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Rising in Love Part 2: Love isn’t envious, boastful, or arrogant

Blog by Nikayla Reize

Love is patient, love is kind. Love isn’t envious, boastful, or arrogant. – 1 Corinthians 13:4

I’ve been using the phrase, “I feel jealous” a lot these days to speak to my frustrations instead of things like, “I’m upset that you went out with friends twice this week and I never get a break” (which let’s be honest, comes out as a silent treatment which then erupts into, ‘you’re selfish! you’re inconsiderate! you don’t work as hard as me!’ and that flows nicely back into the silent treatment – stay tuned for more helpful marriage hacks from this pro right here!). It’s a lot more vulnerable to just say, “I’m feeling jealous.”

Notice that Paul doesn’t say, “Don’t be jealous”, he says, “jealousy is not what love looks like.” Read that again, slowly. If jealousy is what you’re feeling – say that. The truth sets you free (John 8:2).

We all want to be more loving and more loved, so why do we keep getting in our own way?

Jealousy begins with the suspicion that there isn’t enough of the resource I need and when others gain access to the resource, my fears of scarcity are confirmed, and it threatens my sense of safety and security.

I am often envious of the men my age with less theological training than me who get lead pastor jobs, bigger followings, more loyalty. This envy makes me resentful of them and suspicious of all church search-committees. It’s made worse by the way some of these guys with less theological education boast about how hard they’ve had to work to get their jobs and how hard their job is and how heroically and gracefully they’re doing their job that is so hard that they’ve worked so hard for. Get this – I even let them prowl through the neighbourhood of my mind all night, and then I feel I must keep alert and vigilant to my imagination’s version of their shadowy figures saying there’s something wrong with me, God made me with the wrong body, my life has been a waste, nothing matters. Restful sleep? Ha! I’m fighting dream-shadows every time I lay down. I’m jealous of people who sleep.

I feel jealous often, and I think it’s because I just want to know I’m doing a good job, that I belong, and that I have something important to offer. I’m really focussed on the folks who I think have all that. Are there folks behind me who are jealous of me? Psshh – never heard of em’ – too busy looking up to look back. If you knew the way I talk about these pastors in my mind when I’m comparing myself to them, you’d shudder. My self-defense mechanism is often to start boasting about my achievements in order to avoid vulnerability:

I’m more educated than any of you – I’m the youngest one here –I’m both the pastor AND the pastor’s wife. I’m the only legitimate pastor here, the only real Christian. Did I mention my PhD?

Envy makes me boastful, passive aggressive and arrogant: “God is bringing down the mighty (you) and lifting up the lowly (me) so don’t forget to say HI on your way by (down)”.

And I go around and around and around and around this jealousy-fueled cycle until I burn out, resign, and someone else takes my place. Rinse and repeat.

In my experience, envy fuels boastfulness which fuels arrogance. It feels good to have such an unshakeable sense of God’s support for your ambitions that you can shrug off the invitation to learn and listen.

How many times have I arrogantly tried to teach people something and convince people to agree with me before noticing their unique capacity for significant depth and wisdom? How many times has someone come up and tried to teach or mentor me on how to be a pastor/wife/mother/human without ever extending me the courtesy of asking what advice I need? It’s arrogance! I wonder if some of our mission trips aren’t little vacations for our egos – we travel to the other side of the world and teach people how to be human in their contexts which are vastly unlike our own and then return home to a big party celebrating us for going over there and giving out the solutions. Good Christians offer advice and help and solutions to sinners who need advice, help, and solutions. Right? Wait ….

What if envy is a response to an invisible wound? Maybe everyone is awake at night keeping guard against the shadowy figures prowling the alleys of their minds, searching for unlocked doors. Is arrogance an adaptation? Is it a survival mechanism? Is the anxious attempt to “be helpful” while never admitting to needing help…a symptom? What happens in your heart when you see someone get what you wanted? You might not be a lady pastor and so my examples might not resonate, but what about when your friends have spouses, and you don’t? Your friends are having kids and you are having a hard time with that? Your friends have financial freedom and you just got fired? Your best friend lost 20 lbs in COVID and you gained 35? Is there a stranger on a bike roaming your sub-conscious whispering cruel things like,

“it’s because you’re ugly, you know.” “ … this is your fault.” “You’re lazy, you’re not disciplined, you’re incompetent – it’s your fault.” “You’re old now, move over.” “You’re invisible – you’re just not good enough – you missed your chance”.

What’s easier? To sit with these voices and hold them with kindness and curiosity and trust that there’s an intelligence to the system and these voices are signalling you to the presence of an undressed wound? *OR* is it easier to simultaneously accept their words as gospel truth, suppress the pain that comes with that acceptance, and proceed to forget entirely that your responses to life are, from now on, an anxious reaction to the deeply held suspicion that you’re not good enough and there’s not enough for you and you messed it up before you even began? It turns out, we’ve all collectively consented to the second option. No one feels safe in the neighbourhood of their own mind.

