A friend texted me last night with good news. It was a long time coming. She deserved it. Her child deserved it. And yet, something prevented me from celebrating with her. A not-so-great feeling crept into my heart, blocking my ability to rejoice in her rejoicing. Instead of praising God for answering her prayer, I wanted to know why He had yet to answer my own.
"Why can’t I be happy for her blessing?" I asked another friend. "Why does her good fortune steer my eyes towards my misfortune? And why does this need to be about me anyway? And what even is this? Jealousy? Envy? Ugh. I hate it."
Determined to pull up this sin by its roots, I knew God had the answer and remedy that I desperately needed.
According to a Catholic definition, jealousy is when you guard something you have and are afraid it will be taken away, whereas envy is when you strongly desire something that somebody else has. Jealousy and envy are some of the worst feelings ever. In fact, they are the only sins we commit that never feel good! They are joy, love, and relationship killers. Not only do they never make us feel good, but they have the potential to lead us into serious spiritual danger. Doing their best to pull us into the pit of discontent and ungratefulness, jealousy says, “What God has given me is just not enough!” while envy whispers, “Someone else got what I deserve.”
The text I received? The good fortune that God bestowed upon my dear friend? I wanted it for myself. I desired what she had received from the Lord so badly, that her happiness made me sad. Her abundance highlighted my lack. Her more made me feel less. I could not be happy for her because with my laser-focus on God working in her life, I was blind to His works in my own.
Have you ever felt this way?
I called my friend again this morning. I was not done talking about envy. Still hard-pressed to find the remedy, we went back and forth, trying to get to its core, when finally she said something that was like a slap on the face; something I think can be a gamechanger for all of us who wrestle with this sinful attitude: “I don’t like that the only way I can feel better about someone getting what I wish that I had is by telling myself that one day, it can all fall apart for them! It is awful to wish for suffering for another! I don’t like it and I need to fix this now!”
And the conversation paused. I knew exactly what she meant. I, too, am guilty of making myself feel better by thinking, “Sure, her daughter is successful now...her husband makes good money now...her kid is the star of the team now...her job is going great now...but you know, this could all take a turn for the worse tomorrow.” And then, she said this….
“At my WWP table this week, the table leader shared a verse she goes to whenever she feels envious; whenever she sees the people around her living the life she thought she would have...the life she thought her children would have. The life she felt she deserved.” And it comes from Lisa Brenninkmeyer’s “I Declares” from the Bible study Fearless and Free. I could hear the pages of her Bible flipping until her eyes rested on the very words—the remedy—both our hearts had been searching for. “Yes! Here it is. Phillippians 1:6.” And then, my friend declared Truth over us:
I declare that you have begun a good work in my loved one’s life, and you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.¹
Next to Jesus showing up and breaking through the darkness of one’s heart, the greatest blessing one can hope for is a faithful friend who allows His light to shine through her. Someone humble enough to admit her sin, and brave enough to declare the truth. A friend who walks alongside you on life’s journey, stopping every few steps to remind you of who God is. Of what He is doing. And that He is not done.
Merciful Jesus, forgive me for believing the lie that you answer everyone’s prayers but my own. For forgetting Who you are. For allowing the enemy to hold me face down in the mud, so that I am not able to see Your glory. For being so focused on myself, I can not be happy for others. Please pull the sin of envy out of the root of my heart. I want to be changed. I am so grateful for all that you have given and continue to give and I pray to never lose sight of that. But because I know that I will, thank you Jesus, for sending me a friend who never shrinks back from correcting me, who listens to my craziness with compassion, who always takes me by the hand and leads me to You. If this friend is all that I am given in this lifetime, You have given me more than enough. I have been blessed with more than I deserve.
Gratefully yours in the name of Jesus,
¹ Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Fearless and Free (2019), 178.
“Terrible” was her response to the question, “How was your afternoon?”
