Many months ago, I received an email from a dear, faithful reader, asking for help. Her life was quickly unraveling, and in the midst of persistent heartache, she had fallen headlong into envy. Jealousy towards a woman in her church, whose life seemed quite perfect.
This jealousy was destroying her, from the inside out.
Envy is the thief of contentment, isn’t it?
It reveals an idol tucked in the heart.
John Calvin wrote: The human heart is a factory of idols. Every one of us is, from his mother’s womb, an expert in inventing idols.
I invite you to consider this as perfect proof that we are made to worship. In the depths of our hearts, we recognize that there is something greater than ourselves. We are created to adore God. Sin is adoring something other than our Maker.
And isn’t the true meaning of life a magnificent reconciling of the fact that God is God, and we are not? True worship is to revere God alone. To adore him. To make much of him, as we decrease.
I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God… (Isaiah 45:5)
Envy is a heart disruptor, an idol, revealing our lack of love for God’s plans and purposes.
It poisons as it rages.
Years ago I knew a woman who was a kind friend to me for a long time. This was during a season in which our family did not own a home, but lived in an old, narrow parsonage behind our city church. She attended a different church, and her family dwelt in the countryside. I greatly enjoyed visiting her each month, a gentle reprieve from our city existence. She prepared lunch, and we would catch up all afternoon.
Years passed, with greater seasons of hardship. She encouraged me well along the way, with Scripture and prayer and many kindnesses.
And then two things happened, quite unexpectedly: her family downsized to a smaller home in the suburbs, and a few months later, God provided a new home for our family in a pretty, tree-lined neighborhood. No more city living.
As I excitedly unpacked a gazillion boxes, my friend graciously arrived with a dinner for our family. As I welcomed her through our new front door, her lips seemed to tighten. The tension was palpable.
I showed her through our home, but she excused herself abruptly, saying that she had places to be.
The air felt notably different the next week when she returned for our customary visit.
Are you okay? I finally asked.
You should know that I have house envy, was her sullen response.
I did not even know what to say. It was not a contrite confession on her part, but an indignant sense of entitlement that she clung to, tightly. It was her perceived right to be jealous.
Things slowly deteriorated after that. Our get-togethers grew further apart and remained cordial, rather than warm and friendly.
I was her friend only when I did not have the something that she wanted.
A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot. (Proverbs 14:30)
Perhaps the quickest way to discern envy within is to pay careful attention to our own heart posture when we do not receive those things that we desperately crave or believe we deserve. Something that someone else possesses. Pay attention as you are told no, or as you are overlooked, or when your heart sings a mournful, moody song as someone else receives praise, admiration, attention, or a material good.
If God is truly King of my soul, my response will be a swift and generous, Yes, Lord. I am happy for them and at peace in my soul. Your will is always for my good. You know best.
This is the heartbeat of true and vibrant faith.
The opposite of Yes, Lord results in James 3:16:
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
Remember this: Satan comes to kill, steal, and destroy. He thrives and hovers greedily over envy, jealousy, and selfishness, licking his greedy chops at such discord.
Envy grabs a chokehold around our throat, killing a serene heart, instead creating fathomless depths of angry discontent.
Spear envy, the moment it rises up. Kill it quickly, with Yes, Lord. I love and trust you. I will consider others more important than myself.
The reward for returning our gaze and affections to God?
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)
And isn’t peace and contentment through God the healing medicine for our soul?
When Jon and I were young and as poor as church mice, I accepted a job as a nanny to a four-year-old little girl and her twin sisters, who were nine months old. When I accepted the position, I had only been married for one year and had just discovered that I was expecting our first baby.
The family I worked for was kind and financially comfortable. They informed me early on that once my baby was born, I could bring our little one to work with me. It seemed Providential.
Over the course of the next many months, I spent long weekday hours at their home, arriving at 7:30am and leaving no earlier than 5:00. I was exhausted by day’s end, but the paycheck was helpful and I loved those little girls. I changed diapers and played Candy Land and Old Maid, prepared their lunches, and tucked them into bed for their naps. We read books and colored, went for walks and swam in their pool, played in the yard and baked cookies. The entire time I was being trained and prepared for motherhood.
After months of employment, the mother pulled me aside one sunny day and told me that she was thrilled to be expecting baby number four. I congratulated her, wondering how on earth I would be able to manage her four plus my baby soon to be born? Time would tell.
I know that this one is a boy, she said, patting her belly, eyes bright.
Jon and I had decided not to find out the gender of our baby, wanting to be surprised.
So time breezed by, and the days were busy and good.
That April I delivered our beautiful baby boy. During that same week my employer had a sonogram indicating that they would be welcoming another daughter.
I remained at home for a month, growing accustomed to life with our newborn, and trying to figure out how I would handle returning to work.
