When I wrote the Introduction post to this new ‘Dear Believer’ series two days ago, I had fully intended on writing out a, rather vulnerable, prayer request to anyone who would read it. But here I sit, two days later, completely unable to write that prayer. I no longer need to. I no longer need that prayer. Without me even making a single keystroke, God stepped in and answered it. He cut the line, stepped right up front and handled how I was feeling right then and there on the spot. Complete surprise to me. In the past, and most usually, when I’ve been feeling – less than holy, depressed, down on myself in some way, or inadequate and undeserving – like a failure, the feeling would last a few days, or weeks.
I’m no stranger to asking fellow Christians for prayers, and I’m not uncomfortable with being open to strangers about my emotions. I’m familiar with how these things tend to go. I feel down, or some sort of less than good, I talk to someone, I reach out, I pray, I meditate and overthink it for a while, and then eventually something will happen, someone will say the right thing, or God will send me a message in the little things and boom – I’m good. Tip-top-shape. Right as rain. Loving Jesus. Feeling blessed. But, as I said, I’m used to that taking days or weeks. Not – minutes or hours.
I feel as though, as I grow older and face different seasons of my life, different levels of emotional maturity, levels of wisdom and self-understanding, different stages in my walk with following Christ, I experience new trials, new struggles with sins that used to never be an issue, new appreciations for other peoples’ walks and triumphs – a lot more humility and many new ways to be humbled.
I’ve never struggled with envy before. Not when I was a child, not a teen in high school, not even much as a twenty-something finding my place in society. But here I am, thirty-two years old, a husband of 4 years, and a father of a two-year old, staring into the ugly face of envy for the first time. What I soon realized about envy is it doesn’t come alone. As I peeled back the layers of why I was feeling this way, I learned that envy was really just a manifestation of many underlying and deep-rooted insecurities, regret – guilt, and self-loathing.
In this toxic head-space, all I knew is that this other guy was my age, making more money than me, and he’s better able to provide for his wife and child than I am. It’s not fair. Why? I worked hard. I’ve made countless sacrifices and wise decisions. I went to college too. Why has my career path been riddled with potholes and wrong turns, when this guy has had nothing but smooth sailing, climbed the ladder of financial success, and even gets to own a house? Why does this guy get to have all these things and this success when I feel I deserve it too? He’s not even a Christian. He’s worldly and self-centered. He’s egotistical and condescending. I don’t get it. What gives?
Why would I have reasons to be envious of someone else, If I didn’t already feel shame about something internally? Was I purely jealous of someone being better off than me? Really? Why? I’ve never worried about those types of things before. My grass has always been plenty green. I had a great childhood. I have a good group of friends. I have a job. I have a beautiful and loving wife. I have the most amazing and joyful son. Where was this envy coming from?
That’s when my wife walked into the room. I was hesitant to tell Lori how I was feeling. First, I didn’t want to open up and risk her ridiculing me for feeling this way. And secondly, I didn’t think she’d understand. I’m supposed to be the “spiritual leader” of our household. It’s up to me to be an example of Christ in this marriage. I was both ashamed and afraid. I was afraid she’d call me out for all the real reasons why I knew I was envious. I was afraid she’d say, “well, maybe if you’d tried harder in school, applied yourself a little more, and went after a more fruitful career, been a little bit more ambitious, then maybe you wouldn’t be in this situation and wouldn’t have to feel this way.”
This was what I expected to hear from her. This is what I was telling myself already in my head. My envy is my fault. My situation, my debt, my feelings of inadequacy and feelings of being a failure, a bad husband and father – a poor provider for my family – all my fault.
Not only was I afraid of hearing all of this and it being validated by my wife, but I was afraid it was all true and there was nothing I could do to go back and be more like – the other guy.
In anticipation of her response, I asked her, “Babe, in all honesty, do I do enough for you and Owen?” I told her, “I want to be real with you. I feeling super envious of [insert name] and I feel like I’m letting you down by not being more like the ‘Type A” go-getter, business-type guy that makes a ton of money for his family.”
I added, “I feel a lot of regret about not pushing myself to be more ambitious and not like these types of guys that are so motivated. I should have gone to a better school. I should’ve–.” I went on and on about things I felt guilt and regret for.
I’ve never been the ambitious type. Nowadays, I’ve come to realize, I’ve always been more of an artist. I like photography, writing, music, games, art, nature, and countless other creative pursuits and outlets. When I was a kid, the idea of a cubicle was equal to living in misery. I’ve never truly known what I wanted to “be,” or “do,” in my life, but I knew that I needed a job so that I could afford to one day have a family and to afford to do all of those creative things I wanted to do.
Lori’s response surprised me. “I love our life.” She said. “And I love you – for exactly who you are.“
Tears. Instantly. I embraced my wife and held her in my lap and cried on her shirt and said, “Thank you.” And almost immediately the feelings of envy were gone. The shame and insecurities of not being more like other people – gone. In that moment, and looking back on it, God was answering my prayer.
There was an unsent drafted text to my pastor, Jeff, which read: “Hey Jeff, I could use some prayer or some wisdom. I’m really struggling with envy right now and I know I shouldn’t feel this way. Much love, Matt.”
I never sent that text, and instead decided to start writing this blog again. Later that evening after I wrote my Intro post, Lori came up and to me said I’d inspired her to start her Bible-studies up again and she was going to start journaling too. In a mysterious way, God heard an unspoken prayer and placed His hand on me that day. Maybe God wanted me to start writing again. Maybe God wanted Lori to be his voice to me. Maybe God wanted Lori to act as an example of His perfect and unconditional love.
Normally, I’d have a few Bible verses to offer or a really nicely put together conclusion statement to tie all these little things together, but I really like how raw this is. And hopefully, if any message is to be taken from this, God will also place His hand on you while you’re reading this. I don’t want any credit in God speaking to you. I just hope He does.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. I know it’s long. I know I’m a bit long-winded. But I love you for sticking through it.
Much Love –
P.S. Jeff, if you’re reading this. I know you would’ve been there for me if I’d sent that text. I know I can always count on you as a Christian leader and mentor and as a friend. Thank you.