I live in the Boston area, and over the past eight days, we have received over 5 feet of snow. My roof has a low-enough pitch to develop ice dams, so this year, after many years of my husband chipping away at them, he installed roof warming cables. As you can imagine, after 5 feet of snow and dropping temperatures, my roof cables were doing exactly what they were supposed to: preventing dams. But in the process, they were also creating ice stalactites that, after a few days, extended down from two stories to almost touch the ground. They were incredible, the talk of the neighborhood. People would walk their dogs by and stop and marvel at our sharp, massive ice needles. The bus driver even made comments. They were honestly the most beautiful winter “growth” I had ever watched before my eyes.
But they were also about 40 pounds by the time they were starting to weigh too heavy to remain there—and they were wicked sharp.
(If you’re unfamiliar, “wicked” is a New England adverb meaning “really” or “very.” When I first moved here from California, I misused it to the amusement of all my native New England friends: “I wicked want that.” Yeah, not the correct usage.)
These icicles took on a life of their own, that’s for sure. I know they were just water, but they felt organic. They became a part of us—well, at least part of the house. Each day, the kids would delight in their growth, but we had to knock some down over the doorways so that they didn’t impale us or the dogs as we left the house.
And I got to thinking that icicles start off so beautiful. They amaze us, and it feels like each inch growing down is achieving something magnificent. What’s more, they come from good intentions: They are evidence of a roof melting and recovering from an intense onslaught of weather. They are a thermodynamics and gravity lesson wrapped up into one.
But the thing about these massive formations is: They can’t hang there forever. They eventually thin out at the origin, the weight becoming too much to bear, and once they crash down—and inevitably, they do—they are a force to be reckoned with, damaging whatever they land on and cutting deep into the snow below, like a stake being posted in full force.
Likewise, I was thinking that our moments of little envy here, tiny comparison to others there, start off like tiny drips. It’s just water after all…can people even see it? We’re just shedding a little personal angst by thinking how someone else has it better for a minute. No harm done, right?
But then that drip becomes slow and steady, and while it appears to be evidence of a heart under thaw, it can’t really release itself. It refreezes in a different form, slowly growing to noticeable levels. Other people passing by may think: “Wow, she’s just leaking a little. That sounded a little toxic, but she’ll move on.” But, eventually, if we entertain those thoughts of how:
- much more money this friend makes
- that one delivered her babies by blinking while I underwent every trick—medical and otherwise—under the sun to get these kids birthed
- none of her kids have any medical or special education needs
- his kids always win the awards
- running must just come naturally to her
- her husband never has to travel
we suddenly become sharp and cutting with an icy critical spirit, bearing down heavily on those around us. We become dangerous, daggered hurt machines that speak dark instead of light, never seeing the beauty and gifts we have been given, dwelling only on what we think we want but don’t have.
When we’re living a life dissatisfied that we don’t measure up to some mythical standard we assume somebody else set, we start measuring people with the wrong gauge: what they have easier than we do. It then leads to some gossip here, a little story-sharing there. At first, it starts off pretty interesting and seemingly “innocent.” We’re just “processing with a friend,” after all. But then, if we don’t keep that in check, we become obsessive, never counting our own blessings anymore, just waiting for someone else to fail or again demonstrate success in some area whereby we, in comparison, feel less than. We start to self-justify, to settle, to become complacent, and to take a seat as self-appointed judges. We decide they don’t deserve our compassion (because, after all, we have it worse). We shut down where blessings could happen because we think we have full perspective.
And soon, our feelings weigh so heavy and our emotions so raw and on the surface, that gravity wins, and we end up sending a spike down into someone or a situation where we really didn’t mean to. Our comparisons just became too heavy to bear, and we sent them crashing into someone.
And the fallout is ugly: a wet, cold, icy shard kind of mess. We hurt people when we think the grass is greener. And aren’t we all already hurting enough?
Proverbs 14:30, ESV, King Solomon speaking
A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.
Proverbs 27:4, ESV, King Solomon speaking
Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?
The only solution I find for stopping myself from growing spiky, cold formations from my heart is to invite Jesus in to keep it warm. There are times I catch myself mid-icicle, and there are times, I do not let Him in soon enough or regularly, and then my icicles are on steroids and absolutely crash. And when they fall down, they always hit something. They never fall without consequence, even if the damage is mostly within ourselves.
What keeps your heart warm, content, and peaceful?
James 3:14-18, ESV, James, Brother of Jesus, speaking
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.
This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
James 4:6-8, ESV, James, Brother of Jesus, speaking
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded (emphasis mine).
More on relational boundaries, healthy relationships, renewing our minds in Christ, and understanding grace and a relationship with God can be found in Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day.