When I was in seminary, Dr. Gail Ricciuti, my homiletics professor, told me about a book by J Ruth Gendler called The Book of Qualities. It has since become one of my favorite books, in part because she has helped me to understand human qualities, such as jealousy, in new ways and enabled me to put a very different human face on them. She wrote this about jealousy,
Jealousy stands by the blue flame of the gas stove stirring obsession stew. In his mind he is tearing people limb from limb. He wears a shirt that is almost in style with it odd angular shapes and bright edges. He can be quite charming when he wants to be. He certainly has a flair for drama. After a while though, the roles jealousy takes begin to seem shallow, dishonest, repetitive. The more upset he feels, the more loudly he denies it. For a time I stopped giving parties because he wouldn’t come if I invited certain people. At that point, I couldn’t give a party without inviting him, and I was unwilling to censor my guest list for his sake. He is quite capable of showing up anywhere unexpected, uninvited, unwelcome.
As I have been reflecting on my life and experience of jealousy, I came to realize that my ability to celebrate and affirm my friend’s intelligence, creativity, accomplishments, and ideas was related to how much I am able to honor my own. I have come to realize that jealousy does not have to be something you beat yourself over. It can, when used positively, be a gift from the Infinite.
Iyanla Vansant once suggested that you give thanks for those who have somehow managed to get on your last nerve, as they have saved you precious time and money spent in therapy. They have managed to identify for you that which you need to examine and heal next in your life. Jealousy offers the same opportunity for transformation. It begins with looking away from that which is triggering the feelings of jealousy to that within you which is feeling jealous.
Once we identify why we are having trouble being supportive of with others, then we can begin to focus on the discomfort, explore it, and begin to learn from it. Through various spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, journaling, and meditation, we can begin to understand the feelings we are experiencing. We can have a conversation with it, befriend it, honor it, and allow what we are feeling to help us grow and evolve.
One of the most powerful ways to diffuse jealousy is to own it, speak it, and undermine it’s control in our lives. As Gendler said, “The more upset he feels, the more loudly he denies it.” The more we try not to talk about our jealousy, the more jealous we become, and the more likely we are to deny it. When we do this, we allow jealousy to have greater power and control in our lives. When we talk openly about what we are feeling, those inner feelings lose their power and the feelings are able to be diffused. We have the power to control our thoughts and feelings and not allow them to control us.
We also need to look at what happened in our relationship with ourselves and the Infinite to stop honoring our gifts and ourselves. What do we need to do in our own lives so that we can be delighted for others and ourselves? What changes do I need to make? What agreements do I need to change?
Until we become the people we want to be in our relationship with ourselves, others, and with the Infinite, the opportunity for jealousy to regain control over us continues to exist. As Gendler suggested, jealousy “is quite capable of showing up anywhere unexpected, uninvited, unwelcome.” When jealousy pops back up, treat it as a gift from the Creator. It has been sent here to help you know where you need to go next in your spiritual journey. As 1 Thessalonians5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” Jealousy is just one of those circumstances in which we are to give thanks.