How to Avoid Envy

I thought jealousy only reared its ugly head on the playground or in the middle school cafeteria. I never once expected it to follow me to adulthood and marriage. But it has, and it makes me feel quite ugly inside and out.

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My Story

My husband and I have talked about our family and career goals. We have plans that we have prayed about, and we are open to God’s leading in whatever direction he has for us. Yet, I can’t help but feel so jealous of stay at home moms with new babies who live in seemingly perfect neighborhoods. The grass seems greener on the other side.

The funny thing is that I felt this same pang of envy when I was a college student and a recent graduate — before I started dating. It seemed like everyone else had found someone they loved, and I was destined to be an old, single cat lady. Then one day, I woke up with a sense of confidence and almost joy about that “cat-lady” life I had once dreaded. I looked forward to it. I made plans for graduate school and living with my best friends.

Not long after that, a guy I had met in college sent me a Facebook message. We chatted. Later, he asked for my phone number; after that, a date. Fast forward a couple years, and he asked for my hand in marriage.

It was definitely not instantaneous. Become satisfied with being single and God will magically grant you a boyfriend… is a terrible way to live. However, I became less jealous of others when I saw the beauty in my own situation. At that time, I worked with two wonderful, strong, older, and very independent single women in two separate settings. Their lives encouraged me to live my singleness to the fullest, and I began to appreciate them.

Today, as a happily-married woman, I find other things to keep me envious. It’s ugly, and I hate it. I know that God hates it, too.

How can I (and you) avoid it?

I already mentioned the first way: Relish what you have. Rejoice in your current place. Just as the wonderful single women in my life encouraged me to enjoy my singleness, so the married women in my life can also encourage me to make the most of these days. Are you a working mom wishing you were home? Or a homeschooling mom wishing you had a career outside the home? Maybe you’re a high school student waiting for the day you can leave home… Or a wife hoping for fertility. Who is in your same spot? Find them at church, in a Bible study, on a blog, at the gym, at school or work… The opportunities are endless. Find the joy in today and relish it. Encourage each other to celebrate today, because this too is the day that the Lord has made.

Romans 12:15 urges its readers to rejoice with those who rejoice. This doesn’t come easily. A family member of ours gave elaborate, expensive gifts to the family at Christmas time. My husband and I opted for inexpensive books, journals, and shirts. I went into Christmas knowing that our gifts were meaningful and not going to put us into debt. However, when I saw the mounds of presents this person brought in, I became jealous of the money they make and of the exuberant responses they received from family members. But the verse I had memorized so long ago came back to me… Rejoice with those who rejoice. They may make more money than we do, but they sweetly gave of what they had, not hoarding their extra money for themselves. I can rejoice with them instead of harboring envy towards them. 

Finally, a warning to take care of yourself… Obviously, the “rejoice with those who rejoice” includes things like going to bridal and baby showers, attending weddings and graduations, sending greeting cards, and buying presents. But for a person with serious pain and heartache in a specific area, it might be okay to opt out of some of that rejoicing. When a church’s young members all began to get pregnant around the same time, a woman I knew carefully selected which showers she would attend. She had struggled with infertility for a long time and was in a deep place of pain. For her, it was not the pang of jealousy, but the sharp, heart-wrenching stab of hurt. She went to the smaller showers for her closest friends, and had prior commitments during the others. In this way, she was able to care for herself and her emotions, which enabled her to more fully love and celebrate the friends to whom she was closest.

The Fruit of the Spirit

The fifth chapter of Galatians ends by expressing the results of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives: things like love for others, kindness towards those around us, and self-control in our actions and in our hearts. Just prior to that paragraph is a section explaining the desires of the flesh: jealousy AND envy, as well as idolatry, selfish ambition, and dissension. We are called to a passionate love, even towards those we think have everything we want. For in the loving, we cease to be jealous of what they have and, instead, come to celebrate the unique paths where God has placed us.

