When I was a newly-minted widow, I started to struggle with envy. In those early days of grief, it was excruciatingly hard for me to see all the summer vacation photos with daddies playing with their kids, the wedding anniversary celebrations, and the perfectly-crafted family Christmas pictures. Feelings rose up inside me that I never faced before. My heart was pricked with surprising envy and jealousy because I desperately missed my man, and I was trying to parent my three daughters alone.
We often use the words jealousy and envy interchangeably, but there are some important nuances. Jealousy is motivated by the fear of losing something or someone, like a friend. Envy is aroused by wanting someone else’s possession, qualities, talents, etc.
We live in a culture that sets us all up for constant comparison. I believe comparison is a tool Satan uses to divide us, discourage us, and push us into isolation instead of flourishing together in community. Just think about all the Bible stories that deal with jealousy and envy. Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Rachel and Leah – even the disciples had to work through the jealousy and envy among them.
I have watched friendships grow toxic, neighbors keep to themselves, and marriages grow bitter because of envy and jealousy. As a mama of three daughters, I’m realizing it’s important to process these feelings regularly. I need to model for my girls how to combat envy that creeps up on us even in the smallest ways. We need to call out jealousy and encourage each other to turn away from it.
The Bible challenges us to be on guard against these thoughts. Peter paints a powerful picture in his first letter, encouraging all of us to “clean house” and get rid of anything in our hearts that might be divisive or distracting:
So clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. You’ve had a taste of God. Now, like infants at the breast, drink deep of God’s pure kindness. Then you’ll grow up mature and whole in God.
He exhorts believers to live in a way that they might win over their non-believing neighbors – not with legalism or righteous attitudes, but with gospel-centered humility and love.
Social media is one area where envy and jealousy are often stirred up. We may see a post of two good friends getting together without us and feel that twinge of jealousy. Or, we see someone share about an exotic vacation, a success in their business, or a gorgeous family photo, and we feel envious, wishing we had what they have.
The core dilemma is: What do we do with those feelings?
Here are a few things I’m working on:
Bounce jealous or envious thoughts. In other words, if I look at someone or see something that makes me jealous or envious, I bounce that thought out of my mind, and do not let myself dwell on it. I turn away from the scarcity mindset that tells me there’s not enough to go around.
Rejoice with that other person. I might send a quick word of encouragement, share a compliment, or simply whisper a word out loud to myself rejoicing with that person for the gift they’ve been given.
Pivot toward something edifying. If I notice I have consistent feelings of jealousy or envy showing up, I intentionally unfollow people, or even turn off social media and spend time in God’s Word. I may reach out to intentionally connect with my family or with another friend who inspires and challenges me. It’s healthy to take a break and refocus.
Offer up gratitude. In that first year after my husband’s death, I challenged myself to share gratitude on social media. I wrote out the gifts God gave me each day and posted them on Facebook. I thanked Him publicly for the swirling colors of the sunset, the sink full of dirty dishes, for my 2-year-old’s contagious giggles, and the breath in my lungs.
That simple practice shifted something deep inside me. I no longer focused on my pain and discontentment. God lifted my head to see Him at work even in my season of grief. Little did I know that modeling that practice was affecting others too. Through the years, many have shared stories with me about how reading through my gift list during that season inspired them to write their own gratitude list.
Sometimes I hesitate to post pictures of our family or with my new husband Shawn. I’m especially sensitive to what my widow-mama friends might see or how a friend prone to jealousy might receive it. However, I’ve realized that it’s not fruitful to constantly be second-guessing myself. Managing others jealousy is not my job. Instead, I ask myself a simple question: “Is this post pointing people back to God’s glory?”
Friend, do you struggle with jealousy and envy? Do you find discontentment coloring your outlook or relationships? Let’s stop living with a scarcity mindset and instead bask in the abundance only God can provide.
Pray this simple prayer with me today.
I confess I’m letting jealousy and envy take over too many of my thoughts.
Help me to surrender these feelings back to you.
When I feel insecure, help remind me who I am in your eyes.
Show me opportunities to collaborate and build others up.
*This post was originally published at www.incourage.me.
**I have written a Bible study called Flourishing Together: Cultivating a Fruitful Life in Christ about learning to flourish by God’s design in community. I loves speaking on this topic for women’s events.