You're out alone at sea in a flimsy little rowboat. It's dark and stormy. You're grossly unprepared and without a life jacket. As the storm worsens, you cling to the side of the boat, afraid and certain you'll be thrown overboard where you will surely drown. You try to wait the storm out, but it seems to go on and on. You start to feel like your only chance at survival is to jump over and swim.
So you jump. You swim like hell to the shore, where you see a congregation of people. You feel one last surge of adrenaline, knowing they are all there waiting for you. They're holding signs, and you just know those are signs of praise and encouragement.
But as you climb onto the sand, a little broken, a little battered, soaked and cold you realize that some of the signs are encouragement but others say things like, "You jumped out too soon" or "You waited too long before you tried to save yourself". One says, "You should've used a different stroke to get to shore faster" and one criticized you for swimming too fast.
You feel confused. Didn't they see what you just accomplished? Can't they understand why you did what you did, when you did it?
I have a friend who used to be severely overweight. After years of feeling uncomfortable and unhappy with herself, she started taking the first steps towards health and wellness. Some of her friends responded with well wishes and excitement over her progress, others started to act a little critical or distant. And over a year later, when she was 100 lbs smaller, some of those friends were nowhere to be found at all.
As I've gotten older (ahem, let's say wiser) I have begun noticing that personal growth in someone else makes a lot of us uncomfortable.
Maybe it's the idea that they'll leave us behind or determine we aren't good enough. Maybe it's that we are envious of their ability to survive the storm triumphant while we seem to barely keep our heads above what most might consider calm waters. Maybe we feel a twinge of jealousy or insecurity as we watch others accomplish what we secretly wish we could.
I used to really, really love to sing. I've done it my whole life in churches, in school, got some scholarship money for it in college and was even in the elite college choir on campus. I've done some vocal stuff as I've gotten older and if I'm honest, oh there is a part of me that wishes it was an easy, natural talent of mine. That I could just open my mouth and a little songbird would fly out. But it isn't like that for me. I have to work on vocals. My voice is melodic but simple and I'll never be a powerhouse or a vocalist with that unique indie style that leaves people wanting more.
As I sit here though, in my mid 30's, I can say that I'm coming to terms with the knowledge that it's not where I'm supposed to focus my time and energy. That God has placed other passions and talents inside of me and while I love to sing, it isn't where He wants me. I'm 90% ok with that. I feel fine about it, and then occasionally a little envy or jealousy rears its head and I find myself wistfully daydreaming about being able to sing and give people goosebumps with my powerful voice.
But the more I focus on where God wants me in my life, the less envy I feel of other people. And let me tell you, there's a confidence that comes with encouraging others. Steering clear of back biting, criticism of how other people live their lives, not trying to jump on every bandwagon out there because someone else is doing it - there is such a freedom in that.
If you find yourself feeling critical, envious or even angry about what someone else is doing in their life, I want to give you a little nudge. First: knock it off. Let's all stop thinking we know how someone else should be living their lives and focus on how we should be living ours.
But in addition to that: Pray for them. Invite God to do amazing things in their life, on their journey and ask Him to bless their endeavor. It's impossible to feel threatened with someone else's growth if you are able to encourage them. And over the past year, I have realized that the more I'm able to pour into others, the less envious I feel. Walking the path of trying to be more like Jesus involves way less of my mouth and way more of my life.
Whoever you are, wherever you are at, I want to encourage you today in that. You're probably walking this path the best way you know how, and that is good enough.
Be you, bravely.