In a previous post about envy, I talked about how it reflects a lack of gratitude by suggesting what we have isn’t enough. This interpretation led to an interesting discussion with my aunt, whose comments provided an opportunity to think about envy in a new way.
From the time she was a child, my aunt doesn’t remember ever feeling envious. She remembers thinking that everything she saw and wanted was a possibility, and even a probability. After waiting for these desires to materialize, she simply adjusted her expectations if they didn’t. No struggle.
This approach makes it seem like she took a passive, but glass half-full approach to life. Hardly. She’s always worked, and was a single parent for many years.
But this mind-set suggests an optimism and a trust, that she is always where she is meant to be, and has what she is meant to have. There is acceptance, grace and gratitude.
But interestingly, she feels there was a downside to this approach. The lack of envy, for her, also translated into a lack of ambition.
Because of her trust that life was unfolding the way it was meant to, she didn’t push herself.
So is there an upside to envy?
Does it provide the impetus to stretch ourselves, test our limits, push ourselves beyond our comfort zones?
Feelings of envy are often accompanied by anger, resentment and bitterness. These may come in different doses, at different times. But what if they didn’t? What if the feelings of envy gave rise to energy, initiative and a drive to achieve the possible?
What if envious thoughts can change into desires, devoid of toxic feelings and instead, bolstered by God’s permission and the Holy Spirit, ignite creative solutions and passionate determination?
My aunt commented that she’s always felt driven people were more alive in some ways. I understand what she means. There’s an excitement and vitality that is palpable and admirable in people who are chasing a dream.
I can’t find one place in the bible that speaks about envy in a positive light. It always seems to be in the company of other sinful behaviors such as adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, slander, arrogance, folly, murder, strife, and hypocrisy (Mark 7:22, Romans 1:29, 1 Peter 2:1).
Is it possible though, that it can be transformed? That after we confess it, repent of it, that God can use it to help us discover gifts and talents we didn’t know we had? That it can be used to help us face our fears and overcome our limitations? And all because we first yearned for something we didn’t have but was willing to work for, if it was God’s will for our lives?
God’s will. It all starts there and circles back time and time again. If we are obedient, put Him first, and truly listen, then He will faithfully lead us on our journey.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
When feelings of envy hit, we must turn to God and surrender the anger, bitterness and resentful feelings that often accompany a desire for something we don’t have. If we can lay them down, God can transform them. And He can lead us to our desires if they are within His will.
The first step is ours. We must renew our minds with thoughts of gratitude, surrender and trust. Gratitude for all we do have, surrender of our will to His, and trust in His timing.
We are told time and again that God hears our prayers.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
Requests and desires. We all have them. So how are envious thoughts different? Aside from the negative feelings mentioned before, doesn’t envy also come with a sense of entitlement? Isn’t there an implied assumption that you deserve something that another person has? There seems to be a lack of humility with envy whereas requests and desires that are presented to God imply our submission to His sovereignty and will.
Experiencing envy is painful, and God certainly tells us to find joy in our trials because He is there with us, ready to teach us if we are willing. Adversity can bring us closer to God, but only if we look to Him to see us through it.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
In laying down the toxic emotions that accompany envy, including guilt, I can draw closer to God. It is an opportunity to trust, give thanks, accept His will for my life, and be lead by the one and only Provider.
Do you also struggle with envy, especially in this culture that values material things? And more importantly, how you handle those feelings? Please share your thoughts in the comment section or through email!