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Feet on the Ground: Eyes to the Sky

Is it ironic to anyone else that we usually spend more time, money, and energy preparing for the next stage of life than living in the current one? Now, I know that’s not always the case, but consider the college years. We take out exorbitant loans in order to pay for an education that should train us for the next few stages of life. We spend (or should spend) hours in classes and lecture halls and libraries, not for the benefit of our college years, but for some future benefit. Some girls pin wedding dresses and bridal ideas to Pinterest before they even have a boyfriend, not to mention an engagement ring. In high school, we long for the freedom of college and spend hours visiting potential schools, applying for scholarships, writing essays, and settling on majors. As single people, we dream of marriage and children. We can’t wait for “real jobs” that somehow magically support a family, put food on the table, and leave a little extra for that dream vacation. Is it just that we aren’t satisfied with our current circumstances and long for the greener grass on the other side?

Yes… I mean… No, there’s more to it.

There is something serious to be said about constantly looking for what’s next. It’s like living as if you’re in a waiting room. God has not called us to passive waiting – he has called us to active, working, living-in-the-moment waiting, a kind of waiting that gets knee deep in the current situation until a tap on the shoulder calls us to what he has for us next. Never get so caught up in what might happen tomorrow that you neglect today and all of its unique joys, trials, discoveries, and adventures. I believe that God has us where he wants us right now for a reason. Even the in-between stages are adventures. As Anne Voskamp once wrote, “Waiting is just a gift of time in disguise — a time to pray wrapped up in a ribbon of patience — because is the Lord ever late?” He has right where he wants us.

However, I would also propose the idea that we need a mindset that is also looking forward to the future. There needs to be a balance. There is reason that we think about the future often and have all kinds of desires for our futures. I believe it would be wrong to ignore those thoughts and desires. So how can we deal with them properly? By using them to prepare ourselves.

I once attended a college group the day they decided to study marriage. A student asked the pastor why we have to study marriage if we aren’t yet married. The pastor responded with something along the lines of: “You’re in college. It’s not going to be long until you are looking to get married. This is the perfect time to be getting ready.”

Many years ago, I began listening to sermons on God’s purposes for marriage, learning healthy communication techniques, reading books on relationships, and observing positive and negative relationships. I did all this before I began dating in order to prepare myself for a relationship ahead of time. The same is true for a career. I knew I wanted to go into the field of education when I was young, so I signed myself up to spend 120+ weeks of my life studying, reading, and learning how to be a teacher, not to mention the various summer activities I participated in that further prepared me for my upcoming role. I feel like my college education has barely scratched the surface, but it was the pathway to becoming a teacher, and I needed to take the time to invest into a four year degree so I could be better prepared for what I believe God has called me to do with my life. I will never be completely ready for what’s next, but I can be a little more prepared by looking ahead.

As Switchfoot sings, “Grow, grow where you are. Anchor your roots underneath.” We should actively wait for what’s next while at the same time being knee-deep in what’s now.


On that note, let me take a moment to change direction. When I talk about stages of life, I’m also talking about identity. We easily find our identities in what we do. It’s the first question many people ask us. It’s in our Twitter pages and our Facebook “About Me” sections. For a long time, I found my identity in my status as a student and as a single person. I wrote blog posts after blog posts (including a three-part series) on singleness. I lived and breathed that identity. Singleness was something God used powerfully to bring about sanctification in my life. Then one day a really awesome guy showed up in my life and chose to pursue me.  I heard God release me from intentional singleness. In four weeks, I went from identifying as a woman comfortable in my singleness (complete with books, tea, and a cat), to trying to find my identity as a dating woman. I welcomed the relationship and I’m beyond excited about it, but it’s difficult to transition like that.

Yesterday, I read a blog post by a woman who had recently moved from a stage of infertility to a stage of having children. Her identity changed to include being a mother in the time it took to take a pregnancy test. In the midst of the realization, she wrote:

How do you say goodbye to a season that [God has] used to make you into who you are?