“I don’t believe in therapy because I don’t believe in living in the past!” — says the man whose entire life has been built anxiously around a lie he made a life-long commitment to when he was a child.

“Stop being a victim! Grow up. Adulthood is hard, get over it.” — says the woman who is so anxious she spends the entire weekend fretting over what to bring to the potluck because she’s believed that anything less than perfection is a death sentence since she began blaming herself for her parents’ divorce, decades ago.

“This generation is the weakest and most self-centered generation of all time!” — says the man who has to begin a new home-reno every six months to avoid having to feel the self-hatred he constantly feels because he was shamed for going through puberty and having a body when he was a young man.

Don’t get me wrong – if it feels easier to anxiously try to control your spouse and adult kids than go to therapy and find the moment you first started living out of your envy …. Go for it! If it’s easier to be a 24/7 on-call-perfect-people-pleaser-and-biblical woman than learn to feel the pain you’ve never allowed yourself to feel, let alone name out loud, go ahead. If it’s easier to rush headlong towards the grave doing back-breaking labour and immersing yourself into new projects so fully that you can’t remember to sit down to eat or get a full-night’s rest than it is to face that locked room in your heart where you keep all of the “what- if-nothing-I-do-matters-and-my-life-is-a-waste” questions, I can’t stop you. I mean, I want to. I’m putting in a solid effort here.

Somewhere along the way, each of us encountered a love-deficit. Let’s call it total-depravity because it’s all of us, all the time. At some point, perhaps long ago, you needed to know there was enough love to go around. You needed to know that your turn would come, that you were allowed to get it wrong, that you were allowed to need help, to have limitations, to be dependent upon a community, to advocate for your own joy without being shamed. But NONE of the adults who were responsible to articulate and commend visions of life which included YOU were able to show you the inexhaustible love of God for you and for all that God has created. So, you began to unconsciously live out of the deficit. The adults who let you down were also living out of that deficit, and they were overwhelmed and probably too busy competing for socially constructed resources with their peers to notice your tender little heart asking the big question, “why is the emperor naked?” (please tell me you got that joke). In layman’s terms, I mean the kid that you were was capable of asking the questions the adults were too proud to ask – questions like, “is it ok to need time and patience and grace and support until I figure out that having needs is an essential gift God gave me to keep me secure in community and I should be celebrated for needing help and not shamed for it?”

The adults had never let themselves have needs or never allowed themselves to feel vulnerable in the face of having a need (which is perhaps one of the causes of entitlement or worse, narcissism) and so of course they couldn’t handle you having needs. Remember that time Paul wrote that he boasts in his weakness? I just think we could set up camp right there at that verse and hang out for a solid generation or two.

Okay, let’s get back to your younger self. You’re told NO, in subtle and not-so subtle ways. NO – there isn’t enough for you. And then … the first time you look around and see that there IS enough for someone else … what are you supposed to do with that? Celebrate them? Absolutely not. Be envious of them? Resent them? Judge them? Sanctify your jealousy-fueled anger and determine publicly that having the thing they have (that you want) is a bad thing to have and the people who have the thing are bad? YESSSSSSSS. See? Now we’re talking. Now we’re safe again! Now we’re in control. Now we’re going to re-tile the bathroom.

All this talk about the vast ways we are stuck exhausting ourselves to numb the discomfort of needing safety and connection is making me appreciate Paul’s words here in 1 Corinthians 13. Paul looks at this church in Corinth and he’s so in tune with the Good News of God’s Incarnate Love and God’s vision for flourishing communities that he just tells it to us straight:

Love is patient, love is kind, it’s not envious or boastful or arrogant.

There’s enough love. Everything we can see, touch, taste, smell, or hear was made by God because of God’s love. God rested on the seventh day because of delight in the creation God had made, not because of the exhaustion God incurred creating it. The entire material realm – all matter – comes from God. All things were made by God because of God’s goodness and for God’s delight. God loves all of it. You’re part of it! So is the only lady who didn’t just bring hummus and pita chips to the potluck. There’s enough love for you (and also enough hummus). In fact, there’s so much love for you (a surplus really – one could say there’s potential to be over-flowing – a cup might even runneth over, if I may be so bold), that God can absolutely afford to be patient and kind with you.

There’s so much love for you, it doesn’t really matter if you miss the first bus – another is already on its way and they’re coming every 10 minutes for …ever. It’s okay if you have a lot of needs right now– God’s love is kind. If the world was built by and for people who are 7 feet tall, it’s no wonder the people who are only 5 feet tall are complaining all the time. We could shoo them away because their “victim mentality” is such an energy drain or we could like literally move the light switches and door knobs down a foot and ask them what else they need to just exist in the world. It’s called kindness.

