My friend invited me to go camping with her family. I was stoked! This was cool for an insecure and weird girl like me, a freshman in high school. Yeah, I’m taking it way back to 1986, friends. To my surprise, she had invited another friend to join us. I thought to myself, “Cool, I don’t know her that well, but after this trip, I will have another friend.” For the life of me I can’t remember where we camped but I can remember one specific event. Thirty years later it is still camped out, sitting in a folding chair in the back of my mind, roasting marshmallows.
You may not know, but the number three or three people hanging out together is always a party right? Wrong. How does the saying go, “Two’s company, but three’s a crowd.” Talk about a third wheel. The only memory I have from this camping trip is me and these two girls in a tent, snuggled in our sleeping bags, and I’d hear them talk about boys and riding bikes, and the “Remember when’s” and my heart started racing. I began to sweat, my throat started to swell, and my eyes became wet with tears. I wanted what they had. That kind of friendship. I felt like the odd girl out, not being able to engage in any of the conversation because I didn’t know who they were talking about or what park they used to ride their bikes to. I couldn’t hold back. The tears, the awful, embarrassing crying came. In front of both of them. I told them how I felt. I felt ignored. I felt like I didn’t belong. I don’t know how they understood me through my blubbering. We must have been okay or made amends, or maybe they felt sorry enough for my sobbing hot mess, because I don’t recall asking to go home or just rolling over and going to sleep right away.
There were other times in those difficult teen years that I envied those around me. The fancy name brands. The cool shoes that my mom, a single mom, raising us three girls, could never afford. I envied the fact that my friend’s mom would always be the one to take us to the movies or to the mall. I envied teammates’ families being at our volleyball games when I would look over to the stands and see an empty gymnasium seat. Even with my own kids’ I would be jealous of the fact that grandparents were at the ball games and my kids’ grandparents were nowhere to be found.
I wish I can say that those were the only times jealousy or envy reared its ugly head when it came to friendships in my life. Years later, after I was married for some time, we had some new neighbors move in next door. We became quick friends watching Ally McBeal each week, sharing recipes, doing Weight Watchers together, and all the things friends do. We were in different life stages. I was married and had four children and she had been married for a few years and hadn’t had children yet.
My husband and I were struggling financially and it was quite stressful. My friend would talk about her and her husband’s plans and shared about their savings and such. They had a “house fund” and a “baby fund.” Now, there is nothing wrong with planning for your future and telling your money where to go and being wise with your spending. That is not what this is about. For a gal like me, in my insecurity and my embarrassment over our debt, my insides were boiling with jealousy and envy when she would talk about her financial planning, when I didn’t even have gas money to make it to the next paycheck. I remember a small detail about me borrowing $20, for what I don’t recall, but the conversation that ensued with it sticks with me. I came right out with the ugly cry and told her how jealous I was of her and her husband, their financial status and their wisdom with their money. I expressed how hard it was to hear her talk about their “funds”, when my husband and I were barely making end’s meet. This friend, so full of compassion, embraced me and my feelings. She listened. She understood. I think she felt bad, even though that was never my intention. After that talk, we shared so many wonderful years of friendship. Honest friendship. She is one of my dearest friends. I’m sad that she doesn’t live next door anymore, but such is life.
In my old age of 47, I can admit, at times, I still get a teeny tiny bit jealous of other women; how thin they are, how fit they are, how pretty they are, how financially stable they are, how good their kids are, how strong their faith is, or maybe how smart they are. The comparison trap. The ugly jealousy and envy that tags along can really do some damage to the heart. The thing is, who’s heart can it damage? Jealousy and envy can corrode the biggest of hearts of the one who is feeling jealous or envious of what others have or what they themselves don’t have.
How do we battle jealousy in friendships? Can we have true friendships when things seem so different between two friends? One lives in a bigger house than the other. One makes more money than the other. One’s kids behave better than the other. Can friends really be genuine and “real” with each other if one is harboring feelings of jealousy?
Here are some things that I have learned over the years:
See the good in yourself. We all have those small moments when there is something we want so badly, yet, it is in our friend’s hands, and not ours. It is ok to feel sad for yourself but this doesn’t mean you can’t be proud or happy for your friend. Rather than being so hard on yourself, allow yourself to feel, to flip the script of the negative self talk, and to affirm yourself for who you are without focusing on what you don’t have or what your friend has. This negative self talk? This is the “It must be nice…” kinda talk. You familiar with it? I am sure I have said or thought that in my life. See yourself as that beautiful, treasured friend. You have a lot to offer, girly. When you peel away the layers of jealousy, just like an onion, we see the gold in your heart. Let it shine, friend!
See the friends in your life for who they are. Notice what is in their heart. What are they passionate about? How are they serving others? Do they have a relationship with Jesus? Find other commonalities between the two of you besides concentrating on what is different or what is lacking. Focusing on the souls of our friends helps us to not even have a door open to jealousy or envy. I have seen the truest of friendships in gals who have had different backgrounds and different balances in their checkbooks. I have been blessed by those friendships myself.
Let envy be your motivation. I know that sounds weird. You’re probably wondering what value envy can bring to the table. Envy may be just what the doctor ordered to bring change to your life. If you’re heart and tummy are acting all crazy, with mixed emotions, when your friend is talking about her new and exciting job, maybe it’s time to make a career change. Do you find yourself envious of your friend’s social skills and friendships? Use this as motivation in making friends and building relationships. Ask her how she makes friends to easy. Let her know you want that.
Replace envy with gratitude. When we’re not all that excited about our circumstances, it can be tough to practice gratitude, but that’s when we need it the most. Practicing the art of gratitude doesn’t mean we ignore our wants and desires but we do a U-turn and focus on the things that bring us value or the things that bring us joy. Rather than focusing on your friend’s appearance, focus on what you like about yourself. Be grateful for the times your friend is supportive and sensitive to your situation or feelings, like I shared with my friend above.
Let Jesus fill your heart. This was the biggest thing for me. You know, God commands us to “not covet (orbe jealous, emphasis added) of our neighbor, her spouse, their house or land…or anything else that belongs to your neighbor” (Deuteronomy 5:21). Jealousy can throw us into an emotional or mental spin. As you can see above, I certainly experienced that. When I got to know the personal and intimate love of Jesus, and began letting him rule my heart, the feelings that came with jealousy would evaporate. Jealousy, in and of itself, is not a sin. It is the temptations that follow that can be sinful. When I have those feelings, it’s like Jesus is telling me, “Hold on Sister, I’m right here with you.” Our mighty God, who calls himself a jealous God, is jealous for you, sister. He knows that we feel insecure in the midst of jealousy. He’s fighting for you and for me, so we can be free of these things that want to weigh us down and keep us from living the life and being the woman he created us to be.
Father God, let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another, we ask for your Spirit to produce this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control… may we affirm ourselves in the identity we have in you, the goodness you have put in our soul, may we see our friends for the beautiful souls they are, for their character, their passion, their service to you, may we trust you to use the envy or jealousy in our hearts to spark us to change the things we’ve become discontented with. Fill out hearts with gratitude for who we are, what we have, and for the friends you’ve blessed us with. And when envy or jealousy try to creep in, help us to do a U-turn back to you, to flip the script of our negative self talk, and to focus on what is true. In closing Jesus, fill our hearts with yourself. Help us to love our friends, our neighbors, just as you have loved us. May we never forgot that you are present and you are here fighting for our freedom from jealousy and envy. We thank you, for you are jealous for us. (Galatians 5:26, 22-23)
Hugging you so tight,