I had always wanted to be a ballerina. And now I was.
Staring at my fluffy pink tutu reflection in the mirror, I smiled all the way from the tips of my pink satin toe shoes to the top of my ballerina bun. I stood up on the very tips of my toes, raised my hands gracefully over my head, and began to dance to the music in my mind.
This was the best costume ever. I was sure of it. And I was also sure that the costume dance judges would see that my costume was clearly the best of them all. I mean, who else was a real life ballerina? (Well, I’d only taken six months of ballet when I was five, but that was just an inconsequential detail. To look at me, you would think I was straight off of the stage of Swan Lake.)
I remember my excitement when they announced the congregational costume dance—and that there would be prizes for the best costumes. It was going to be so much fun! I knew immediately what I was going to be: a ballerina. Almost every little girl wants to be a ballerina, but I was a bit more girly-girl than most. Pink tulle, pink toe shoes, pink tights, pink ribbons—it sounded lovely. I knew my mom would be able to make the best costume ever, and she didn’t disappoint. We worked on that costume for weeks in our spare time (well, she did most of the work, but I worked very hard as Chief Ballerina Costume Consultant). We bought yards of fluffy tulle, bushels of feathers, spools of satin ribbons, and the loveliest opaque pale pink tights.
And then the night came. My mom had finished my tutu, and when I stepped into it, I felt like a million dollars. It was so exciting! When I looked at my reflection in the mirror as my mom put the finishing touches on my ballerina hairdo, tied a curly pink satin ribbon around it, and placed my little sparkly tiara on my head, I really believed that I would win the prize.
When we arrived, I took a quick glance around to stake out the competition. A couple of dinosaurs, a jar of peanut butter, several cowboys, a young Middle Eastern chieftain—and a princess? Wait, was that my best friend?
She looked the part in a beautiful amber silk dress with ruffles, lace, and sparkly costume jewelry, complete with a gorgeous tiara. Wow, I thought. Maybe she’s going to win.
Perish the thought. I banished it from my mind and decided to enjoy myself.
I was wheeling around the dance floor with a cowboy on one arm and a dinosaur on the other as we had a dance-off with the jar of peanut butter when a voice came over the loudspeaker and announced that it was time to hand out the prizes. I bounced up and down on the balls of my feet in anticipation. The time had come.
“The judges would like to thank all of the children for their participation in the contest, but after much deliberation, they would like to hand the prize for best female costume out to … “
Me! The ballerina!
“… our very own princess!”
My best friend left my side and went up to claim her prize, grinning from ear to ear. It rankled even more that the prize was a gorgeous set of colored pencils. I loved drawing.
I tried to be happy for her, but even to me, my congratulations sounded half-hearted. I had set my heart on getting that prize myself—and when my best friend got it instead, I had trouble feeling happy for her. And then, I realized what I was doing. I was jealous. Snap out of it, Jess, I thought. Stop being an idiot. I firmly put it out of mind and enjoyed the rest of the dance the best I could. I went back to dancing with the jar of peanut butter and a dinosaur and left her to her congratulations. She didn’t need my cloud of barely-veiled grumpiness to dampen her triumph.
In Philippians 2:3, Paul admonishes us, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” I was not esteeming my best friend better than myself. In fact, I thought that I deserved the honor more than she did. Wasn’t my costume more awesome? I mean, I was a ballerina. How much better could it get?
But I was missing the point. The prize was not what mattered. God was trying to teach me not to focus on myself so much. I was so caught up in vanity and pride because of my wonderful costume (so much pink!) and the victory that I thought I had in the bag that when I didn’t receive the recognition I expected, I was crushed.
In James 3:16, Paul wrote, “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” “Envying and strife” can also be translated “jealousy and selfish ambition.” That’s a pretty good description of my attitude in this instance. I wanted to win because I wanted to win. I wanted the applause. I wanted the recognition and congratulations. I wanted the prize. But I didn’t get it.
It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t get that prize, in hindsight. Losing deflated my vanity a little and taught me how easy it is to become jealous even of people you love. Jealousy is an evil poison. It does no good to anyone. It destroys friendship more quickly than anything else. But putting others before yourself is the cure.
Sometimes in life, you won’t get the prize. You won’t get the recognition that you think you deserve for your obvious awesomeness. But that’s okay. Winning is not the most important part—it’s the attitude you have that counts, no matter the actual outcome. It’s definitely a cliché, but attitude really is everything—when you do get the prize, and especially when you don’t. It’s hard to remember in the heat of the moment, but having a Philippians 2:3 attitude toward your fellowman will go a long way toward preventing jealousy from stealing your happiness or the happiness of others.
I learned an unexpected lesson that night—about friendship, about attitudes, and about showing God’s love. I’m glad I got the chance to be a ballerina for a night. If that lesson was the only good thing that came out of it, then it was worth it.
Also, now I can say that I’ve danced with a jar of peanut butter and a baby dinosaur.