When our little Caleb was one month old, I did return to nannying, carrying my most precious bundle.
The girls’ father made a huge fuss, grinning at Caleb and holding his tiny hand, remarking time and again how beautiful he was with such enormous blue eyes.
But the girls’ mother? She would not so much as look at Caleb.
I am late for work, she said on my first day back, pecking her husband on the cheek, smile fake as she breezed out the door, which abruptly reopened, with: Kristin, heat chicken tenders and soup for the girls’ lunch, and be sure to clean up.
Of course I would clean up. I always did. Her tone was cold and my heart sank. Soon her husband left for work, and then Caleb began to cry.
It was a difficult time. The twins were into mischief, the four-year-old wanted my undivided attention, and I had a fussy newborn. At the end of two weeks, the girls’ mother approached me. She had still not looked directly at my baby.
We are prepared to give you a raise, she said, eyes narrowed. But I will need you to start deep cleaning, preparing dinners for us, and taking care of our laundry.
I was twenty-four-years old, terribly naive, and beyond overwhelmed by my current responsibilities. Never mind her soon-to-be-born baby, plus laundry, deep cleaning, and dinner preparations.
I looked at her, perfectly stunned.
We will increase your pay by twenty-five cents per hour.
I had no words.
Her husband, shuffling through the day’s mail, looked deeply embarrassed as I gathered my things and told her I would need to talk it over with my husband.
It’s hard for her, he offered in low tones, waving a hand towards Caleb who was sound asleep in his car seat. She really wanted a son.
I am certain he knew that her pathetic offer would be impossible for me to achieve, and would ultimately lead to my resignation, which it did.
My last day at work was terribly sad, as three sweet little girls clung to my legs as I hugged them goodbye.
The rotter of the bones.
It casts a long, dark shadow.
I had seen the ugliness of envy.
I had essentially lost my job because my employer wanted the son that I had.
Given these facts, you might guess that I would certainly not fall prey to such jealousy.
Nine months later, we were scraping by, without my paycheck. I was now a stay-at-home mom, my dream come true. Even though money was beyond tight, I loved taking care of my husband, baby, and our tiny apartment.
In time, I made a couple of friends who were six or seven years older, with babies the same age as Caleb. They lived in houses, (not apartments), and had plenty of extra cash. They picked Caleb and me up weekly (we had only one car then) and we would visit at their homes, allowing our babies to play as we traded stories and sipped iced tea.
All was well in my heart until the day they decided to plan and create the perfect nurseries for their babies. They poured over magazines, discussing wallpaper, paint, curtains, and crib designs. One of those catalogs was my absolute dream: Pottery Barn.
And that is when it happened.
Envy crept over my heart and began to rot my bones.
I grew grumpy and short with my husband. I went home and studied Caleb’s inexpensive white crib situated at the end of our bed. I felt sulky and disappointed that Jon was using our second bedroom for his work office. (What was I even thinking? Where else was he supposed to work? This good man was slaving away, determined to keep me home with our baby. How selfish of me!)
In short, I became self-absorbed. Envy is not the child of logic or of grace, it is a sin of passion. I want what YOU have. It is ugly and hungry and is never satisfied.
This lasted for a few days, until one night, after dinner.
I was washing dishes at our tiny sink when I heard Caleb giggle.
I peeked into our living room, and there was Jon, sprawled upon the carpet, giving Caleb an airplane ride. Caleb’s chunky legs kicked, and his blond hair was still damp from his bath. They both looked so happy. It was so simple, so lovely. Lovely enough, in fact, to snap me out of my stupor.
My eyes filled at my utter wretchedness, and I told God I was so sorry. Caleb did not need a Pottery Barn nursery, or expensive toys, or wallpaper. He also did not need a mother full of envy, but a mother surrendered and joyful in the Lord.
We had everything single thing that we needed, and God was kind to give me two friends who were just that: friends. The problem was me and my state of envy.
What a relief to see it, and to kill it.
The peace of Christ returned.
Eve wanted to be like God. She envied his power and knowledge.
This woman had everything good and true and beautiful. She and Adam walked with God himself in the garden, in the cool of the day. She had a husband, magnificent scenery, and luscious fruit to enjoy.
But she hungered for the only fruit that was prohibited by God. The fruit that she believed would elevate her to be like him.
Envy rotted her, from the inside out. She listened to the wrong voice, the luring whispers of Satan.
Every bit of griping, whining, and enviously longing for the very things someone else has is anger toward God.
Not fair! Not fair! our toddler hearts rage.
Imagine if we were to cease such brazen posture, turning to God and thanking him for his perfect goodness and kindness.
Ed Welch said it well: Whatever wins our affections will control our lives.
May Christ win.