5 Ways to Stop Envy Before It Starts

It’s been called the green monster. Invidia in the Latin texts. A deadly sin. And a common one.

Photo via http://pastorerickson.com/?p=2211

Envy. It’s what’s for dinner — or at least it’s what’s often in our hearts by the time we get to that point of the day. By then, we’ve usually encountered someone having some success. More than we’re having, at least.

And that’s all it takes.

I confess to wrestling with this one. I think most writers — any creative souls really – know the struggle within when another is praised. When another succeeds. When someone else arrives there ahead of us.

It might be subscribers, followers, book sales, publicity, adulation of any kind that triggers our envious demons. Most of us, however, especially as people of faith, know that open envy would blatantly violate God’s commands — and other’s high opinion of us. So we choose a different, more sophisticated route that lets our green monster nibble around the edges of another’s success:

  • “Well sure, he has that high-visibility position. If I had that….”
  • “What do you expect when she has that publisher? How could she not….”
  • “But he doesn’t have children or a family, so he has time. Who wouldn’t if….”

What are we doing if not creatively dumbing down the standards for success to what we think is our level? Mind you, the excuses we tell ourselves often are not true. But that seldom matters at the time. Neither does our ignoring our own blessings as a result. As Shakespeare penned in Sonnet 29:

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,

Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least.

Here are 5 ways to stop envy before it starts:

  1. Call it what it is. Sin. When you catch yourself excusing another’s success, point it out to yourself. Then confess it. After all, we can’t avoid what we can’t identify. We’ll be knee-deep in the muck of envy before we realize it. By then we’ll need the rest of the day just to get out.
  2. Be generous. Train yourself to intentionally help others, especially those who can’t seem to help you in return. If we simply stop being envious, we are but envious trolls who aren’t being envious — at that moment. But if we intentionally move in the opposite direction, we’re becoming something quite different. Something new.
  3. Find someone else to celebrate every day. It’s good for them. It’s good for you. Commit each day to shine a spotlight on somebody. I try to use Twitter as one way to highlight a new someone every day. It’s like eating your spinach but with eternal health benefits.
  4. Remember you are in charge of you. When we try pulling others down to our level, we’re simply pointing out that we are the ones unhappy with ourselves. So whose fault is that, really? Do something about it. Embracing a victim mentality only makes it easier to justify envy the next time around when we’re still stuck in the same spot.
  5. Perform for an audience of One. No, I don’t mean you. Os Guinness noted well in his book The Call that only one opinion really matters. Scriptures remind us that comparing ourselves among ourselves, we are not wise. The moment we start the slide toward invidia, we enter an ominous downward spiral of lies: “Because they succeeded, I quit. Because I’m not them, I refuse to be me.” Of course, you never could become them and you cannot but be you.

No wonder we’re frustrated.

Do you find it challenging to stop envy before it starts? When do you find yourself quick to belittle another’s success? Thanks for leaving a comment here to let the rest of us know we’re not the only ones with this problem.

6 Responses to “5 Ways to Stop Envy Before It Starts”

  1. Jackie B. June 27, 2012 at 4:51 PM #

    This can be confusing – this envy. I have caught myself being jealous of other people’s faith, their walk with God. One time I was far away on a mission trip. The fact that I was even there was a miracle. But, a teammate had been experiencing some amazing time with the Lord and He was demonstrating His love for her, showing himself the Caretaker. I admit I became jealous of that relationship! So, I asked the Lord for something special – a rocking chair – to be in the apartment I would be using. I thought it an unlikely request since most people sat on the floor or straight back chairs in that country. Lo and behold when I got to the apartment there was a big wooden American rocking chair! My take away was this:  He does love me and I needn’t be envious of my teammate. He desires a close relationship with me as much or even more than I do with Him. That relationship trumps all other earthly things. (as long as we remember that!)

    • Bill Blankschaen June 28, 2012 at 1:19 PM #

      Greta story, Jackie! I find it especially challenging when we are called to “imitate” thsoe who imitate Christ. So we are to look at others but not in an envious way.
      And then we often find creative, spiriitual-sounding ways to tug the other person closer to our own levels.

      Thanks again!

  2. Lynch Gerard June 28, 2012 at 1:40 AM #

    Bill,
    as we have conceded before, we see things differently. If you find
    that I am wrong or mistaken in anything I see, you are bound to
    correct me. I do not want to be right about the gospel; I want to be
    true to the gospel. The gracious demands of fellowship welcomes a
    rebuke. Please, have at it…if necessary. Style, grammar, syntax,
    and my abominable wordiness is not out bounds, yet I would prefer a
    discussion directed at just the spirit of what I am saying. If you
    could look deeply for that, instead of closely at all the other
    stuff, I would appreciate it.

    Envy
    and jealousy are two different things: envy is wanting what someone
    else has and jealousy is wanting to keep what we perceive of as our
    possession. Uninvited sharing of what we perceive of as our
    possession, such as our mate, can mean an envious, or covetous, eye
    of another.

    But both envy and jealousy have
    roots, sin-causing agents deep within us. Fighting or looking to
    overwhelm any sin does not touch these sources for wrong nor does it
    usually break the perpetual cycle of supposed
    reconciliation–holiness and falls from grace, confession and good
    graces again–which is a highly alluring and deceptive trap commonly
    practiced as a part of faith. It is an expediency that merely
    accomplishes a sense of holiness.