Love isn’t envious. Love doesn’t mourn when you’re celebrating and nor does it celebrate when you’re mourning. Let me be the first to admit that we sometimes abuse the whole “he brings down the mighty and lifts up the lowly” bit. Perhaps God brings down the mighty because he loves them and really wants them to experience the safety required to admit that one has needs and then find themselves in a community that doesn’t think their needs are burdens and maybe the consolation they long for is down there by the little people and God is just helping them out. Not having control, it turns out, is a key to joy. Uncertainty? You’re welcome, embrace it. Like maybe Jeff Bezos isn’t happy.

Pharoah had dominion over all the food in the world and yet he was having nightmares every night about famine and scarcity. And maybe God raises the lowly because he loves them and doesn’t think they should be ignored and dismissed because they missed the first bus or needed extra time or were born into a world made by and for people with a different skin tone. Perhaps God sends the rich away empty because he knows something about the source of joy that money can’t buy. Maybe he fills the hungry with good things and those good things aren’t just the things the rich person was enjoying that are now mysteriously…available. God doesn’t celebrate anyone’s death. In Ezekiel 33:11, God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked but rather that they turn from their way and live”. God wants all of us to live. All of us. God doesn’t mourn anyone’s flourishing, either. Imagine God saying, “wow Pharoah is on the ball, what a successful economic action plan he has implemented – it is clearly benefitting all who depend on the land where he reigns – I hate it – where’s Moses?”

I’m really starting to believe that God knows what God’s doing. God knows that envy is a “check engine” light. You can ignore it but you are going to feel anxious every time you are driving until eventually you break down and have to call for help (*the horror*). Envy is a way your heart calls you back to itself to ask, “is this love?” It calls you back to investigate the lie you’ve signed onto. It’s an invitation to slow down and notice your heart’s true longing. Is it to be enclosed safely within the loving arms of a community that is patient and kind with your authentic self while also being exposed, empowered, and chosen to join the risk-filled adventure of partaking in the meaningful and lasting work of the community within the world that God loves?

Paul didn’t want the Corinthians to join the never-ending cycle of competing with one another, comparing ourselves to one another, being on guard or feeling too depleted by the strain of our coping mechanisms to show up authentically to the work of community. Jesus’ dream for a spiritual community that embodies his love for the world is so much more than a weekly event to add to your long to-do list. We are all so tired from that nightshift we all keep staying awake for, guarding our hearts from those cruel inner-voices and imaginary arguments with people who seem to have what we don’t. Jesus breathed his Spirit upon the Church to create a new humanity and an alternative community. Jesus sent us to love our neighbours as ourselves, not compare ourselves to them and envy them. What would happen if I started telling people they belong, they’re important, they’re doing a good job? The Spirit is a healer – come to reveal to us which parts need more love and tenderness, and which wounds are undressed. The Spirit removes our guarded hearts of stone and places there a new one that’s soft and alive to the waking world. We are not to be fueled by suspicion and envy but rather by an abundance of love that slows us down and cultivates curiosity about the moment between the stimulus and our reaction to it.

The truth is this: there are people here who have some things you don’t and there are people here who are jealous for what you already have. Should we break off into groups, create echo chambers, and build personal towers for ourselves to get to God? It’s not going to work. Besides, God is down here, not just up there. God is with the person behind you who doesn’t have what you have. God is not up there with the guy who has what you want. Turn around, beloved. Swim against the current. It’s what “holiness” means. Should we be filled with the Spirit of God and flow towards the direction of generosity, hospitality, and non-violence? I think we should at least give it the ol’ college try.

There are a lot of illusions out there – dream shadows and imagined scarcities. If you’re looking for the real deal (and all of us are), it looks something like this:

It’ll be a community that’s patient and kind. It’ll be a community that resists envy, boasting, and arrogance because it’s a community where people are safe to have needs and limitations and the ability to rely on one another. There will be safety and authenticity for the 7 footers AND the 5 footers. If our community doesn’t look like that – start with the person in the mirror. Grant her patience and kindness – notice the check engine light and then check the engine – notice the lies damning up the flow of Love and spend time there. Notice the gifts you have to bring to the meal and the gifts there for your nourishment. Everyone is nourished at Jesus’ table. Notice the way we can share all things in common when we’re not competing or comparing.

1 Corinthians 1:26-31 Look at your situation when you were called, siblings! By ordinary human standards not many were wise, not many were powerful, not many were from the upper class.  27  But God chose what the world considers foolish to shame the wise. God chose what the world considers weak to shame the strong.  28  And God chose what the world considers low-class and low-life—what is considered to be nothing—to reduce what is considered to be something to nothing.  29  So no human being can boast in God’s presence.  30  It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus. He became wisdom from God for us. This means that he made us righteous and holy, and he delivered us.  31  This is consistent with what was written: The one who boasts should boast in the Lord!
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