“Oh, no, what happened?” I asked my friend, expecting to learn of an argument with her teenager or a run in with a crazy neighbor. But it wasn't either of these things. It wasn't even an actual thing that had happened. (Not in the present moment, at least.) She looked straight at me and sighed, “I just have so many regrets.”
The Hebrew word for regret actually means “to sigh”. Interesting, right?
Regret is defined as sorrow or remorse over something that has happened or that we have done. And we all have regrets. Some regrets are foolish choices, like the time in the seventh grade when I chose to cover my entire head in Sun-In, while laying out at the beach for eight hours straight drenched in baby oil. Other regrets are sin choices, and these can cause us the most harm as they tend to leave scars and consequences that last longer than a bad bleach job and third-degree burn.
I have learned a lot about regret in the past few years, and I have come away confident in this: if it doesn't propel me into a deeper faith and trust in the Lord, it is a completely useless emotion, that ironically, I will only regret at the hour of death; which, if you ask me, is THE most important hour of our lives. And that? That to me is the ultimate regret! Focusing on the sorrow my poor actions have brought me changes nothing. It only holds me face down in disappointment, reminding me of all the “what-ifs” and “if onlys”. It encourages me to look around at everyone else who apparently has what was supposed to be mine IF ONLY I had made better choices. Ultimately, and most tragically, it cripples me in my pursuit of glorifying God.
And we want that, don't we? We want lives that are lived for Jesus, that point to Jesus, that glorify Jesus. But if we are drowning in our regrets, is this even possible? How do we start seeing our wounds as the pathway to the heart of Christ, and not the obstacle? Exactly how do we accept our mistakes, and make peace with our past?
We need to get over ourselves. And we do this by repentance.
As I said earlier, regret focuses on the action that has brought us sorrow, but repentance focuses on the One we have offended. Saint Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 have helped open my eyes to just how selfish my own regret can be:
I rejoice now, not because you were saddened, but because you were saddened into repentance; for you were saddened in a godly way, so that you did not suffer loss in anything because of us. For godly sorrow produces a salutary repentance without regret, but worldly sorrow produces death.
There are a few ways I pray to not die. One, I don't want to be eaten by a shark. Ever. Two, I am terrified of my car driving off of a bridge and drowning. OR worse, not drowning, but once I escape through the car window, I get eaten by a shark. And three, “death by worldly sorrow”. So, to avoid the first two, I will stay out of the ocean and off of bridges. And to ensure I avoid number three, here are three things I am putting into practice:
1. Shut Satan Down.
Sisters, he is not called the Accuser for nothing. His tricks and schemes go back to the Garden of Eden. He tempts you, lying about the consequences, then accuses you when you consent. He delights in your shame, and wants you to believe the lie that you are defined by what you do. Own your identity. You are defined by God. Weekly Confession has been my saving grace. Take your regrets to the Sacrament of reconciliation, and leave them in the confessional. Then, on your way home, blare “I am a child of God” with your windows wide open so everyone knows exactly who you are.
2. Stop dwelling on the past.
Every time you go down that path, you take a step further away from trusting the Lord with your life and accepting the outcome. Your past is a huge and necessary piece of your story. Remember, He wastes nothing. When I focus more on what I should have done, rather than what God is calling me to do, I remember Saint Paul's words in Philippians 3:13-14: Brothers and sisters, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God's upward calling, in Christ Jesus.
3. Praise God.
Thank Him for allowing you to make mistakes because you are confident in His ability to pull the good out of every circumstance. If you do not believe that your situation could ever be used for good, now would be a good time to open up your Bible to Romans 8:28 and declare this over your life: We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
When Judas felt the sharp pains of regret, he fell into self-destruction. This is not what God wants for us! Like Saints Peter and Paul, the purpose of our regret is that it leads us towards repentance. There is no need for you to undo your past. You have a God who lives to redeem it. Claim that truth and keep running towards the prize.
In Him who makes all things new,
In the spring of 2018, my parish wrapped up its first full year of Walking with Purpose. Women's hearts were full, leaders were engaged, and our parish clergy and staff were supportive; but more than anything, participants were excited to share their experiences with others.
