laugh. You might get something similar, but it won’t be authentic. It is better to find something funny, or in this case, it’s better the choose the things that will steer your feelings. Go ahead and put on that blessing suit.
This is third step also, because it will take repetition.
Are you hearing me? Take how long you think it should take and still add time (don’t forget about that repetition).
The rest is up to God, I’m afraid. You’ll just have to be patient.
One more story. The other day I was turning left onto a freeway onramp. I noticed a car in the oncoming traffic turning right in the same direction. A first I wasn’t sure there was space for both of us, but I was already turning. Would one have to yield to the other? Would we collide?
Nope. As I made the turn I realized that there were actually lanes for each of us.
I’m really, really convinced that life is like this, despite what envy tells me. There’s space for you. There’s space for me — even when it doesn’t feel like it. Sometimes it feels like it’s you or them, like only one person gets to be ahead. Sometimes it feels like someone took your share. But grace is available to everyone, uniquely. No competition needed. Our stories don’t look the same and that’s alright; that’s beautiful.
Jesus took a bit of fish and bread and fed whole crowd. God could have made just one earth, but he made an ever-expanding universe and even aardvarks. It’s abundant, prodigal, excessive. We serve a God who has more than enough to go around.
Like an alcoholic may feel the gravitational pull of the bottle each day, I feel envy daily. But I’m determined to write my own story and and to cram blessing in the places where envy has moved in. In other words, it won’t take me alive.
Jesus, worker of miracles creator of room, I confess that there is space for me in your arms and that’s most important. Other people can live their stories and I can live mine. There’s no need to compare or shove someone out of the way. I bless you for the miracle of abundant space. Amen.