Recently, one of my older boys had a headache. I swooped in with all my Mom might and offered comfort, medication and syrupy words of compassion. It only took seconds for me to meet the gaze of my preschool boy and watch him suddenly declare that his stomach hurt; he too was in need of Mom’s attention and affection.
At one point or another, nearly all of us have stood by and witnessed someone else receive something we desperately long for ourselves. Whether it’s affection, praise, opportunities, promotions, relationships, the heart longs for so much and nearly always notices when someone else has the thing we want.
The story of Cain and Abel highlights the strength of jealousy and the lengths we will go to make that uncomfortable feeling go away.
Comparison is often part of the jealousy story, and that is certainly true for Cain and Abel. God himself compares the worthiness of the offering that is brought before him from the two brothers. Actual scrutiny is certainly hard to bear.
“In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do no do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.’” Gen. 4 3-7
Instead of using the teaching opportunity to strengthen his relationship with God, Cain is consumed with envy and quickly and effectively eliminates the threat by simply murdering Abel. Removing the threat is a quick way to feel better, for sure.
And true to the sin story, after Cain’s crime, God follows up with both punishment and mercy. Cain will be cursed to work hard and wander the earth as a fugitive, but the Lord promises to protect him.
Possibly, this is the beginning of the phrase you’ve heard before; “I would kill to have that…” Thankfully, in most cases it doesn’t actually come to that. But yes, you might because jealousy and unmet desires can be that strong.
Perhaps being with people rather than longing to be them is the antidote.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).
We have this amazing ability as humans to celebrate each other. There is something sacred about experiencing a moment with a person and being able to see their profound joy and experience it with them and for them. It may be our deepest longings that we can draw from that will help us understand just how important is, how it would be for ourselves, but in this moment we can celebrate it in someone else. We replace jealousy with meaningful connection.
And, if we are willing, we are also able to mourn with people. The emotions oppose each other but the connection is the same. Most of us know the ache of sorrow and if we will access that part of us, then we can bond our sorrow together with another offering strength to the other, because maybe two sorrows are stronger than one.
Cain had a choice. He could’ve drawn closer to the Lord by listening carefully to God’s desire for him. He might’ve been able to look at Abel and say, “Good job, brother.” Even a small smile would’ve told Abel that Cain knew he was celebrating inside. In a different story, Cain might have walked closely beside God and said, “Okay Lord, teach me how to give to you.”
We can always move forward in our own obedience.
Just like it was for Cain, sin is crouching at our door. We may be able to catch envy before it attacks and if not, certainly tame it, by allowing God to teach us how to be present with people, rather than push them away because somehow their victory reminds us of our deep, unmet desires. What a joy to replace the darkness of jealousy with the radiance of connection.