Hi jspark! Thank you for your blog it has helped me multiple times.I also wanted to ask you about envy and jealousy b/c I feel like its become a big problem in my life. I believe that because of this many of my friendships have been lost or turn into frenemies. Or it becomes the fuel for people around me to do horrible things. How do I deal with envy and how do I deal with someone being envious of me? How do I redirect this emotion to God and into something more positive and meaningful? Thank you! 🙂
Hey there dear friend, thank you for your kind words, and thank you for even asking help with this. Most people do not recognize jealousy in the mirror because it’s hard to see, but also because it’s tough to admit that we’re jealous. We would rather admit just about anything — anger or lust or materialism or murder — before we say “I’m just a hater troll.”
Please allow me the grace to point you first to some previous posts. As always, you may skip around or skip them all.
I’ve found two major difficulties on both sides of this:
1) It’s not easy to admit jealousy because it confirms a “weakness” that we’re somehow not as “good” as someone else.
2) It’s not easy to admit we’ve been a victim of a jealous person because it sounds like we’re backdoor bragging. It sounds condescending when someone says, “They’re just jealous of me.”
But here’s something quite interesting I’ve found too:
1) We’re usually not jealous of someone who is ridiculously good at something. We’re not jealous of Mozart or Einstein or Shakespeare. We usually get jealous of those who are slightly better than us at something.
2) Even though no one likes to say, “They’re jealous of me” — we get destroyed by jealous people all the time, simply for the fact that almost no one admits that jealousy is controlling their destructive passive-aggressive behavior. We call it other things, like rebuke or real talk or “keeping an ego in check.”
So then: Jealousy is a secret sneaky devilish sort of disease that kills everyone under the radar and is almost never consciously diagnosed by anyone.
To treat the disease: It requires a huge dose of self-awareness, humble community, and confrontational conversations. It will never be completely cured. Our reflex is to naturally be jealous. It’s okay when you feel it: but what matters then is how you handle it. It’s only not okay when jealousy manifests into destructive patterns of gossip and casual dismissal and intentionally holding others back from their potential.
Now here’s why I so strongly believe in Jesus.
See: If you merely just confront yourself all the time when you’re jealous, you’ll crush yourself into the ground. If you say “They’re just haters” all the time when others are jealous, you’ll become prideful and arrogant. If you do struggle with jealousy, you’ll eventually hold back the next generation and even your own children when they begin to surpass you.
But Jesus died on a cross to tell us this is what your sin deserves. It’s immediately humbling. You can’t look at the cross without knowing the cost of your sin. But Jesus died on a cross because he loves you and he took your place. It’s immediately lifting. You can’t look at the cross without knowing a confidence beyond your own performance. And Jesus died on a cross for your neighbor and your enemies and the people you can’t stand. You can’t look at the cross without knowing a profound grace that would save even those who you’ve deemed unworthy.
The monster of jealousy ultimately says, “I deserve more from God. These people have it all together and they’re so much better than me at everything, and it’s just not fair.” And envy says, “I want what they have, and if I can’t have it, they won’t either.” This is the same as being at war with God. It’s hurting the people He loves. It’s saying that God somehow owes you. And this is like an ant trying to flag down a helicopter.
See: I believe in a man who could’ve held back eternal grace from me, and it would’ve been right to do so — but he did not. He gave me his very life. He both saved me and guides me. And I hope he does for you too.
Until we can get to the place where we discover God actually owes us nothing but justice and gave us grace — then we’ll never be truly satisfied no matter what we achieve. It is the only true freedom from squeezing others of what they “owe” us. You can see in a jealous person’s eyes, whether they believe in God or not, that they think the world must pay for all their effort. It is a restless discontent; having everything is not enough. It’s like the fish in a tank who says, “Why can’t I be in the open space with all that air?” The reality is the fish is alive to think these thoughts at all, and it has been given the water to live.
I know all this is difficult to hear for some of us. I know there are probably many unfair things that happened to you. I’ve struggled most my life with getting picked on for being ugly, with my low income, with my “lot in life,” for many things that feel unfair. I still occasionally covet someone else’s talent, gifts, their seemingly good luck. I think it’s okay to be angry about some of these things. But the second we look at another human being and say, “She doesn’t deserve that” or ”He’s not all that great” or “I’m not helping that guy, he’s already got it all together” — then we’ve allowed our feelings to corrode the engine and it will destroy us.
To redirect this: Our emotions were all originally meant for good. In other words, God has a will for your emotions. Anger was meant to fight injustice and oppression. The sex drive was meant for the singular committed passion of a spouse. Jealousy was meant for the protection of our loved ones, to be jealous for their growth and maturity. It’s only when emotions are inordinately exaggerated that they become destructive.
So if you must be jealous, then be jealous for your friend and not of them. It’s not easy to do this. Any emotion is capable of turning ugly. But emotions are also capable of motivating the most beautiful of actions when they’re guided by the divine hand of God. They’re not the main reason we do anything, but as the fuel: they work great.
Here’s an example. I have a young friend who I’ve been discipling now for almost four years. He’s so much further ahead of me than I was at his age. His musical skill, his theological knowledge, his articulation — they’re growing quickly and he will surpass me. One day, he could be the best pastor I know. But I have zero jealousy towards him. When I’m old and gray, I would even love for him to shepherd me. It’s because I am jealous for his faith and not OF. I am more than happy to see him work me out of a job. And I will not hold back on teaching him everything I know — I want him to take what I know and take off with it. It’s my joy to pass on the torch so he could burn it brighter than I ever could.
I’m not saying I do this perfectly. There are times I’ll see a random blogger and instantly think “What a d-bag.” I’ll get jealous quickly of other pastors, other writers, other musicians. But just as fast, I know I need to turn this into celebration. I try to learn from them instead. And if I can promote them or reblog them or encourage them: then by God, I will.
If you’re a victim of jealousy: Work hard anyway. Please don’t pick a fight with everyone who might be a hater. Trust me, it’s not worth the effort. If you’re close friends with a jealous person, then bring it up, but do so gently, like surgery. And always, by God’s grace, examine yourself on it first.