This newfound enthusiasm is exactly what makes Walking with Purpose parish programs so special. You may have heard comments just like these:
Finally, this is exactly what I've been waiting for, but better!
I love that it incorporates scripture, as well as our Church's history and teachings all in one!
I love my small group!
It's true that Walking with Purpose fulfills a longing for many of us. We want to share what we've found, which is fantastic! This is evangelization at its finest, and the Holy Spirit at work in our Church.
There are a few challenges as we seek to share abundantly what we've found, but hold tight! Walking with Purpose Bible studies allow us to meet the needs of many women in one place at one time without draining our leadership teams. This is an opportunity for us to admit that we cannot (and should not) do it all. We must hold our Walking with Purpose programs loosely.
As my parish approached its second year, we had the following to look forward to:
My dreams as we approached our second year included:
I committed these dreams to prayer, and remembered them during daily jogs with my sidekicks, Annie and Rosie (Yellow and Black Labrador Retrievers, respectively) while praying the Rosary. I'm not great at sitting still, so with fresh air and some movement, I found myself face to face with the image of our Savior through the eyes of our Blessed Mother.
The prayers on these jogs allowed for the Holy Spirit to lay out a plan which became a tremendous support to our parish program. Key ideas came to fruition:
First, we looked at all of our Opening Your Heart small group leaders as one group so that our daytime and evening Opening Your Heart small group leaders could support one another. This group received a one page leaders' guide for each week's lesson.
Second, we created a video conference meeting time for all of our Opening Your Heart leaders. We used the leaders' guide to go through the main points of the lesson and discuss any ways that we might make the week special. Most importantly, we prayed for each other and the women in our groups. This was especially important for our evening leaders because this was their only leadership team meeting. Two of my favorite parts of the video conference meeting were that we could be in our own homes and we could record the meeting for those who needed to listen later.
Third, our daytime Opening Your Heart leaders were excited to experience the study planned for our returning participants. Even though they would not lead that study, they completed Touching The Divine as their personal study, which we all discussed at our daytime leadership team meetings.
Finally, we wanted to communicate our schedule and Connect Coffees clearly despite offering two studies at one time. To do this, we created a one-page document with the Opening Your Heart and Touching The Divine schedules side-by-side. We did the same with our invitations to Connect Coffees. We created an attractive one-page invitation with a brief summary of both studies' talks. These were emailed, texted and handed to potential guests. We began to talk and pray about our Connect Coffees a couple of weeks in advance. We promoted them as “easy evangelization” while reminding women that when God places a friend or neighbor on our hearts, we must respond. We began to share simple evangelization tools with everyone in our program. This included prayer and obediently responding to God's prompting by asking the friend more than once (that's the hard part).
I have a dream for each of our parish programs and my dream is a big one! I'm not afraid anymore of asking for big dreams when I know that God has placed them on my heart. So here it is:
Let's all offer Opening Your Heart in our parish programs every time we meet.
Our God is not a God of limits or boundaries. He is a God of miracles and overcoming obstacles. Let's just do it! Yes, you! Place an option for Opening Your Heart on your registration forms alongside each and every one of your study offerings. I promise God will work out the details. I love Lisa's “I Declare” over a fear of the future from 2 Timothy 1:7 --
I declare that God has not given me a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.
Let's counter our fears with truth in God's word and offer our parish program up to our Father. Sisters, breathe in the words of Saint Paul to the Philippians, “Let us be confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” May God bless you abundantly for placing your trust in the arms of our Savior and incorporating the details for welcoming new women into your parish program through Opening Your Heart.
P.S. Walking with Purpose has turned many of these ideas into leader tools and training videos which are now available in the WWP Leadership Portal! If you don't yet have access to the online Leadership Tools, register for access today.
Based in Kansas, Emily Thengvall is a Walking with Purpose Regional Area Coordinator (RAC), supporting WWP parish program coordinators at 33 parishes in the midwestern and southwestern US.