“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.”
—James 3:14 (NIV)
I find this verse to be a very reasoned view of envy. Envy is not something we should be proud of, but it’s also not something we should deny either.
Over the years, I have found envy to be a check engine light. Often, it has pointed to something I am neglecting in my life: an area I have left untended, a place I am malnourished.
And I say check engine light because envy needs to be dealt with before the engine blows up and things get really bad.
The Bible is clear that envy is not a good thing. It is called “evil” (Mark 7:21–23) and said to “rot the bones” (Proverbs 14:30) and “slay the simple” (Job 5:2). And sin when unchecked and full-grown can lead to death (James 1:14–15). We have seen how envy led Cain to kill Abel.
Okay, while I’m not saying we’re gonna go all zombie wars on people whose talents we wish we had or whose closets we wish we could raid, envy is something we should definitely keep in check, not bragging about nor denying. It is definitely something that can ruin our inner peace, joy, and relationships, among other things.
Recently, I found myself reacting internally to my boyfriend’s gushing over a popular worship leader whose song was playing on the radio. The radio. My blood turned cold. I was threatened. The green-eyed monster of ENVY rose up inside. My guy was like, “I love her!” and “she is my favorite singer!” and “blah blah blah!!!” Okay, so I know he doesn’t really love her over me. I mean, we ALL have celebrity crushes or love the music of someone, or are truly blessed by the talents of someone.
Still, as he gushed over her so vocally and so ecstatically, I was SO JEALOUS! Jealous of this person whom I’m 99.9 percent sure we’ll never meet because SHE IS A CELEBRITY. Well, a Christian singer who sings about God and brings people into His presence, but a well-known lady all the less. And, as I later found out, SHE IS MARRIED.
She is no threat. No threat at all. But still, I haven’t been able to listen to her lately. Whenever her songs come on, I turn them off. She used to also be one of my very favorite singers, and she still is. Just not now.
So why in the world am I threatened by her? Why am I envious of someone whose talents I also appreciate? Who I know poses zero real threat to my relationship?
For the same reason I don’t watch The Voice or American Idol anymore.
Because I am a singer.
Because I am a worship leader.
Because this is a talent I have, for the most part, buried.
Over the years, I have learned to interview my envious (or insecure) feelings. What are they pointing to? What part of my life is neglected? What am I not nourishing?
Say we are envying someone’s appearance. Perhaps we are not taking the time to self-care or to exercise. Or maybe one of our classmates gets a book deal. Perhaps we have a book on our heart, but we’re not making the time to write.
In my case, instead of shame and jealousy and beating myself up or getting angry at my boyfriend for adoring a singer’s voice when it IS absolutely beautiful and touched by the Spirit of God, why don’t I take a breath and ask myself, “What is going on here? Why am I feeling this way?”
It’s true that sometimes we do wish we had a talent that perhaps we just don’t have and never will have—for example, I’ll never be an avid rock climber or a professional painter. Still, even these envious feelings likely mean we’re not nurturing something. Envy does not always point to the exact thing but what the thing represents. Wishing I could rock climb might mean I am craving more adventure in my life. Wishing I could paint like so-and-so might mean I am neglecting my creativity. (Note to Justin: please DO NOT plan a rock climbing excursion for me; I have NO DESIRE to do this. Lol.)
What My Green-Eyed Monster Had to Say
In the case of my recent envy—stone-cold jealousy of a popular worship leader—I feel like my guy has only a tiny inkling of what music means to me and the role it has played in my life, that I once dreamed of singing professionally—starting out as a music major in college—and that nothing in the universe makes me feel more alive.
Me and music have been through a lot together.
While I’ve neglected my gift, there have been points in my life when taking a break from singing was healthy. You see, when I discovered performance in middle school, when I discovered that my voice had power and could move others and that I felt most alive (and most comfortable) expressing myself through this medium, I also discovered it got me attention. For a few days, maybe a week or two, I was “popular.” Shy, quiet girl who could barely say hello to her crush was suddenly getting attention from the cool boys in school, even if short-lived because I couldn’t maintain the connection. So this talent became a big part of my identity, so much so that in early college I felt God telling me to sit out from music for a season.
It had become an idol.
