I’m in the throws of editing my upcoming workbook and ironing out some Retreat details. I hope to be back to regular blogging again soon, but in the meantime, I’m honored to share the following post from my friend, and fellow writer, Anita Mathias.
Who can Stand Before Jealousy? (Prov. 27:4). If Joseph, whose story in Genesis I am re-reading, realized the dangers of provoking jealousy, he could have avoided 20 hard years.
Joseph, his father’s favourite, given an ornate robe. His brothers, of course, “hated him, and could not speak a kind word to him.”
Joseph, whose dreams are prescient. He is prophetically gifted–but not yet gifted in wisdom or prudence or sensitivity or insight into human nature.
These he will develop in the school of experience.
* * *
My sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.
Was this a dream to share with jealous brothers?
“And they hated him all the more because of his dream.” (Gen 37:8). Of course, they did,
His next naïve revelation, “the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me,” dooms him.
“Here comes that dreamer. Let’s kill him,” his brothers say.
There is a reason God speaks to us in dreams, when the world is still and quiet, and there are no witnesses.
Dreams are meant to be kept secret. There is power in secrecy; power in containment.
* * *
I sympathize with Joseph. All my life, I have been a Joseph-Tigger-Kanga who bounds up to share good news—a prize, a publication, a financial windfall, career breakthrough… I often still do, instinctively.
It’s an extrovert’s reflex—joy seems more real when shared.
But is it safe? Not really. I have had things blocked by the jealous by sharing them before everything was signed and sealed. Sometimes, I can see a frenemy’s irritation rise as I share a success—notice pursed lips, a put down, the topic abruptly changed, a quick trip to the loo.
I understand Joseph’s impulse, but I do not want to land up in a well.
So the Tigger-impulse must be tempered by other principles.
1) The Golden Rule. Love Does not Boast (1 Cor. 13:4)
How do I feel about other’s success? If it’s a friend whom I, or my children don’t feel competitive with–happy.
However, when old writing friends do far better than I—as many have done!!–I am happy if they are better writers, and sometimes disgruntled, if they are worse. I do confess it!
When old friends become famous, as some have done, I wish them well, but sometimes find it hard to continue the friendship as it was. Their success exacerbates my own guilt about disorganization, wasted time, time lost to turbulent emotions which should have sorted out through scripture, prayer and surrender.
My joy at a friend’s success is not unmixed with sadness at my own relative failure. So why should I expect great nobility out of everyone else?
2) Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips. (Prov. 27:2)
This is something I often say to myself, both when tempted to show off, even obliquely, and when I hear someone praise themselves on social media.
Russell Baker in his memoir Good Times, reported his mother’s aphorism, “If you don’t blow your trumpet who’ll blow it for you?”
Yeah, what if another man’s lips don’t praise you?
So be it. So be it. Obscurity develops character just as much as celebrity, no doubt, does. “Humility, like darkness, reveals the heavenly lights” Thoreau wrote. Or, to quote Proverbs, “Humility comes before honour.” The way of humility has mysterious power, as the way of forgiveness does.
3) Boasting Cheats You of the Chance to Learn
Christian Twitter comedian Sammy Rhodes satirizes circuitous showing off: “This rain is really coming down. Speaking of rain, did I ever tell you about that time Rainn Wilson defended me on Twitter?”
It is a better use of time to turn the conversation around to the unique individual I am talking to and learn everything interesting about them, since I already know everything interesting about myself (well–until I go to therapy!)
As Estelle in Great Expectations was raised to break men’s hearts, I was raised to achieve, to be Amazing Me.
Ah, the freedom of leaving that behind me, and instead being who I am: the Beloved. To have relationships based on who I am, not what I’ve done.
Jesus, ah Jesus, our role-model! How modest and discreet he was, secretive even. How he adjured people not to tell others about his miraculous deeds. How he was scolded by his disciples for acting in secret. How he left the region when people came hunting for him, seeking miracles, seeking to make him king.
I often think of what my friend Paul who discipled me said, “90% of wisdom is keeping your mouth shut.”
The sun, moon and eleven stars would have bowed to Joseph, anyway, for that was his destiny. He was gifted; he had impressive administrative gifts, integrity and, eventually, people skills too.
Joseph learned wisdom and prudence through twenty years of suffering.
But his story is recorded so we may learn without pits, wells and dungeons.
Anita Mathias is the author of Wandering Between Two Worlds (Benediction Classics, 2007). She has won a writing fellowship from The National Endowment for the Arts, and her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The London Magazine, Commonweal, America, The Christian Century, and The Best Spiritual Writing anthologies. Anita lives in Oxford, England with her husband and daughters. She blogs at Dreaming Beneath the Spires. You can find her on Twitter @anitamathias1 or on Facebook at Dreaming Beneath the Spires.