Last Friday morning, with an uncommonly busy week behind me and with an uncommonly busy weekend ahead of me, I was devoting an hour or so of my morning to mostly mindless internet browsing. I pinned new photos to my boards, read through a few of my favorite blogs, and ended up clicking through friends’ pictures on Facebook. And you know how that goes, a friend’s pictures leads to another tagged picture which lands you on someone’s page that you kind of know….albeit, very remotely. Well obviously, once you land there the only right thing to do is poke around a little and find out as much as you can about their life from the photos that they made public :)
And while I sat there, clicking through this person’s pictures, I suddenly realized that I was becoming jealous. There was a type of twisting, mildly rancid and disgruntled feeling growing in my heart as I moved from picture to picture.
This type of feeling is unusual for me. In general, I am pretty happy with the state of my life. Considering the husband, children, job(s), home, family, friends and church that I have at the moment, I am a fortunate woman! I might feel a fleeting sense of longing when I see things that I’d like to have (new stove, all-inclusive beach vacation, full-time maid, etc) but those pulls are small and easily booted out of my mind.
But this! This feeling was something different. It was a stabbing sense of WANT. It was very specific and felt very acute. I wanted to live the way that this person was living; the place, the job, the home—everything! If you’ve ever secretly nursed an idea of what your ideal life would be you know what I’m talking about. The life you dream about when flipping through magazines filled with gorgeous pictures or reading a book that transports you to another place and time. I confess to having this type of ideal. I know that it’s basically impossible, kind of ridiculous, and not based on any type of spiritual motivation. But I still dream about it. And now here I was, looking at a picture from a person whom I just knew was living THAT VERY LIFE.
The jealousy that I felt startled and unnerved me. Unsure of how to deal with it, I closed facebook and decided to go bake something in an effort to sort out my mind. Cooking tends to calm me down :)
I knew that the opposite of jealousy was contentment. But really, have you ever tried to just whip up a giant mental serving of contentment while in the middle of a jealousy fest?! It isn’t so easy. Fortunately I’ve been reading though Wendy Alsup’s book “The Gospel Centered Woman” and in it she describes biblical contentment. So in between baking sessions I re-read her chapter on this topic.
Wendy describes contentment as “a condition of life in which no further aid or support is needed or in which you have sufficient supplies for the needs of the moment.” The word “content” in the greek can also be translated “sufficiency.” As in 2 Cor 9:8 “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” Wendy continues (with my inserts added),
“We have something that bridges the gap between those things which our devotion to God calls us to long for [i.e. being thankful for my current life] and the reality of our experience at this very moment [i.e. jealousy over a life not my own]. We have a bridge between our godly longing and our fallen reality that sufficiently equips us to deal with each struggle. It is the gospel.”
Contentment means actively relying on God’s grace and power—the same power that raised Jesus from the dead— to battle each any every adverse circumstance that we face. In undergoing God-ordained suffering, in fighting sinful temptations, while persevering in trials of faith, or while choosing daily obedience, God will teach me contentment. I will learn to view my life through the lenses of God’s grace and goodness, and learning this will be a “great gain” (I Tim 6:6).
The application was clear to me. God’s sufficient grace, the grace that is sufficient for every moment, is the grace of the gospel. The good news of Jesus crucified and risen was God’s means of extinguishing that momentary jealousy. Contentment didn’t mean avoiding Facebook because I might see a life that I would want for myself. It didn’t mean convincing myself of my inevitable unhappiness if I did had that “perfect life.” Nor did it mean squashing all that jealousy by merely rehearsing all things that I did have. No, building external fences, marshaling my will-power or contorting my own logic in mental gymnastics to battle jealousy wasn’t going to work (2 Cor 3:5). I couldn’t fight the battle of disconnectedness by reminding myself of all the good things that I have, rather I had to fight the battle of disconnectedness by reminding myself of the the good God that that I have (Psalm 34:8-10). In prayer I could hold those desired things up before God and say, “You know how much I want this. But give me the grace and strength to want you and your will MORE. Help me believe that you are more precious and desirable than anything on earth.” It is this prayer that must resonate in the chambers of my heart whether I’m engaging the jealousy of my heart or the realities of pain and suffering that God brings my way. Take the Apostle Paul for an example. He clearly recognized the struggles of his life. He felt the cold, was lonely, wished for friends etc. And he didn’t ignore the longings of his heart or act as if they were trivial (2 Cor 11:29). Instead, he counteracted those real and inescapable human feelings with the truth about God’s powerful grace (2 Cor 12:9). We should remind ourselves blessing that God had poured out in our lives, but that should be a response to remembering first our relationship with the loving God who gave them to us.
“The gospel does not obligate you to contentment. It equips you for contentment. … The gospel equips you to do battle with sin and suffering with the very same power that raised Christ from the dead.”
Baking did help me sort out my thoughts. But only because it gave me a chance to let the Holy Spirit working in my heart via the gospel of truth. I felt the jealous squeeze start to lessen. And finally, I could look at that life that I had wanted and, though I still desired some of its trappings (again, they weren’t bad things), I was able to “give them up” in light of the surpassing value of knowing Christ. Those temporal desires were faint as I submitted to the greater desire to have the all-sufficient God in every circumstance. I experienced contentment in God all the while knowing that he may never give me those heart desires, yet he will give me all of him. . . and that means I’ll have everything I always wanted from this life (Ps 37:4).
Plus, I had a whole pan of shortbread to help ease the pain : )