Today is the final week of our series Breaking Bad: 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People. Today we’ll be talking about envy.
What is envy? Here’s a definition according to Google: “A feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.”
When I read that definition I could immediately relate to it. “Discontented or resentful longing…” I know that feeling. I know what it is like to wrestle with that state of mind and I am guessing many of you do as well.
Envy is so easy to slip into. We have ample opportunity to be envious. There is always someone who has a nicer car, a nicer job, smarter kids. Or maybe something as simple as a happier day or a better lunch. We encounter those people every day – at work, at the mall, on Facebook, in our own family – and it can be frustrating! It can start to feel like we are constantly surrounded with people who have it better than us! On top of that, our culture accepts and even encourages envy. We are told that we should be able to have anything our heart desires and at the very least have anything anyone else has. We are told that if we aren’t finding that to be the case for us, then we’re justified in feeling resentful. But as we will talk about in the lesson today… envy is a problem! It is a big problem!
It can be difficult to consider envy a serious problem, though. What’s the harm in wanting what someone else has? Seems harmless enough. But envy isn’t harmless. If left unchecked it leads to pain both for ourselves and for others. At its worst envy can cause violence, theft and other unjust behavior. But our envy can cause just as much harm in more subtle, everyday ways as well.
Our envy can cause us to hurt our relationship with others. Friendships don’t work very well if we are busy resenting our friends for things, relationships, or circumstances in their lives that we wish we have. That same resentment can lead to tearing our friends down or belittling their accomplishments in attempt to feel better about ourselves and our circumstances. Even more ugly is when we see people we have been envying fall on hard times and rejoice in their suffering.
Our envy can also cause us to hurt important relationships in our lives through the pursuit of what we don’t have. We can ignore our spouse or children as we work to get rich, or find the satisfaction of success. We can damage our families by pursuing what we feel we lack through an affair.
Our envy can cause us to undervalue the relationships in our life. I’ve heard parents say to their kids, “I wish you were like my friend’s son Johnny.” Or a wife/husband turn to their spouse and say, “Why can’t you be more like their spouse?” These comments are destructive and damage relationships.
Envy causes self-inflicted pain as well. Proverbs 14:30 says “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Envy steals our peace. It steals our moments. It can overshadow the beautiful, joyful things in life… and if we don’t take care of it, we will eventually look back and realize…. It stole our life.
Envy also hurts our relationship with God. When we envy others we are telling God we do not trust Him. We don’t trust His will for our lives. We don’t trust His ability to provide for us. We don’t trust Him to be looking out for our best interests. Envy lacks faith in God’s provision. Envy tells God that what He has given is not enough. It causes us to overlook His blessings. How can we praise God if we don’t think we have enough?
So what do we do about envy? What do we do when it seems like no matter where we look, all we can see is what we don’t have? Well, if envy is a poison that eats at you and ‘rots the bones’ as Proverbs says, what we need is an antidote.
If envy is a state of dissatisfaction, our antidote would be a state of satisfaction – contentment. I looked up definitions to contentment and I felt like none of them truly captured the peace and richness that a life of contentment brings, so I came up with my own definition. I like to say that contentment is a heart that says “I have enough.” Notice that contentment doesn’t say “I have the most/the best.” It isn’t a comparison tool… it simply says, “I have enough.” And if we have enough, why would we need more? We don’t need to have the latest model, or the best option… we just have to cultivate a heart that says, “enough”.
So how do we cultivate a heart that says “I have enough”? Here are some action steps you can take.
1. Count your blessings. This is an easy place to start. There are so many things we have that we are so used to having we forget to think of the blessing they are.
The year before I started college I evaluated my finances and realized, I would only be able to afford college if I didn’t spend money on anything except college for the next 4 years. I was incredibly blessed that I didn’t have a lot to spend money on because I lived at home all through college so my food and basic expenses were already paid for. But the expense that was hard for me to give up was clothes. I love getting new clothes and buying cute shoes. And I couldn’t buy new clothes for 4 years. I remember going on shopping trips with friends or family and being surrounded by things that were so cute… and feeling envy start to bubble up as I watched people shop and decide on things to buy. How I wished it was me at the register buying that cute new top! I had to start an insistent inner dialogue “I don’t need new things. I have what I need. I really enjoy that blue top I have. And I have a cute scarf that makes my outfits pop. My mom just gave me a cute dress for my birthday…” Remembering the things I enjoyed in my wardrobe helped me deal with the envy.
