Grief has done strange things to me. Terrible things. I realized this yesterday as I was driving home from work.
Along the side of a busy road trudged a woman carrying a baby. She had a haggard look about her, the kind of look we associate with meth users and alcoholics. Her hair was scraggly, her eyes sunken in dark circles, her skin pasty and unhealthy. In the 97 degree weather, the little one she carried had no hat, nothing to shield its precious little face or eyes from the over-bearing heat and bright sunshine. Both were mere feet from zooming traffic.
I couldn’t help watching this woman, headed who knows where. I assumed to the gas station to buy cigarettes. And my honest confession is that in that moment, I hated that woman.
Here was a woman who – to all appearances – wasn’t living life the way I think she should. She looked like she had little care for herself or her child. I couldn’t stand the thought that that woman deserved the blessing of a living child when I didn’t.
In that moment I made many assumptions about this particular woman – which may or may not have been accurate. I quickly passed judgment on her based on my assumptions, and the hatred and jealousy raging in my heart were overwhelming.
I could give that child the life it deserved.
I would put a sunbonnet on that baby.
I wouldn’t do drugs with a child in the house (or ever). Or buy cigarettes.
I wouldn’t walk down a busy road with my child dangerously near traffic.
I wouldn’t take my child out in mid-afternoon August heat for my own selfish desires.
I’ve been dealing with these attitudes frequently since I lost William. At fast food restaurants where obese mothers buy extra large fries and an extra burger for their obese daughters. In grocery stores where fathers are stocking up on cheap, light beer and cigarettes, while their dirty, unshod children scream and whine. In department stores where parents shriek at ill-mannered children. Watching the news spots about children who are beaten or abducted. I would never do these things to my children, nor let bad things happen to them.
Once I mentioned these attitudes to my husband, and he responded with words that cut me to the quick: “Maybe those children are the best things in their lives. Maybe those children keep those parents from going completely over the edge. Maybe those babies are what God is trying to use to redeem them.”
I didn’t like those words. I didn’t like hearing that someone else had something I didn’t – when I had judged them undeserving.
My gut reaction, my gut desire, is to steal those children away – to bring them to my home where I could care for them properly, speak to them with gentleness, clothe them decently, love them instead of resent them. This is what jealousy does to us, isn’t it? Not only does it convince us that we’ve been cheated or robbed, it convinces us that we are more qualified, that we are better – it convinces us that we have a right to be hateful and angry toward those who have what we do not.
So what to do? What do I do with these hateful, self-righteous attitudes?
My best friend is always challenging me to “confront the lies.” When I’m struggling with something, her response is usually “what lie are you believing, and what is true?”
What lie am I believing?
For starters, I believe that I am somehow better than someone who has outwardly visible sin: drug abuse, selfishness, laziness, physical violence, alcohol abuse. I also believe that I somehow deserve something better, because I don’t exhibit those outwardly visible sins. Furthermore, I believe that I have the right to pass judgement on these people, while remaining free from judgment myself.
What is the truth?
Romans 3:23 – “…[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” – I am just as sinful as those I am so angry at and jealous of. There is just no getting around this, no matter how I try to convince myself I’d be a better parent than many I see. If I am a sinner, the same as everyone else, then I don’t deserve anything but death (Romans 6:23). I don’t deserve children, or motherhood, or anything else I’ve been given in my life.
Romans 2:1 – “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” – Ouch. My judging is not excused, simply because I have a different set of sin issues to deal with or simply because my sin issues are far less visible than others’. I think this is why Jesus taught us to remove the speck in our own eye before trying to remove the board in our brother’s eye. He didn’t want us caught up in making judgement calls against someone else, when we ourselves are dealing with sinful hearts.
Okay, so now I’ve reached the hard part. I know my attitudes are sinful. I know I should stop judging others, being jealous of others, and being angry with others for having what I do not have. Simply knowing what is right and wrong will not make me act in a right way – I’ve lived with myself too long to be fooled by that thought. So what am I going to do with my jealously and judgement? Here are some action points I’m going to work on. Please understand, I’m not saying I’ve conquered this, I’m saying this is what I am going to do to work on developing a more Christ-like attitude. Fighting these attitudes will be a life-long spiritual battle.
First, I am going to start praying, hard. I am going to ask God to continue to convict me when I develop feelings of jealously and hatred, and when my thoughts are turning toward judgement. I am also going to start praying for those parents I see who evoke these strong feelings. Its hard to truly be hateful of someone you’re praying for – so I will begin praying for God to use their roles as parents to bring about their salvation. I will begin praying that they would be set free from sinful habits that are harming themselves and their children. I will begin praying that their children would be protected from parents’ sinful actions.
Second, I will start asking people to pray for me. My small group, my family, my friends, and my blog readers – I need accountability and continual prayer support.
Third, I will being focusing more on gratitude. I’ve learned in previous battles with jealousy that the best way to fight a jealous heart is with a grateful heart. When I have those feelings of jealousy rise up, I will begin telling myself of the blessings God has given me, and take my focus off the blessings I have not yet received. Don’t be fooled, I know exactly how tall and order this is. I also know I will fail, over and over. Failure is not an excuse to continue living with a sinful heart.
Its humbling for me to share my struggles, but I hope that you can hear how God is working in my life today. Conviction, repentance and restoration are not easy, but to be like Christ and to grow in grace make the struggle worthwhile.
Be blessed today,
So you know, the scripture above comes from the English Standard Version (ESV).