I’ll never forget the Christmas season I worked on the stage crew for the college choral production, sitting on the cold lobby floor weaving pine strands into a wreath while voices singing Christmas carols—fancy, rich, BEAUTIFUL Christmas carols—resounded through the open auditorium doors. I was humbled, even more so when I attended the concert as an audience member and not a performer.
And then later, when I was invited to join the worship team of a church, I learned even more that music was not about me. At this point, I had a heart that didn’t want it to be about me; I had a more humbled heart that wanted God to use my talent to bless others and to bring them into His presence. In fact, I worried that the power my voice was capable of would make others think I was seeking to show off or to perform instead of worship. At this stage, I had to learn to allow God to use my talent without fear of what others would think—specifically, that they’d misjudge me for “showing off.”
The thing is, when I get onto a stage, when I have practiced a song and understand its message and have learned the words, I can most fully express my heart. So yes, that part is personal. But I can also communicate the message of that song and allow the Holy Spirit to use me as a vessel to bring others into the presence of God. I have seen it happen. I do not claim to be an amazing singer, but worship and song performance are gifts the Lord has given me.
Nonetheless, at this point, they are gifts I have almost completely buried. Gifts that have been buried through life transitions, grief, busyness, obligations. But they are a part of who I am, a very important part, and yet deeply neglected.
The engine needs some oil! The garden needs some tending!
So OF COURSE I’m gonna feel tender when my love raves about another female singer when I have this ache in my heart to sing and to show him this part of myself that is so special to me.
But oh, am I rusty!!! A lot of weeds have grown in this garden!!! A year or so ago, I risked getting onto a stage to sing a few karaoke songs, and I struggled to reach notes. I had also lost any stage presence I once had. And I have tried to sing for my man a few times in the comfort of my living room, but for some reason, singing one-on-one is even harder for me, so I stopped. So yes, it’s gonna take some self-kindness and time to cultivate this part of my life again. And maybe my man won’t even like my voice when he finally has the chance to see and hear me sing with abandon. Maybe my voice will creak because it is so out of practice. Maybe he won’t react in the way the high school boys did, raving for a few days about how they can’t believe such a voice came out of me and how good I sounded and blah blah blah.
I’m reading Donald Miller’s Scary Close, and there’s a scene in which he’s sitting with his fiancé and another man she knows. And this other man is making his lady laugh. A lot. Thing is, Don can count on one hand how many times he has made her laugh like that, and making people laugh is kinda “his thing.” But it’s also the thing he’s used at times to gain “love,” or a feeling of worth and validity. So later that night as they return to the car and she snuggles into Don’s arm, he realizes that this woman loves him for who he is. He doesn’t have to perform for her. He doesn’t have to write more bestselling books or tell the funniest jokes. She enjoyed the experience because she was with him. Don. He got the girl.
So while I’ve started listening to musical tracks again and even slipped a makeshift RSVP to a future musical performance into my boyfriend’s Valentine’s Day card, I need to rest in the fact that his being impressed with my singing is not the point. It’s not why he loves me. It’s not why God loves me. It shouldn’t be why I love me.
Still, singing is an important thing to me. It makes me feel alive. It’s not practical nor a task to check off on my to-do list. It’s not something I want to do as a career anymore. It just makes me feel good!!! And it is a talent God has given me to share with and to bless others. So I venture forth to pull out the weeds and nourish this talent so that it grows again. So it blooms again.
But this time with the right spirit and the right purpose.
Talk to Your Green-Eyed Monster
Have you found yourself envying someone lately? Interview this feeling. What is it you’re envying about him or her? Is there something in your own life you’re neglecting that you could begin cultivating again? Or is this just something you need to ask God for help with? We can’t always have what we want, and life isn’t always fair. Sometimes we need to ask God for help to accept and be grateful for what He has already given us. Sometimes we need to ask Him for help in changing our heart and perspective.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
—James 1:5 (NIV)
Have a wonderful week! Don’t be afraid of green-eyed monsters! They’re often something good in disguise if you just take a minute to talk to them.
P.S. What’s interesting about this green-eyed monster post is that I wrote most of it in literal darkness. We had a power outage, so it was just me, the screen, a cold mug of coffee, and the “monsters.” And I wasn’t even scared! 😉