Try changing your inner dialogue from “I don’t have this. I wish I had that like they do. I never get new things. I always have to put up with…” to “I am blessed. I have this wonderful thing. I really enjoy that. What a blessing it was to receive this. A beautiful part of my day was….” You don’t need to diminish the blessings that others have. You can just remind yourself of your own blessings.
2. Build Your Faith. There are times in our lives when we truly are struggling to make ends meet. It can be financially, but it can also be emotionally, relationally or physically. We encounter times that can feel desperate. And in those times it is easy to look around and see all the people not struggling like we are and to envy them. What do we do when we truly are struggling and it doesn’t feel like we have enough?
Matthew 6:31-34 says “So do not worry, saying, ‘what shall we eat?’ or ‘what shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Your Heavenly Father knows your needs and He knows how to provide. He doesn’t fault us for wanting our needs met. But he wants to spare us from fretting, striving and worrying about them. He will provide.
There have been many times in my parents’ marriage, especially when I was younger, that they were living paycheck to paycheck and barely scraping by. In those intervals occasionally disaster would strike and they would be faced with an impossible bill. But they would pray and God would show up for them. I remember my mom relaying one story in particular about an anonymous check showing up for them that covered the cost of a large, unexpected bill. When she finished recounting the miracle she said, “I wouldn’t wish those circumstances on anyone… but I wouldn’t trade them for the world.” She said those hard times built a stronger faith in God’s provision.
That passage in Matthew applies to more than just food or clothes, too. The Lord knows all of our needs! I remember times in my own life, especially as a young teenage girl, where I felt incredibly alone and desperate for support and affirmation. I would pray a prayer along the lines of “God, you have promised to supply all our needs. Well right now I need some love and support. Please fill my need.” And He would. Every time! I have multiple journal entries detailing how God showed up in those moments and filled my heart.
God will show up for you. And it will be an incredibly special experience for your faith and your life. Try building your faith. Change your prayers from “God, why can’t I have what they have? Why don’t you bless me as they are blessed?” to “God, how are you going to show up? How are you going to make sure I have enough?”
3. Appraise Your Treasure.Matthew 6:19-21 says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” How temporary is your treasure? Is your treasure stored on earth? Can your treasure be easily destroyed? Does your treasure tarnish in the light of what others have? Maybe you are treasuring the wrong things. Maybe your hope is in the wrong places.
If you feel envy growing in your heart, examine your priorities. Often times our envy can stem from mixed-up priorities and valuing things that are unimportant. Sometimes when we step back and get some perspective we find out we have what is truly important… and the things we lack… don’t make much difference in the long run. What do you value? Does it hold its value?
4. Practice Celebrating.The Bible encourages us to rejoice with those who rejoice. (Romans 12:15). Celebrate the blessings others enjoy. Enter into their joy and bless it. Use the blessings in others’ lives as an opportunity to praise God. Why should we only praise God when we ourselves are blessed? God’s love and power are just as breathtaking in the lives of others as they are in our own lives. So praise God for every miracle you see – whether it is in your life or in the lives of those around you. Practice your celebrating. It doesn’t rob you of anything to rejoice with those who rejoice… and I think you’ll find when you do, that it blesses you as well.
And if you find yourself celebrating someone else’s blessing while you are yet waiting for your own remember this: God’s blessings are limitless. Realize that their plenty doesn’t leave less for you. Your plenty will come in season. In the meantime, celebrate theirs.
One final thought on envy: love doesn’t envy (1 Corinthians 13:4). Dante said envy was “the desire to deprive other men of theirs.” Envy is mean spirited. It is negative. It tears down. Love doesn’t envy. If you really want to root out envy from your heart learn to love- truly love. Romans 13:8-10 says “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”