I was an awkward 13-year old. All 13-year olds are awkward, but I was a poster child for insecurity. I’ve always had bad posture. My neck naturally swoops forward like a vulture and I hunched a lot in middle school. Still do. On top of that, I had terrible acne. My face looked like the surface of Mars.
To combat the zits, my parents put me on acne medicine. But the medicine dried out every square inch of my head. My lips chapped, cracked, and bled. My nostrils were desert wind tunnels. My eyes dried and itched every day. There’s nothing like puberty to make a guy feel inadequate.
And then there was Megan. Megan was the incarnation of everything a 13-year old boy is looking for: good eyes, good hair, good smile, good legs, and a good figure. She looked good. But realize that 13-year old boys don’t give a great deal of thought to the depth of their standards. They mostly just care about looks. Megan had ‘em and I was 13.
Now, most middle schools have some sort of rhythmic ceremonial ritual at least once a year. At my school, they called them mixers. A mixer was intended to be a dance, a first shot for guys and girls to mingle and flirt like the emerging young adults we weren’t. It was invented, I’m sure, to build up our confidence with the opposite sex.
In reality, however, these mixers were less about dancing and mingling and more about standing against the wall while your more courageous friends swayed awkwardly to the music out on the gymnasium floor, all the while trying to avoid direct eye contact with the girls. It was awkward.
But after many bad jokes and much peer pressure, my friends and I had decided to go. And I was actually pretty excited about it. Why? Megan was going.
It had been confirmed by several credible sources that she would be attending the mixer. And it was public knowledge that Megan was going alone. No one had asked her! All that my young mind knew of hope was wrapped up in this one thought: I could go to the dance with Megan.
The idea made my hands sweat, but my chances seemed pretty good. A couple of weeks before the dance, one of her friends asked her if she was going. I remember it clearly. We were in the hallway outside our homeroom, getting books out of our lockers for the next class. Our lockers were close, foreshadowing our all-but-certain future together.
Megan looked up at her friend from her locker on the floor. “I don’t know. No one’s asked me yet.”
With that last sentence, she looked directly up at me. I mean, it was legitimate eye contact. And those eyes told me what her lips were obviously too shy to say: “Jason, hurry up and ask me to the dance, you idiot.”
And so I didn’t.
God made me an introvert. And in middle school, I was a capital I Introvert. I had a few close friends I opened up around, but usually, I never said a word. If the ground swallowed me whole in the middle of algebra, I wouldn’t have embarrassed myself by yelling for help.
And Megan? She was out of my league. Waves of cascading golden hair. Emerald eyes that saw right into your soul. Tall and beautiful. And then there was me. The pimple face kid with the vulture neck.
Last Chance Dance
So, no, I didn’t actually ask her to the dance. But there was still hope. In my mind, I could see it all playing out beautifully.
I would show up fashionably late, dressed in my best khaki pants and polo shirt/blazer combination. With my slickly parted hair and my mom’s vanishing cream to cover up the pimples, I’d be dressed to kill. Pushing through the crowd of swaying slow dancers, I would finally find her. And of course, Megan would be standing by the punch bowl, waiting for me to pour her a glass. Then, I’d follow up with a cool line (“come here often…?”) and ask her to dance.
Then, we’d get married.
It was fool proof. I kept this hope alive for a full week before the night of the mixer. Every day, Megan had been dropping what I’m sure were hints. A cough here, a blink there, a few smiles with her friends. Clearly, she wanted me to ask her out at the dance.
That night, my mom dropped me off outside the gym doors. Iridescent streamers waved at me from the doorway. Inside, the bass was turned up way too loud, thudding its rhythm into my ribcage. From multiple angles, strobe lights panicked through the fog from the smoke machines, making me feel for all the world like I could suave and dashing.
For about an hour, I couldn’t find her. Almost all of the girls were lined up against the far wall of the room, looking nauseous and disinterested. But where was my soon-to-be girlfriend? I stared intently from my position at the punch bowl, making sure to scan every face carefully. I got a few rude stares back, but Megan was nowhere to be found.
I was about to make up an excuse to spend the rest of the dance hiding out in a bathroom stall when I noticed it. There were a handful of couples in the middle of the floor. They were all uneasily holding their partners as if they were handling plutonium. But one of the couples seemed a bit more “natural” with the art of slow dancing.
The guy I recognized. He was some complete jerk named Eric. He was good at soccer but had virtually no redeeming qualities as a human being. He was self-centered, cocky, and didn’t know how to treat a girl right. And there, leaning into his shoulder and swaying like a golden willow, was Megan.
I can’t remember if I spit out my punch. I’m not sure if I went out and sulked in the bathroom until my mom picked me up. All I remember is how I felt.
Somewhere inside me, in a dark cave where I keep my precious hidden gods, I felt it. Anger. Entitlement. A morose sense of injustice. It all rose up quickly and soaked in my bones. It took its time and curled around me like smoke.
This girl had obviously been pining for me just as deeply as I had for her. She had all but thrown herself at me. And yet, another guy was holding her tight, moving in a slow, tight circle with her to the raw and honest lyrics of N’Sync.
But she was supposed to be with me! And she was giving her affections to him? The cocky soccer kid? It would’ve been a good time to pray an imprecatory psalm against him. The good guy is supposed to win. I’m supposed to hit the home run, shoot the bad guy, save the day, and kiss the girl. But, at that moment, some one else had won.
Jealousy. It wrecked me that night. It probably wrecked the entire school year for me. It taught me not to pine after a girl, not to get my hopes up so recklessly. It taught me not to feel. Yes, in hindsight, every problem in middle school sounds like a cliché. But when you’re in those shoes, everything feels so specific. The pain is very real and the heart is very broken.
Everything about my reaction to Megan’s “abandonment” and “rejection” cut me so cleanly. But more than anything, looking back, my jealousy gave me an excuse to throw the biggest pity party adolescence had ever seen.
I spiraled into a very angry depression. I became anorexic. My dreams were haunted by thoughts of suicide. All because of a girl? No. It was all because I didn’t get the affection that I believed I was entitled to. And when some other guy became the center of her universe, I burned. I seethed. I stewed in doubt and pain and bitterness. It was emotional grumbling, amplified and given no escape valve.
My jealousy was unjustifiably centered around myself. It was petty. It was prideful. And eventually, through counseling and the love of my parents, I got through the mess it caused.
What God Is NOT
I shared that little episode of adolescent angst to illustrate a point of opposites. God is not like that. God is so ultimately and profoundly not like me. God’s jealousy is not petty. It is not prideful.
Jealousy is one of God’s attributes. It shows up enough in the Bible to be a defining characteristic of his nature. We just don’t like to talk about it because it sounds bad. But jealousy is a part of who he is. God is compassionate, holy, happy, and good. He is always those things. In the same way, God is always wrathful, avenging, and jealous.
God does not change. He doesn’t go through phases. He’s not a teenage girl. He doesn’t get moody. He doesn’t have good days and bad days. He is immutable. He is unchangeable. So, with respect to this thing called jealousy, God is always jealous.
Love Him First
If jealousy is a desire for misdirected affection, then no one has more misdirected affection than the Creator. He is the author of all creatures. Every man, woman, and child was created to love God above all other things. God is the intended aim of our affection. When this doesn’t happen, it’s called misdirected affection. Where this is misdirected affection, there is jealousy.
God is justly jealous for your love. He is justly jealous for my love. And to paraphrase Tara Leigh Cobble, God can be pretty tenacious about ripping idols out of our hands. Don’t let it come to that. Keep yourself in the love of God.
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