The Battle with Envy
How God can change crankiness to contentment.
by Jeanette Levellie
Four bedrooms. Two levels. Lovely hardwood floors, a huge kitchen complete with island counter and trees outside every window. I was envious.
It was the first time I’d been inside my friend Kendra’s home. Although I admired her spacious custom-built house on several wooded acres, that unwanted pang of jealousy attacked my heart. Again.
This dark, ugly feeling had troubled me before. I often compared myself to my more affluent friends.
Barbara, a loan officer at a bank and my Bible study companion, had a knack for making money. She seemed to attract it without even trying. My pastor husband, Kevin, and I struggled to make ends meet on our salaries. My prayer partner Liz dressed as if she’d just stepped out of a fashion magazine. Most of my clothes had been given to me by friends who’d cleaned out their closets.
And then, of course, Kendra and her dream home. We lived in a fifty-year-old parsonage.
Anger at God
Why do You bless some people more than others, Lord? I complained. We are hard working; we tithe and give to missions. Why do we still struggle financially?
I envied those who had more than I did, and was mad at God for not equalizing our status. It’s not that I wanted my friends to have less; I simply wanted more than God had given me.
I wrestled in prayer, questioning God’s choices. Then I condemned myself for the jealousy that rose in my heart every time Barbara told me about a bonus she’d received at work or I visited Kendra’s home.
I tried to rejoice with those whom God blessed with the things I wanted. My mouth spoke the words “I’m so happy for you,” while my heart argued that life wasn’t fair.
Way of escape
What was wrong with me? I’d been a Christian since I was eight years old and a pastor’s wife for decades. Why couldn’t I overcome this green-eyed monster? I felt helpless and frustrated.
That’s when I decided to do what I should have done in the first place: ask God for ideas. He gave me three steps to help me escape from the pit of despair I was in.
One morning as I prayed about my wrestling match with envy for the thousandth time, a thought slipped quietly into my heart: Envy stems from not being grateful.
I knew God was speaking to me. “You’re right, Lord,” I said. “I haven’t been thankful for all Your goodness. I’ve been focusing on everyone else’s blessings and forgetting mine. Please forgive me. Help me to be content, to love the life You chose to give me.”
Scripture. I looked up a scripture I’d heard many times — but had failed to practice — tucked at the end of Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV).
Riches. How had I been blind to so many riches of my own? Kevin, who spent his morning commutes to work memorizing Scripture and his evenings at home with our family. Two kids who helped with the housework, got high grades, and (most of the time) obeyed Kevin and me. A nutty sense of humor and the ability to talk to anyone and make them feel comfortable. The gifts of singing, teaching, and writing, none of which I earned or deserved. Enough money to pay the bills, and a closet full of clothes. My life overflowed with God’s goodness.
Treasure hunt. I began to concentrate on my own treasures. First thing each day, I listed three things I was grateful for in a book I named my “Blessing Journal.” They might be as simple as sunshine, cats, and cheese. Or as extraordinary as the Bible, a happy marriage, and a church family we loved. The simple act of writing three reasons to rejoice every day helped me see that God was not playing unfair. I just needed to adjust my focus away from myself and onto the Lord’s faithfulness.
A while later, God gave me an idea that further set me free from envy.
As I prepared for work one morning, I heard His gentle voice in my heart say, “Each time you apply lip balm, pray for Kendra.”I never leave home without a lip balm in my pocket or purse. I knew I’d be praying for my friend at least a dozen times that day. Each time I brought her name to the Lord, I was reminded of all the challenges she faced, from relationship issues to car problems to a houseful of kids to raise.
Change of heart. I continued this method of using a “prayer prompt” for several days. Before I knew it, instead of comparing myself to Kendra, my eyes opened to see her life as it really was — not all peaches and cream. My heart grew in compassion toward her, and the envy subsided.
Of course, the lip balm wasn’t responsible for my change of heart. When I used something I do throughout the day as a reminder to pray for the one I was tempted to envy, the Lord stepped in, replacing my self-pity with His loving-kindness.
Once again, God enabled me to get my focus off my own problems by realizing that no matter how perfect someone else’s life seemed, it wasn’t. That realization humbled me. I no longer wanted what Kendra had; I wanted God to brighten the dark corners of her life.
Finally, I forced myself to ask, “Do I really trust that God loves me and has a good plan for my life, as it says in Jeremiah 29:11?” By yielding to feelings of jealousy, I’d been acting as if the Lord loved some of His kids more than others — namely, me. Deep in my heart, I knew that was a lie. But my feelings of insecurity wrestled with the convictions of my heart.
I had to get tough with myself and make a decision. Was I going to let my feelings rule me, or master them by standing on what I believed: that God was for me, with me, and in me, and that He would never leave me alone? I chose to trust my heart.
Sometimes I had to say aloud, “Get out, envy! You have no place in my life. God is my heavenly Father who loves me. I am His own dear child, and He is taking care of me. I will not listen to your foolishness. Because I’m born of God, love is my nature, not envy. I choose to walk in love.”
As with any sin, persistence is the key to victory. The more times I turned my back on jealousy and chose trust, the more freedom I gained.
Notice I didn’t say I’m completely free. I still grapple with envy from time to time.
That’s when I remind myself that God is not limited by what I consider lack. He loves all His children with the same love, but He’s given each of us different gifts and blessings. As I thank Him for my unique talents and dedicate them to Him, He’ll use them for His glorious purposes.