I recently wrote a blog about how envy is a huge vice for me, which you can read here.
Envy is nasty and will rob you of joy. After posting that blog, I was surprised how many people piped up and said “Shucks, me too, Joshua.” Envy is a more wide-spread disease than I thought and we need to kick its butt.
But I feel I didn’t share all of what I know about envy—and I know a lot because I’ve been through more of my own envy autopsies than I can count. I’ve found great tools along the way from other wiser folks, not the least of which is my mom (shameless plug: www.wildthymecreative.com).
Anyway, I’m an introspective dude. In fact, right now I’m wondering why I’m telling you I’m that I’m introspective. I’m hesitant to share the entire way I process things for fear of being exhausting. But seeing as this topic seems to have struck a universal chord, I’m going to risk going a bit deeper. Bear with me through 100 metaphors and the nasty uncharted waters of an INFJ mind (it’s a Myers Briggs joke).
All right. Let’s get down to business.
Not only do we need to tell envy to shut up, we also need to listen to envy very carefully.
Let me explain.
The envy in you isn’t just some nasty blob of evil that you need to chase away like a rat from house. It’s a bizarre, complicated, beautiful critter.
So let me tell you why envy is beautiful.
Envy contains a massive amount of information about you, you gorgeous human, you. When you get poked in the eye, it hurts more than, say, your shoulder. That’s because parts of you are more sensitive than others.
In the same way, I don’t give a crap that Michael Phelps has a hundred gold medals. I don’t care about being a swimmer. “Great job Mikey!” I can say, because I’m totally happy for him to do his thing over there and me do mine over here.
But when it comes to things I wish I had, things I feel are in my territory, then I get all bent out of shape. “Hey, wait, successful writer, musician, blah, blah who is my age and more achieved and blah, blah... money, prestige, popularity blah... you can’t do that! I kind of want that!” That one hurts like a poke in the eye.
And this is where I do have to admit to some duality. Envy is bad, but envy is beautiful, a mixed bag, with scorpions and gold nuggets alike.
So, when you approach the envy within you, you’re a botanist finding a new plant, saying “Wow, what’s this? What can I learn from it?” You’re a canine sniffing out the new house guest.
But you’re the parent of your envy, see. You’re in charge, but attentive.
If one of those analogies didn’t land, then by God, I’m out, but let’s dig into the parent one a bit more. We’ll peek in on a scene (this is you, by the way).
“Oh hi Envy within me, I just can’t let you pitch a fit a run amuck or I’ll have to stick you in time out.”
The little kid Envy just stares at you, eyebrows bent down.
“What’s got you so upset, pal?” you say.
“Well...” Envy says through snot and tears. “I feel like they got all the attention. I wanted to play guitar, but then they played guitar.”
Your inner-parent-self softly smiles.
“Oh, little Envy. I didn’t even know you wanted to play guitar! Thanks for telling me. Let’s start lessons!”
Envy looks around. Eyes grow a bit bigger. “Really?”
“Yeah! Next week!”
“Well... that sounds awesome!”
“But what about that other guy who plays guitar?”
“You know what little Envy...” you say as if you have the best secret in the world. You lean in and whisper.
“...you can both play guitar.”
And you get up and do a wild dance for half an hour or so.
In short, envy has good information for you. It tells you what’s important to you, what you deeply want.
“By observing our envy, we shine light on our true desires.” –Danielle Laporte
In my case with my little brother who got married before me, the jealousy highlighted my desire for intimacy, companionship, family. All really important, beautiful Godly things to want. I had to let go of my expectations, but I could (and still can) fan the flame of those desires. I get to be excited about what God has for me, uniquely.
Other examples are vocation-related. I find when I’m angry about so-and-so doing such-and-such, there’s actually huge amounts data about the beautiful, God-given yearnings within me.
“Your envy should always be a sign to you that you are lacking something. At that moment, you should ask God to help you understand what you resent, why you do not have whatever you are envying, and whether you truly desire it.” -Henry Cloud, John Townsend, Boundaries
Thus, when you find envy, you need to summon your will power immediately. As fast as you can. Don’t wait. Grab the envy, shake it and say “you can’t go down this path! Bless that person!”
And then embrace it and begin the dialogue.
Jesus we’re all a part of your body. We all have a place. Help me drop my weapons. Help me actively bless people around me, and help me realize there’s enough for everyone to get their needs met, to be deeply fulfilled.
Holy Spirit, God who is light, please help me navigate the murky waters of my own soul. Show me what’s nasty and what’s beautiful. Amen.