I resonate with that. My identity has changed, and the circumstances of my life that God uses to mold me may have changed, but the lessons I learned from those circumstances have not changed. God is the same, and his truths and his words are the same. Now God is using a different stage of life (that of a relationship) to bring about my good and his glory. In 2010, God told me he wanted to do great and wonderful things in me and through me before there was a guy in my life. And you know what, he did! I was called to teaching, developed some life-long friendships, took two trips overseas, spent a summer as a camp counselor, graduated college Magna Cum Laude, and landed what I believe will be an awesome job. The mind-blowing thing is that God’s great and wonderful plans don’t end there. He is still doing great and wonderful things, and he orchestrates circumstances to keep bringing them about.

At this moment, as my journey shifts a bit, I find myself overjoyed at God’s ability to work all things together in a way that only He can. I am saying goodbye to one stage only to say hello to another.

Thank you for joining me on this journey of discovery as I strive to keep my feet on the ground and my eyes to the sky.

The Adventures In Between

I realized today that even the “boring” stages of life are adventures.

I have really been struggling with the concept of growing up and being on my own. I think part of this struggle comes from feeling alone. I mean, even though I am blessed with friends who are making his journey with me and family members who are caring and supportive, sometimes I still feel like I’m doing this on my own. I must have the internal motivation to succeed. I must make choices that are right for me. I have to send out my own job applications and schedule my own interviews. I have to decide what time I’m going to bed and when I’ll wake up. I make the decision whether to have ice cream and coffee cake for dinner or to eat actual food (sometimes the ice cream wins out), but I’m making that decision myself. No one else will make it for me.

In that moment, realizing I’m free and yet somehow bound to my own limitations, I find myself fearful of what lies ahead. I was panicked at one time last month. I was incredibly anxious with all of my student teaching work to complete and with planning my next step. I fed my stress with junk food and lack of exercise (which, of course, is a completely healthy and mature way to deal with my problems).

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When I went to Thailand, I bought the audiobook version of Love Does by Bob Goff. If anyone is qualified to speak on adventure, it’s Bob Goff. Having just written resumes myself, I can’t begin to describe Bob’s resume. You can view his website here, but before I go any farther, you should know that Bob is a diplomat to Uganda, a lawyer who found an interesting way into law school, a hitchhiker (in his younger days), a father desiring to make his children’s dreams come true, a hiker and biker, the founder of a non-profit, a world traveler, a man engaged in life and whimsy, and an adventurer. He loves God and has a passionate for people and for showing people the God who loves them, too.

Listening to the audiobook version of Love Does reminded me of adventure. It is easy to “live the adventure”  when you’re dreaming of plane flights and rattling off new languages and hiking exotic waterfalls. But when you’re living with your parents and spending your time between job applications, running errands, and helping with yard work, it doesn’t really feel like an adventure anymore. How can I be adventurous at this stage in my life? Nothing stopped Bob Goff from being adventurous, even in the boring stuff. He sat outside the office of the law school dean for several days waiting and willing to be accepted to the school. When his Jeep was totaled, he rode a skateboard to work and asked his family and friends for rides to the airport and grocery store. Things that would stop me somehow didn’t stop him. He was still an adventurer regardless. Even if he failed, the failure was an adventure.

A writer at Deeper Story wrote that her “white picket fence… looks like safety but feels like adventure.” The thing is, my current adventures are not super adventurous. They look like safety. I few months ago, I was obtaining visas, buying tickets, flying halfway around the world, and living and working in a country I had never been to before for three months. That felt like an adventure because everyone knew it was an adventure. I had sent out prayer cards and made a blog and raised some money. I needed a passport, a visa, and plane tickets. It was good and bad and fantastic and difficult and beautiful all in one. (Adventures are not perfect every day.)

The same is true for adventures that seem somewhat less adventurous. I don’t need a passport for my immediate after graduation circumstances. I don’t need plane tickets. I’m not raising money (although that’s not a bad idea!). Regardless, my after-graduation adventures are still adventures. They may be less initially mind-blowing (moving to Thailand for three months was a little crazy to many people), but they are still adventures. I still find the whole “after-graduation”/”on my own” thing really crazy. And I believe that whatever the next days, months, and years hold will be good, bad, fantastic, difficult, and beautiful all at the same time, just like my student teaching in Thailand. God is calling me to adventures, even adventures of living in one of my dad and stepmom’s extra bedrooms and job hunting for a few months.

