Updated: Mar 24
A few years ago, I didn't get a job I would have been really good at.
A local nonprofit startup that was all about helping people find transportation options besides driving alone and thus getting stuck in Austin's awful traffic had advanced to the point of needing a part-time communications person. Being as I use bikes, buses, Twitter, my feet, Facebook, trains, emails, and carshares with equal amounts of (high) success, coupled with my already being a fan of this organization, the position seemed practically tailor-made for me. Everyone at my other part-time communications job agreed that it was a perfect fit, that I was a shoo-in, that the interview process was a mere formality.
So when I got the "we selected another candidate more suited to our needs" email, our entire office's reaction was, "What? But WHO???" I was expecting mighty things from this little nonprofit's various communication points, since they had found someone better than me. Even though I was bitterly disappointed to have missed out, I thought maybe I could watch and learn.
Alas, it was not to be. I watched for a couple years as the person they'd hired demonstrated little understanding of his subject matter and pursued terrible social media practices that still haunt their organization to this day. Despite harboring some obnoxious (but private, until now) "Serves you right for not hiring an experienced professional, [insert non-nice noun here]," thoughts, I also sometimes hoped for the guy's own sake as well as for his organization that he would get better at it in a hurry.
There are no grapes more sour than the ones we know for sure could have been so much sweeter.
Funnily enough, this org isn't sitting around waiting for my approval. They continue to churn out content with no regard for how the person they rejected feels about it. Their definition of success doesn't jibe with mine. So while I've alternated between bitterness and despair at what I perceive to be failures, they've been (presumably) rejoicing in, building upon, and continuing their successes.
Jonah wasn't keen on the idea of God's mercy being shown to Ninevah. My mental picture of his three days' preaching has always been one of him stomping around and scowling while proclaiming God's message of doom. So when the Ninevites took his words to heart, he was bitterly disappointed at their continued existence instead of the divine vaporization he was no doubt looking forward to watching.
Bitterness at someone else's success builds many barriers:
It keeps us from forming relationships with the object of our bitterness. Jonah could have seen the Ninevites as part of God's family. He could have been invited back to tell them more about the Creator of heaven and earth. He could have returned to Israel to announce, "Great news! Those people who used to be our enemies are now our friends, because they've met the God we serve." But he chose against those things.
It blocks the flow of joy into our lives. Let's at least give Jonah some credit here--he didn't see the Ninevites' repentance and say, "Dang, I must be the best prophet that ever propheted! I'm gonna take this show on the road and see what else I can do." But he also didn't rejoice in their salvation, and instead sat around and whined about it for a few days. There's no joy at the end of Jonah's story.
It slows God's redemptive work in our own lives. Jonah had the chance to be changed for good at this awesome display of God's mercy. But he refused to let God's words reach into him and heal his heart.
It leaves the next job undone. Remember that great line in our last study, Uninvited, when Lysa said, "I'm freed up for other better-suited assignments tailor-made for me"? That thought didn't occur to me when I didn't get the job. Nor did Jonah jump up and say, "Wow, that was amazing, God; what can I do for you next?" God always has another assignment waiting, but no one can suit up for the next task while voluntarily covered in bitterness.
Rejoicing in someone else's success, especially at the expense of one's own, is a hard skill to learn. But the alternative is so much worse. How do you practice rejoicing for others' sake?
Image source: Derek Kimball on freeimages.com.