Envy: From Double Curse to Double Blessing
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"O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster,
It is the green-eyed monster,
which doth mock the meat it feeds on."
—From Othello, by William Shakespeare
For most of my life, I’ve struggled with envy. Over the years, I’ve envied others’ looks, possessions, talent, relationships, families, parenting success, career success, ministry success, and lives in general. You name it, and there’s a good chance I’ve envied it at some point in my life. As it turns out, I have a lot of company in this—the Bible is teeming with tales of envy that result in destructive outcomes, including:
- Murder (Cain and Abel, Pharisees and Jesus)
- Attempted murder (Saul and David)
- Selling a sibling into slavery (Joseph’s brothers and Joseph)
- Bitter rivalry (Rachel and Leah)
Clearly, nothing good comes from envy! Even so, I never really felt a need to examine envy in my life. I didn’t consider it a huge problem, since it never prompted me to murder anyone, sell a sibling into slavery, or give a maidservant to my husband, in the hopes that their children would help me one up my sister. Instead, I managed envy in quieter, more hidden ways, including:
- Feeling crummy about myself.
- Avoiding people and situations that triggered envy.
- Criticizing and wishing ill upon people I envied.
- Feeling competitive with people I envied.
- Looking for negative personal traits or life circumstances in people I envied, to make myself feel better (as in: “Well, she may be pulled together in this area of her life, but that area of her life is really messed up.”).
- Feeling guilty for engaging in all of the above, and thus being a terrible Christian.
Although these actions seemed a lot less evil than the biblical examples listed above, they were destructive nonetheless. In fact, envy was a double curse in my life, and here’s why:
It was a curse to those I envied.
One definition of the word “curse” is “to wish or invoke evil, calamity, injury, or destruction upon.” This means that whenever I criticized or wished ill upon those I envied, I was silently and unwittingly cursing them. And biblically, curses are the opposite of blessings.
It was a curse to me.
By succumbing to my envy, I allowed the enemy to use me like a puppet. I became a human conduit through which he channeled his desire to curse and destroy. Envy also gave the enemy many opportunities to curse me, by sowing anger, discontent, and bitterness in my life. This was destructive to my heart, my mind, my walk with God, and my relationships with others.
Several years ago, I read an excellent book called Envy: The Enemy Within, by Bob Sorge. It opened my eyes to envy and its presence in the Bible, and it also helped me identify the source of my envy: comparison and coveting. Every incident of envy began when I compared some aspect of my life against someone else’s life, and I came up wanting. I ended up coveting what the other person had, and this made me feel crummy about myself, as well as annoyed at God for shortchanging me.
Once I noticed this pattern, I tried to squelch the constant comparing going on in my head, while trying to be more content with my life. This helped, but it didn’t solve the problem, because certain situations and people continued to trigger envy in knee jerk ways that took me by surprise at times.
Then one day, God showed me a way to decisively transform envy from a double curse into a double blessing. It’s a surprisingly simple strategy: every time I feel envious of someone, I pray for God to bless that person’s life, especially in the specific area where I’m feeling envy. Here’s the outcome of this strategy:
• It blesses those I envy.
These people are no longer unwitting recipients of my curses. Instead, they receive unsolicited prayers for God’s blessings to overflow in their lives. As a result, they’re being built up, rather than torn down, as a result of my envy.
• It blesses me.
I get a real kick out of the fact that I’m no longer a puppet being manipulated by the enemy. Instead, I’m totally screwing up his plan to hurt others through me! I’m also becoming a better friend than I used to be, because I have a greater ability to truly rejoice with my friends, when good things happen to them. I believe this is what God wants from me—I’m doing unto my friends as I hope they will do unto me, when good things happen in my life.
These days, I still experience envy, but it doesn’t harass me as much as it used to, and it quickly evaporates when I start praying. My new strategy is also overflowing into other areas of my life. For example, when I feel burning anger and unforgiveness toward people who have deeply wronged me, I’ve started praying for God’s salvation and blessings in their lives, and I’ve been amazed by how much less I’m tormented by anger and unforgiveness.
I do the same thing when people make me angry in petty ways, which is especially helpful when I’m driving. Instead of screaming curses and speeding tickets down upon drivers who cut me off, I now shout, “God, I pray for great blessings for that jerk who just cut me off!” Obviously, my attitude still needs some adjusting, but hopefully you get the point.
The bottom line: envy stinks, but being used by the enemy to tear others down stinks even more. So if you struggle with envy, I encourage you to face it head on, and pray down blessings upon unsuspecting people in your life!
What kinds of situations trigger envy in your life?
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