Twenties

Because you know what? This stage of life is just as valuable as the three and a half months I spent in Thailand. This stage of life feels like an “in-between” moment that I would like to skip over, but it is actually important. I didn’t graduate college after a few months of fun-filled partying with my best friends. I spent four years, most of them engaged in hard work, in order to graduate. The same is true about this part of my life. It may be weird and uncomfortable and hard and boring sometimes, but it matters in the grand scheme of things.


Let us not forget two things:

  1. Wherever you are right now, it is not a waiting room. As Anne Voskamp says, “Real Life is Happening. Right Now.” God is working right now. Use the time you’re given right now.
  2. Bob Goff writes, “You don’t need to know everything when you’re with someone you trust.” I think that because we can’t see God and we usually don’t hear Him audibly, we have difficulty trusting Him, but we are called to trust him and rely on Him. He knows what He’s doing, and He knows what the people around us are doing. He’s got a plan, so it’s okay to trust Him even when we don’t know exactly what’s going on. In the end, God is good, and He works everything together for His glory and our good.

Even the adventures in between.

Broken Circles

Broken CirclesI am the kind of person who likes structure, organization, and carefully executed plans. Sometimes, believe it or not, God works within my preferences for structure, giving me a tiny taste of his organization and his planned provision in life. And sometimes, God works very much behind the scenes or in ways I don’t understand, showing me instead that his plans are far greater than any of mine could ever be, and that he is directing this world with precision I could not begin to understand.

Since the beginning of this semester, about a month ago, I have been seeing many things come full circle. I’m rooming with the same roommate I had freshman year, doubting and recommitting to my major once again, and dealing with past struggles. I got a message out of the blue from one of my best friends in high school, who I haven’t spoken to in years, just wanting to share with me about how things are going for her. October marks four years that I have attended my home church, and four years that I have known the amazing pastor and his wife and kids who are seriously family to me. Everything was coming to a close in an organized and structured way, and I was unconsciously preparing myself to go to Thailand for twelve weeks and then to graduate a month after that. I could see it happening, and I was okay with what I saw.

And then reality hit.

A door closed, student teaching became a bit uncertain, stress piled up, meetings had to be missed and rescheduled. I was a bit pathetic and emotional. Then there was a death in my church family this week. There is a lot of unknown.

When something “comes full circle,” it completes a cycle, returns to its beginnings.

American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy

It is as if some of the circles, instead of “coming full circle” and allowing for neat closure, are stopping or even breaking before they reach the other side. To my finite mind, the resolution I expected September and this semester to bring isn’t going to happen.

But is not my finite mind very, um… finite? And is not my God very infinite? Might it be that what I see as broken circles, God sees as a masterpiece he is creating? A plan so big that I simply cannot wrap my mind around it? Might it be that God sees beauty in things I find broken?

Perhaps I wanted the “coming full circle” idea to work because it seems neat and put together. I can daydream about future plans and “perfect” endings all I want, but real life is God’s plan, and he’s taking care of it. I am learning to embrace his ways that are higher than mine, even when they don’t make sense right away. “Besides being complicated,” C.S. Lewis wrote, “reality, in my experience, is usually odd. It is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect.”

So, while I am confused as to why not everything will end with my opinion of nice, neat closure, I am reminded that God’s plan for providing closure for my college years is perfect, whether or not it seems that way now. I can rest in the fact that we no longer have the innocence (and inexperience) of freshmen and that we can make decisions like adults. I can rest in the fact that I have been blessed with a community here at college that is messy and real. I can rest in the fact that God is still making beautiful things out of his broken and imperfect children. I can rest knowing even when they don’t seem perfect to me, God’s ways are perfect. Very much so. Even when I doubt him, I wouldn’t change those perfect plans for the world.

