ON GENEROUS, EMPATHETIC JOY: OR, WHEN OTHER PEOPLE DO/HAVE GREAT THINGS (and you don’t)

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In 2012 Shannon and I had the great privilege of travelling around the world (pre-covid days. Obviously). I remember several conversations in the months leading up to our trip, where select people, upon hearing our plans, responded with the following:

“I’m so jealous!”

-them (and sometimes me)

Of course, this is a lighthearted statement. We don’t actually mean harm in it: It is a response intended to show your conversation partner how good their news is: “Your news is so good I wish it was true for me”.

We hope that they hear the virtue of this statement – “Your news is so good!!” But as I often did – the statement more often falls flat, because what the person actually hears louder than its goodness, – is “I wish it were true for me”. It is really a backhanded compliment because you’re really saying “I haven’t been as lucky as you”. When we make statements like this, we steal the moment, making someone else’s joy about us.

“….thankyou?”

– me (after being made the subject of jealousy)

The thing is, sometimes it’s hard not to see beyond that space. Sometimes people’s lives just seem SO MUCH EASIER than ours. “How come things seem to turn out for those guys?” “How come they get what they want?” “When will it be my turn???”

I have been the author of many of these statements. It is really hard when you seem to get passed over, time and time again, for the good things in life.

This post is not about comparison and stopping it – I mean comparison isn’t healthy, nor fulfilling – and nor is it even based in reality – we NEVER know the full story of someone’s context, or what it cost for them to get where they’re at.

yet – sometimes it’s hard not to compare – I mean, we’re human, right?

sometimes it goes beyond your run of the mill jealous comparison to full blown rage. Someone’s joy (especially when it is seemingly easily won) feels like a personal attack – how DARE they get a boyfriend/get married/fall pregnant/get a job/lose weight/get ripped/find their calling/start a successful podcast – when they KNOW how much I’ve been struggling with it??!!!!!

The rage can be real. So can the pain.

BUT. BUT. BUT, dear friends –

when we extend empathetic joy – when we are generous in our support, even, especially when, we’re not in the same place as our friend/acqaintence/stranger – oh the gift of grace we offer in that moment? priceless.

To say to someone – THIS moment – THIS joy – right now? This is yours. I echo it. I celebrate you – I think it’s one of the truer marks of maturity. And it’s something to aspire to. I guarantee the gift of sharing in someone’s happiness is actually far more healing than if you withdrawal out of envy or spite.

Yes friends, sometimes it is about us. Our griefs and longings are completely real. Sometimes we need to rant and rave about what isn’t happening in our own plan. But we don’t always have to bring it up in this moment, or to this person. It is the art – and gift – of responding well.

This can be really hard when/if we’re struggling ourselves.

But more than one thing can be true at once –

we can grieve, but at the same time, champion our neighbours.

Even if someone’s life seems to be easier/more attractive than yours, it doesn’t demean your story in the slightest.

It can feel lonely – but this is the work of generous grace, friends. And in this you are in fine company indeed.

x

ps – as a standing invitation – if you ever are in the need for some empathetic joy in your lives – Hit me up. Tell me your news.

I’m here for it.

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