I’ve recently been thankful for the character growth that happens when school events give me an opportunity to help my kids to understand and frame their experiences.
As my daughter’s spring concert approached, she lamented that she wasn’t chosen for a speaking part or for a solo. I responded out loud that not everyone gets to do everything, and I reminded her that one of her friends had practiced hard every week to develop her singing ability.
It was a very short conversation, and we moved on. My daughter’s concert came and went, our whole family watched to support her and her classmates, and she loved it.
A couple of weeks later, my daughter mentioned during our walk home that some of the girls at school were asking their friend, “Why did YOU get to do the solo?” And my daughter said that she was sad that they had that attitude.
First of all, I totally understand that attitude – because I’ve felt it often before in my own self. Envy: it’s ugly, it robs us of joy, and it starts so early in life.
As I walked with my daughter, I tried once again to find some words to help her process this experience. I told her, “I’m so sorry that they are saying that. It probably hurts your friend. But the girls need to understand that…” And I trailed off, trying to find just the right words that were full of truth and grace.
“…that not everyone gets to do everything, but everyone gets to do important things,” my daughter filled in quickly.
I was in shock that an 8-year-old had just spoken words that I hadn’t even thought of, but words that are so true, not only for children but also for us as adults.
How often do we long for an opportunity that we don’t have? Or wish that we had a better yard for our kids to play in? Or constantly check social media, hoping for more re-tweets or likes? Or want a job that more enjoyable, or meaningful, or more financially beneficial?
Those desires are not wrong; often they can motivate us to learn, to take a risk, and to grow. It’s not wrong for a child to want a solo in a concert and to take the steps to make it a reality. It’s not wrong to want a fulfilling job or better experiences or more connection with other people.
The trouble comes when we see others who have those things and then begin the comparison game. Envy turns us against other people. We long for the opportunity that someone else has. We walk past our neighbors’ yards and wish that those yards were ours. We feel downcast and lonely because someone else is getting the amount of re-tweets and likes that we were hoping for. We do our jobs with drudgery because what we really want is the job that our colleague or our acquaintance has. Envy puts walls between us and others, and it steals the joy and delight that we could be experiencing. It’s no wonder that the Bible labels envy and selfish ambition as “demonic” (James 3:13-16).
It’s true – I have desires and plans for new things. I don’t want my life to be stagnant in relationships or in purpose. But I love the freedom that comes from knowing that what I’m doing now is also important. At this very moment, I cannot do everything that other people can do, but I am doing something important. Knowing that truth gives me freedom to cheer other people on and to savor the opportunities that I have right now. And I will refuse to allow envy to rob me of joy. I hope that we can experience that freedom together, and I will be ecstatic if my kids can grasp that early in their lives.
“Not everyone gets to do everything, but everyone gets to do important things.”