God’s way is perfect. All the Lord’s promises prove true…

– Psalm 18:30

 

Photo credit: Elizabeth Foote / Flickr / CC BY-SA

September Brings Panic and Anticipation

Panic and Anticipation

The idea of the “real world” makes me both ridiculously excited and disastrously panicked. Since when I am a senior in college? I mean, really.

The “real world” means getting a job, which I can’t do until I apply for a job, which I can’t do until I have my certification or some semblance of an expected certification. The “real world” means moving to where the job is, which could be close or far, which usually means forming a new community, which is difficult, to say the least. The “real world” means paying money for things I can’t see, but really need, like insurance and retirement. The “real world” means *gasp* guys becoming men and *more gasps* getting to know them without curfews and visiting hours. The “real world” means not living at home anymore, not depending upon mom for grocery money, not being able to swing by the caf for a free meal. The “real world” means budgeting more wisely. The “real world” means making my own schedule, planning my own days, and thinking ahead even more so. It means nurturing my own relationships, because no college Open Dorm is going to do it for me.

And all of this is completely terrifying.

I thought I would graduate college having gone on at least one date. I know it’s only September, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I thought I would graduate college confident and secure in everything I wanted to do in life, which just doesn’t happen. I thought I would graduate college with a job in hand and an apartment with roommates with my name on it, and now I know it doesn’t happen that way.

When I graduated high school, the yearbook staff made a slideshow with each graduate’s picture, name, birthplace, college we would attend in the fall, and intended major. I’ve realized why they don’t do the same thing for college graduates. Many recent college grads go for any job they can find when they graduate, even if that means education majors working in the Admissions Office at their alma mater, or a counseling major taking a few years off before heading to graduate school. Most recently-out-of-college folks don’t have anything cute to put on a slideshow for their parents. The immediate after-college decisions are often not very pretty nor very simple, especially if there is an upcoming marriage. At least single people are free to move where and when they want because a spouse’s job isn’t on the line. Yet even in a single’s circumstances, this transition seems to be very tricky for a lot of people.

And don’t tell me that “everyone else is growing up, so it can’t be that hard.” Believe me, I am not everyone else. Yes, I may have a more organized and self-motivated approach to life than some people, but I feel like there is SO MUCH I do not know. And there is so much I’m just going to have to learn the hard way, through experience and trial & error. Even though, somehow, everyone else must learn it that way, too, I am still afraid. And a little bit panicked.

And yet, I am so ridiculously excited. Excited to have my own place, to decorate and furnish it how I want. Excited to meet people and make plans and go places and travel and not have to sign “Sign-out Sheets” with my RA, even though I love her and I’m appreciative that the college wants to know what we’re up to. I’m excited to teach and to inspire and to see the light bulb turn on in my students’ minds. I’m excited to make literature click for students, to invest into their lives, to allow them to express themselves in writing. I’m excited to explore new places and find a new community and visit new churches and meet women who can mentor me. I’m excited to find little Asian grocery stores and farmer’s markets and organic shops and cook food for people. I’m excited to learn what it means to love and to nurture another person, not because I have to, but because I deeply want to. I’m excited to find my niche in a church, a community, and a school.

I think I am learning that change is necessary, even good, for growth. A bit of uncertainty at the brink of change and even full-blown panic in its midst is okay, because without it we would never learn to push through to the other side. We would never learn what it means to overcome chaos and grow into ourselves on the other side. So, you know what, I’m okay that I’m a little panicked right now. I’m okay with the fact that I can’t figure out if I am feeling more afraid or more excited about growing up.

Autumn Leaves

I am giving myself grace to figure out this whole “growing up” thing, because God gave me grace first, before I even had a thought about grace. Speaking of God’s grace… I went to buy groceries this past Thursday night, and my total was much less ($20-$30 less!) than I anticipated. God is just continuing to prepare the way for me! I am so blessed to know his love and provision and overwhelming grace. He knows I don’t have it all together, and I can rest in that.

This is going to be scary. I am going to panic. But I am also going to look forward with joyful anticipation and enjoy the journey while it’s here. Just like autumn, the single journey into adulthood will not last forever.

Leaves Photo credit: flatworldsedge / Foter / CC BY-SA