My stomach fluttered in anticipation as Mr. Arthur* handed back our English tests.
I had studied so hard for this exam, and I really needed a good score to bump up my class average. Mr. Arthur set my paper on my desk, facedown, and continued down the aisle. I took a deep breath, bit my lip, and cautiously flipped over the paper. Judging from the moans and groans heard throughout the room, I felt pretty good about my grade—that is, until my classmate Jeff opened his mouth.
“Yes!” he exclaimed, banging his fist on the desk. I glanced over and saw the giant red A perched at the top of Jeff’s paper. Immediately the needle on my “jealousy meter” spiked.
Why the Big Deal?
“You had band practice every night this week,” I said to Jeff. “Plus rehearsals for the school play. How did you manage to pull off an A?”
Jeff shrugged his shoulders.
“Just lucky, I guess,” he said like it was no big deal. His laid-back attitude only made my heart pump harder. I had spent so much time prepping for this exam. But Jeff couldn’t have studied more than a few hours. It didn’t seem fair that he was able to do better than I did when clearly I worked much harder. I was so annoyed because this was not the first time this scenario had played out. Jeff always seemed to have the academic edge over me—and it had been that way since grade school.
“It’s just not fair!” I complained to my friend, Chloe, during lunch. “Why can’t I beat him just once?”
“Is it really that big a deal, Emily?” she asked.
Maybe it shouldn’t have been. But the truth was that whether or not it was right or fair or politically correct, it just bugged me that Jeff always seemed to one-up me.
“Why do you make it a competition anyway?” Chloe asked. “You’ve known Jeff your whole life. He’s a good guy. He never rubs his grades in your face. Why can’t you just be happy for him?”
I nodded my head. Yeah, Jeff was a nice guy who deserved his high marks. I just wished mine were as good.
“I know it sounds silly,” I confessed. “But I feel like if I could just outscore Jeff, then I could do anything.”
“You can do anything,” Chloe said. “Regardless of Jeff’s abilities. Stop comparing yourself with him all the time and you’ll probably be a lot happier.”
Easier said than done, I thought.
When Has Envy Improved Your Life?
Still, Chloe’s practical advice sparked a memory about something my youth leader had discussed just a few weeks earlier. He had warned us about the destruction envy can cause. He said that we sometimes make ourselves miserable by obsessing over how we measure up to other people, and that nothing good comes from comparing our looks, clothes, possessions, or, in my case, grades.
My youth minister quoted Ephesians 4:31-32: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger . . . Be kind and compassionate to one another.” Then he asked us all a profound question: “Can you think of a time when envy improved your life in some way?”
I realized that whining about Jeff’s A was pointless. It certainly didn’t improve my mood—or change my grade. I decided right then to make a conscious effort not only to avoid comparing my accomplishments to others but also to express genuine happiness for others’ successes.
A few moments later, Jeff walked past my lunch table. I figured this was God’s way of giving me a little nudge.
“Hey, Jeff!” I called out. “Nice job on that English test.”
Jeff flashed a huge smile. “Thanks, Em!”
I could tell by Jeff’s face how much my comment meant to him. And it actually felt really good to give someone a well-deserved compliment. It also felt good knowing that regardless of how I scored on this or any other test in life, I’d never have to beat out anyone to secure a spot in God’s heart.
by Emily Grimm as told to Christy Heitger-Ewing
*names have been changed