Jealousy came knocking today. I wasn’t planning to have her over for tea, but such is the case with our relationship. She just shows up and I have to decide: do I let her in and we have a proper conversation or do I ignore her and try to pretend that everything is ok.
Knock, knock, knock.
I know why she’s here. Today I spent time with my luminous friend. There really is no better word for Kacie. Luminous. She lights up every room she enters. Her laughter sparkles. She’s brilliant both in character and intellect. I love her. I hate her. I want to be her when I grow up. The funny thing is Kacie often tells me how she looks up to me. She ends her emails with “Go, Osheta, go! I’m so proud of you!” And I don’t know what to do with that? I mean, how can you hate someone who loves you so much? This is why Jealousy came today. She knows I don’t hate my friend, I’m just envious of her.
Knock, knock, knock.
Again, Jealousy beckons and I’ve decided to let her in. This isn’t our first cup of tea, mind you, so I know what to do. I go to the door and there she stands, her green eyes glistening with unshed tears of regret. Jealousy looks at me and says, “I want to come in. We need to talk.” and the sound of her voice stirs something in my gut. What is it? Anger? Sadness? Fear? No, I know what it is. It’s desire. I’m desiring something and Jealousy has come to talk to me about it.
I step aside to let Jealousy in and she slinks by me in a heavy sequined green dress with a slit up the thigh. The rustle of her dress and my sigh are the only sounds in the room. She’s beautiful. She’s unreachable. She’s brilliant. She looks like my luminous friend.
I start to heat the water as Jealousy watches me from the kitchen table. She’s already seated and ready to talk, but I’m not ready. She knows it and I know it. We are going to reckon with my insecurities and my discontentment. We’re going to wrestle with scarcity and entitlement. In the course of the conversation, Jealousy will change forms. She’ll look like the leader of my high school clique who left me out. She’ll look like the only other black girl on my evangelical college campus, the one who I felt was my biggest rival for attention and accolades. She’ll look like the blogger with the huge platform, the PTA president with the large network, and for the briefest of moments, she’ll look like my daughter with her whole life ahead of her and her body untouched by stretch marks and post-pregnancy pounds. I don’t want to deal with my insecurities, so I stall.
I pull down the mugs. I choose the tea bags. I tap my fingers nervously on my hips. I turn the fire up. I turn it down low. I scroll through my phone to check for messages. The whole time, jealousy watches me. Finally, I take in a deep breath and start to talk, but stop. I’m still not ready. I need something to sweeten the conversation. I take the honey down and the tea kettle whistles.
“It’s time,” Jealousy says definitively.
I nod. If we don’t talk now, Jealousy will leave here and soon her cousin Bitterness will show up. Bitterness, will stumble in without the courtesy of a knock, all drunk on self-importance and loud with accusations to tell me all the things hateful I want to hear about the women I envy. Bitterness will fill my head with stories about Luminous Friend. How she’s out to get me. How God has failed in making me as luminous as she. How I’ll never get to light up a room, because I’m not made to sparkle. How my words and good deeds are desperate attempts that others see right through, so it’s my job to prove Luminous Friend and every woman like her that I’m the best, regardless of who gets hurt in the process. At the end, I’ll be punch drunk and eager for conflict.
I can’t let this happen. I am a peacemaker. I used to think that peacemaking was a wholly external way of being in the world. We make peace for those who have none. We resolve conflict and champion civility and bring our sweetness to even the bitterest of circumstance. Yes, but we are peacemakers for others, because we have learned to be peacemakers for ourselves. We’ve learned our particular bents towards division and we work through them so that they don’t take us off the path of peace. For me, it looks like examining my jealousies, almost every day and letting the Spirit remind me that Shalom means flourishing and abundance— there’s no room for scarcity in the Kingdom of God. For some it’s our anger. Others it’s our self-righteousness. We each have a vice and facing that, is our boldest move towards peacemaking.
I pour the boiling water and sit down across from Jealousy. As long as I’m willing to listen to my jealousy. As long as I’m brave enough to face the darkness in my own heart, I still have the power. She knows it and I do too.
You see, Jealousy and I will talk and as I listen to her, I’ll see my need for Jesus. I’ll see that I’m too focused on others, like Peter and John on the beach with Jesus. If God desires Kacie to be Luminous, what does it matter to me? I must follow Jesus. The Prince of Peace, in whom I’ll find my peace. This is the work of the Spirit, transforming that which means to harm us into a tool for our healing.
And in light of this truth, knowing that I am made whole to make the world whole, I lift the cup of tea to my lips, “Ok,” I whisper before I take a drink. I taste the honey and I’m reminded of a Jewish tradition of tasting honey before teaching the Torah. I know admitting the truth will be just as sweet and formative, so I take one long fortifying drink.
My eyes, filled with tears of shame and exhaustion meets Jealousy and slowly I see Jesus sitting across from me—face open and full of love and I know I have the courage to face my darkness in the Presence of the light of the world.