What To Do When Envy Strikes

Merriam-Webster defines envy as the “painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.” That’s a pretty good definition of what I’ve felt plenty of times. Maybe you know the feeling as well. You see someone who has or does something you want to have or do. You compare yourself with that person, and suddenly you feel unhappy, rotten, and sullen. It feels like you’re stranded in a cold downpour, while that person is dancing in the warm sunlight.

Social media can make it even worse. You are naive, carefree, and innocent of envy—until their photos, tweets, or status updates send a shower of sparks igniting those feelings of envy. It could be anything: the engagement pictures, the luxurious vacation, the exciting conference, the career promotion, the book deal, the doting spouse, the adorable children. And suddenly your carefree spirit evaporates. In its place is a vague, seething resentment.

And this resentment leads to something rather bizarre: we try to disdain the very thing we’re jealous of. Like the fox in Aesop’s fable who couldn’t reach the grapes and stormed off muttering, “I’m sure they were sour anyway,” we silently slander that person’s character or poke holes in his or her accomplishments. It might go something like this: “Sure, nice engagement pics—but how can they justify the cost?” “OK, he went to that conference, but isn’t he becoming quite the conference junkie?” “And the promotion? Go ahead—let your family and health suffer while you take on even more stress.”

Yes, I’ve been there. But I’ve also found—through painful experience—that applying certain truths from Scripture can help confront envy when it strikes.

Interrogate your envy.

The psalmist interrogated himself when he felt downcast. “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5). Why shouldn’t we do this when we feel envious?

So try this: corner your envy with a couple pointed questions, and don’t let envy get out of the corner until it has told the whole truth. What, exactly, are you envying? Why is that so important to you? After carefully thinking through—and perhaps writing down—the answer to these questions, you might discover that your envy is founded on a wholly irrational comparison. You might realize that you have chosen an arbitrary segment of someone else’s life and put it side-by-side with an arbitrary segment of your life. You might even discover that what you have envied is not enviable at all, especially when you consider your vastly different life situations. Asking why you have envied that particular thing might reveal that you have elevated a relationship, possession, or circumstance, to the status of God of your life. You must ask yourself, “Will the object of my envy really save me, comfort me, or protect me, no matter what?”

Confront the lie at the root of envy.

When you have thoroughly interrogated your envy, you are ready to hack at its root. And the root of envy is this lie: “I will find deep happiness and meaning if I’m like that person in such-and-such a particular way.” We find this lie so believable because we are painfully aware of how wretched our lives are. So we compare, admire, and crave to be like those we think embody our ideals.

But here’s what makes this lie so pernicious. There is only one person really worth envying. There is only one person of whom it can be truly said, “I will find deep happiness and meaning in being like that person”—and that Person is Jesus Christ. Only Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled God’s ideal for human beings, which is to thrive in a relationship with Him. And as both God and man, Jesus Christ did exactly that and he did it perfectly. He could say with complete honesty: I always do the things that are pleasing to [my Father]” (John 8:29).

So if anyone should be envied, it should be Jesus. But this envy comes with no angst, for God intends believers to be like Jesus (Colossians 1:28, Hebrews 2:10-11). In fact, if you are a believer in Christ, God is orchestrating every circumstance in your life to become more like him (Romans 8:28-30). For those of us who struggle with envy, we must learn to confront the lie of envy with this truth: Christlikeness is infinitely more valuable than others-likeness.

Recognize God’s goodness and sovereignty.

When we succumb to envy, we are failing to recognize that God has a good purpose in bestowing our unique life situations (see Genesis 50:20). Part of the beauty and wonder of God’s creativity is that he made us unique, and it is this uniqueness that displays God’s glory (Psalm 139:13-14). A purpose of our being conformed to the image of Christ is that “he might be the firstborn among many brothers,” not the firstborn among many clones (Romans 8:29, emphasis added). In other words, God wants you to display Christlikeness through your unique, divinely-bestowed personality, your strengths and weaknesses, your opportunities and challenges. While someone else’s circumstances might be objectively easier and more pleasant, both you and they must find ultimate meaning and happiness in the same thing—in showing Christlikeness through the kaleidoscope of your special circumstances.

We will struggle with envy as long as we have a sin nature. But informed by Scripture, we can begin to reduce the hazy resentment, identify our idols, and learn to find true delight in becoming more and more like Christ.

*This post originally appeared on RootedThinking.com

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