February 16, 2009

Personal application of a sermon

Last night Tom preached on envy, which is honestly probably one of my more significant failings as a Christian. Probably. Allen might say it's leaving the mustard out on the counter all week. Anyway, here's how it works. For people outside my group I think, "wow that is so cool I wish I could do something awesome like start a non-profit/hike the cascades/start a lindy scene/have x cool job/etc. That's more a "be content with where I am today" type issue. When I'm in a group it's a different story. Take lindy hop for instance (since that's sort of my thing). I have struggled tremendously watching various girls in our group develop as dancers because every time they learn a new swivel or break I feel threatened as a dancer. This is nonsense yes? But there it is. I have to very consciously remind myself over and over again that everything they learn is added to the community closet so to speak. We learn from each other, and their progress makes me a better dancer. But the problem is that I'm no longer the "best" dancer. Of course I wasn't anyway because there are always the instructors. However, some dark spot in my psyche was content being the best among the students. However, as the scene has grown other girls have joined who've proved singularly adept at the step, step, triple step. For my better nature that has been a tremendous blessing -people to learn from and with, more styles brought into the dance, a bigger scene, etc. For my sin nature it's been very hard coping with being better without being best. I'm a better dancer by far since other people have started even though my absolute ranking in the area may have fallen (if there even was such a thing.) And this is the nonsensical part of my struggle with envy. Envy would rather be on top even if that means I remain I worse dancer/friend/organizer/etc. The quality of the work doesn't matter so much as remaining the undisputed top dog.

Call me pompous but I really don't think I was meant for envy. I don't mean in the theological sense that humans were made for the garden of Eden either. I mean in the day to day sense. I don't like it. If it's one of my besetting sins it's also the one of which I'm possibly most aware and over which I most grieve. It's also the one in which I was possibly most trained. Who trains a kid in envy you may ask? Possibly my parents. Among us kids there were a couple of mentalities competing. One was a sort of school mentality. Stick together or the sharks will get you. It was five kids trying to understand a mom who was (and probably still is) very likely seriously, clinically depressed. However that was another competing mentality more along the nature of sharks. The line was pretty nigh impossible for anyone to toe, but sometimes someone would give a fairly good impression of it. That meant that all the parental heat was off of her/him and on the rest of you. Enter the sharks. Self-preservation said bring that sibling down before we all die here. I'll give you an example. My mom would (no kidding) ask people "So who do you think has the higher gpa, Natalie or Claire?" You might think this sounds deplorable no matter what the gpa. But let me tell you something -my gpa was three hundredths of a point lower than my sister's and that furthermore I was a junior/senior and she was a freshman/sophomore. See what I mean when I tell you I was trained in envy? My good grades became a foil for my sister's better ones. In the end that's about all the were good for. Growing up it wasn't so much about toeing the line as being closer to it than anyone else. One kid looking good frequently (admittedly not always) made the rest of us look bad.

I know that regardless of what I learned growing up that my sin is still my sin. I can't just look at something my parents inadvertently did and pass that buck back. Wrapped up as it is though in my search for love and approval and my desire to be a "good kid" envy has been a pretty tough one to root out. I don't want to be the bad kid. I don't want to lose approval. I want to be loved and accepted and commended. If that meant stomping on a few fingers....Father hunger is a strong emotion. The interesting thing though, to go back my lindy hop example, is that I'm in no less demand as a dancer now that I was before. I would say the reverse is true. Other people's successes have made me stronger and I believe will continue to make me stronger. I'm not as envious of other people as I was a year or two ago, and I believe I owe that in many ways to my church family because I don't have to scrape and connive to get these people to care for me and to approve. The masks can come down. It's ok to be unsure, faltering, and imperfect. And in that I see the face of God. I don't have to be better than Jennifer, Allen, Scot, Laura, etc because God loves me independent of and without thought for where they are in their walks. It's a very beautiful and very free thing. No more competing. No more being glad when the best dancer/biker/babysitter/etc moves out of town and you get to move up a rank. It's a good place to be whenever I can maintain the altitude.


rahrahbt said...

I haven't commented before, I don't think,but I've been reading your blog for a while now - I saw a comment you made on Nancy Wilson's Femina blog and followed you home :)
I really appreciate your (usual) honesty in this post. The thing about confessing your sins this way is that they lose their hold on you. I know, its for the moment and our flesh is pretty resiliant, but relish the moment! You will receive so much more from these people then the latest Lindy step but even that is more fun when you can admit to the Envy and Pride. :)

Elisa M said...

you are great.