The Cure for a Dissatisfied Life
How to live gladly in a culture of comparison
It happens to the best of us. All the time. It’s a problem in every kind of community, in every type of relationship. Envy is the thing that kills.
Even when we know it makes no sense, even when we know we’re not seeing the full story, even when we know those same people are probably jealous of us about something, we chomp down. We suck in the juice. We let envy swirl around in our mouths. We savor comparison and competition as they pass over our tongues. They can taste and feel so good—almost like sweet justice.
Yet once they’re in, these evil twins of envy and comparison are tough to digest. They don’t go down easy—what starts as sweet nectar on the tongue turns acidic on the way down. And once they’re down, they start eating you, leaving big, empty holes in your heart, soul and mind.
Even with all the pain envy and comparison cause, they’re not that easy to get rid of either. They hold on. But you can shake them. If you’re willing to do some work.
Spit Out Jealousy
I wish we could permanently end jealousy and comparison, but since our faith tradition entails us recognizing our fallenness and brokenness and continued need for God’s grace, I don’t think we can, actually, get rid of it on this side of heaven. But what we can do is become so hyperaware of the dangers of jealousy and comparison, and become so vigilant in keeping them out of our systems, that we develop a pretty good gag reflex—we learn to spit them right back out as soon as they come in.
According to Scripture, jealousy kills us, is stupid (like chasing the wind) and is one of the big sins that defiles us. Check it out:
"Surely resentment destroys the fool, and jealousy kills the simple" (Job 5:2).
"Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind" (Ecclesiastes 4:4).
"It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you" (Mark 7:20-23).
All this to say, don’t just take it from me. God thinks you ought to spit out jealousy and gag on comparisons, too.
Exchanging Grumbling for Gratitude
We’ve got a couple of choices to make when it comes to jealousy. Assuming we don’t want to stay jealous, we can (a) change our situation to obtain what we’re jealous of, or (b) we can lay it down or lift it up (whichever image works best). In other words, we can give it to God.
In spite of all the prayers God hasn’t answered in my life, when I pray about taking my jealousy, He’s all Johnny-on-the-spot. I’m not saying the jealousy doesn’t pop back up (a lot of the things on my list have come and gone over the years), but He’s good about helping me get rid of envy.
My husband will back me up on this: I cannot travel anywhere—anywhere!—without going through a whole "I wish I lived here" drill. And it’s not just places that are nicer than where I live. Frankly, I live in a nice place. A lovely suburb, minutes (as long as there’s no traffic, which there almost always is) from Chicago—one of the greatest cities on the planet.
And yet, I’ve been to all sorts of places around this globe and have wanted to live in almost all of them. Some are obvious; Stockholm, for instance (obvious, at least in the summer). Many are not so. Take one of my favorite places, Manitowoc, Wis. (again, at least in the summer). Though I cannot figure out an actual reason—like jobs—to move us 200 miles north, up the Lake Michigan shoreline, every time I’ve ever driven through this town on our way to one of the other places I’d love to live—Ephraim, Wis.—I actually ache to move to Manitowoc. Not because it is better than or an upwardly mobile move from where I live (it is, in fact, much cheaper).
I long to live there because I imagine that living in Manitowoc would make us (or at least, me) happier. That our lives would be simpler, nicer. It ties into another thing I do, which is to believe that if we moved somewhere—to a farm or to the city or by a small town on a lake—that we would be different, that we would become the sort of family who did the things I imagine make people more satisfied with life.
Of course, this is all bunk—and I’ve always known it.
Imagine if you could see the circumstances of your life as preferable to something else. Imagine if you could say: "I prefer that we’ve had these money problems" or, "I prefer that I’m battling this illness."
I don’t think actually, that it means you’d rather be hungry than full or you’d rather be sick than healthy, but that you prefer the life God has given you to one you weren’t meant to live.
We can live at peace with who God made us and where God put us. When we’re content and when we’re at peace with this, we can, like Paul says, "do everything through Christ, who gives me strength" (Philippians 4: 13).
And God not only has a lot of strength to give us, but much more. So instead of looking around at whatever someone else has, let’s take a look at what we’ve got. What God has given us—our things, our circumstances, our location, our friends, our family, our jobs. Look at the good—and the bad—through grateful eyes, and seek the peace that comes with that.
This means that instead of grumbling about bad times and wrong turns, we thank God for them. That we stop striving for more. That we prefer our circumstances. That we are glad for them. For unpaid bills. For misbehaving kids. For disappointing friends. For unsatisfying spouses. For boring lives. For illness. For confusion. For sorrow. For loneliness.
In the midst of our being glad for things that hurt or frustrate us, we can—and should—certainly still pray for a change in circumstances. Even Jesus did this! But we recognize that God can use all this for the better. For the best! And we live gladly because of it.
Taken from Grumble Hallelujah by Caryn Dahlstrand Rivadeneira. Copyright © 2011 by Caryn Dahlstrand Rivadeneira. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.