Learn to Love by Letting Go of Envy
Author: Rev. Russell Smith, Madeira-Silverwood
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Corinthians 13:4-7)
“Love does not envy”
Envy just feels wrong. There’s a reason we associate a sickly green color with envy; we know that envy is an emotional infection. It feels feverish and askew.
Envy is a diseased desire for what another person has. That’s why we don’t want to admit to being envious. We feel ashamed to be infected with it. And so we repackage envy by blaming the person we’re envious of.
Have you ever found yourself thinking thoughts that sound something like this:
“I can’t believe that people actually listen to him! He just repackages other peoples insights in a slick way.”
“It was only easy for them because they had money. If I had that kind of resources, I could have easily done it too.”
“She’s only in that role because she has influential friends. I guess it’s not what you know, but who you know.”
Do you see the subtle shift? When we indulge feelings of envy, we shift the blame for our emotional state from ourselves to another person. This is often accompanied by absolute statements like “if only….” or “they just….”
When we are infected with envy, we neglect the practice of owning our emotional state and dealing with it. Envy leads us to feverishly fixate our thoughts on how unworthy the other person is of what they have. This fixation doesn’t have to be only on material things. It can apply to relationships, social status, talent, or any number of intangibles.
To get a better grasp on the disease of envy, we can contrast it with a healthy kind of desire for what others have. We call this healthy desire inspiration.
Inspiration is when we are drawn toward the other person and their attainments. We see what they have and what they have accomplished; we want to have and accomplish those things as well; and we seek to emulate them. We seek to learn from them. In this case, the reflection on the other person unleashes within us a desire to be better. At its’ best, this healthy desire to achieve does not result in slavish imitation, but rather in our discovering our own unique giftedness.
Inspiration grows out of love. It sees and honors the virtues that God has worked in the other person. Envy, in contrast, is a corrupted kind of desire. It doesn’t grow out of love. It grows out selfishness. At its root, envy is looking at the other person and thinking “they don’t deserve that…. I do.”
So how do we recover from being infected by envy?
The first step is awareness of our inner monologue. When we find ourselves using that “if only” language or “they just” or “it must be nice for them,” then we are probably experiencing envy. Even if we don’t know how to name the feeling, just feeling that something is off and you are unsettled toward another person and what they have could well be a signal.
Next, have a conversation with God. Find a quiet time and place where you can honestly name your feelings of envy. What does it feel like you’re missing?
In your conversation with God, you have freedom to ask God to provide whatever it is that you feel like you’re lacking.
Jesus tells his disciples to ask God for things:
“Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)
Then He uses the analogy of God as a wise, caring, and loving parent who provides good gifts:
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread will give him a stone? Or if he asks for fish, will give him a snake? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11)
And much later, Jesus reiterates this point as he is giving his final teaching on the night he was betrayed:
“Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (John 16:23-24)
Try asking God for what you truly want. Make a practice of it.
However, also be open to listening for God’s response. Does God lead you to question whether what you ask is really what you need? Does God relieve your sense of urgency and need? Does God tell you to wait and see? Does God expand your thinking to see how you’ve already been provided for?
The point here is to notice what happens when we converse with God. He takes our minds off the other person who we envy and He fixes our minds on His provision and our response to it. God coaxes us to be content with what we have; God gives us grace to rejoice in our daily bread. God teaches us the lesson that Paul learned: the secret of being content, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
When we consistently converse with God, bringing our feelings of envy to Him, we gradually get healed from the false belief that all would be better if only we had what that other person had. We gradually grow in our understanding that Christ is our fullness; we grow in being satisfied in Christ. Then we’re able to stop seeing people through the lens of envy and start seeing them through the lens of love.
So search yourself. Take some quiet time to examine yourself and see if there is resentment in your heart that might be masking envy. As you find it, turn to the Lord. Meditate on what it means to be content in Christ. And entrust yourself to the Great Physician’s care to heal you from envy of others.