    Trying to fix my sins or
    resisting temptation eludes transformation, the fundamental change
    that is possible through a complete dependence on spirit. Why?
    Because it keeps me engaged with the vice, continually conscious of
    sin. Sanctification does not need our motivations for change, only
    our surrender. Seek such surrender, not self-improvement. 
     

    The “self” cannot be
    fixed; it needs to die. Who we are is not what we made of ourselves
    or improved about ourselves; to believe that what we made of or
    improved about ourselves is any part of who we actually are is a
    sincere delusion. What we made of ourselves contains “yeast,” a
    generous dose of worldliness. Find any merit or just satisfaction in
    the reduction of sin by our efforts is vanity…although we will
    deceptively give the credit to grace. It is a great invitation for
    spiritual pride.

    Allowing the Holy Spirit to
    shine his light on these dark places that motivate such things as
    envy does not need our control or direction. For instance, my
    “niceness” was a blind for a fear of confrontation and rejection,
    which went deeper into the messages and disappointments I had as a
    child, which suited my shy and introverted temperament, but which
    always leads to the fundamental sorrow of all my woes and reactions:
    a sense of separation from and lack of trust in God in all my
    affairs.

    Sanctification does not need
    our motivations, only our surrender. Seek such surrender, not
    self-improvement. We are entrusted with one thing and one thing only
    we can improve about ourselves: our conscious contact with God,
    which, again, is through the grace of surrender.

    We are to completely rely on
    the Holy Spirit for all righteous change. Does that mean do nothing?
    No, simply nothing directly. Prayer and meditation, helping others,
    and continually placing our trust in God for all good things and not
    in our own understanding either of good or how to behave in any given
    situation is the way. 
     

    The fruit of the spirit is not
    how a Christian should act; the fruit is a fundamental change in our
    being by the hand of spirit. The cause for envy or whatever, in its
    time, is removed. The Pharisees acted like good Jews—and Jesus took
    exception to their efforts. Trying saying, “I am envious,” accept
    that in yourself, and this honesty may not only help in your
    relationships but in revealing the source.

    Jesus did not see us as evil
    but as blind. He gave us the only solution to this blindness: “Turn,
    and BECOME as a little child”:

    The “little child” seeks
    direction and guidance, it does not take control of its direction and
    guidance.

    The “little child” is
    certain of one thing alone: trusting the father.

    The “little child” does not
    act innocently; it is innocence.

    The “little child” is aware
    only of where it is and not where it should be or how it should act.

    The integrity of the “little
    child” has no intent; there is nothing to promote or defend about
    itself.

    The moment is the only land the
    “little child” knows, living simply by “a lamp unto its feet.”
    The now is Eternal, past and future illusions.

    The “little child” does not
    rely on past experiences as precedent, which is stale, but the father
    as discovery, which is fresh.

    The hope of the “little
    child” is not in looking forward, to a better future, but looking
    inward, to the ever present Father. This is home, the kingdom of God
    within, as well as its purpose, identity, and potential.

    • Bill Blankschaen June 28, 2012 at 1:14 PM #

      Gerard,

      I think we aggree on more than we disagree. As I pointed out, the first step is callign envy what it is. Thta implies a surrender to God’s standard for holiness and recognizing that we fall short. All the time.
      However, we do need — and the Bible often commands us — to “discipline ourselves to Godliness.” Eph. 4 give sa clear dynamic of practical steps for both putting off the old and putting on the new — all empowered by the Spirit of God.

      I’m not clear on the distinction you make between doing nothing and doing nothing directly. Prayer and meditation are good and right, yet they are things we do directly, knowing that they will have a sanctifying effect. When Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give it to the poor, he was exposing the heart of the young man who was, no doubt, active in the spritual disciplines. It was the practical stuff of life that exposed his true spiritual condition.

      Are you saying I should not be generous to others for many reasosn, one of which is disciplining myself to focus more on others than on myself?

      Thank you!

  3. bella December 14, 2012 at 10:12 AM #

    Envy is so troublesome. I seem to have a problem with envy the people that I know. My cousin start a business and after work hard so many years she is now loaded, looking back at myself who has nothing make me feel so sad and depress. I understand that you need to work hard and saving to become rich, but looking at myself compare to her, i feel so depress. How can i stop feeling this way. Its too depressing.

    • Bill Blankschaen December 14, 2012 at 10:49 AM #

      Thanks, Bella for your candid comment.

      First, we all have felt what you’re feeling at some point. So you are not alone. Second, I think we need to call it what it is — sin. Further, the Bible warns us that it is not wise for us to compare ourselves to each other. Not healthy either.
      Third, each of us needs to embrace the reality that you are in charge of you. But if you look to the gap between where you are and where you want to be, that can be discouraging. Instead, think about what you can do today to begin moving in the right direction. Success happens one day at a time and it starts by changing the way you think.

      Think about this bit of wisdom from John Maxwell:
      Knowing the future is difficult; controlling the future is impossible.
      Knowing today is essential; controlling today is possible.

      Start with today. You can do that. We all can. Tomorrow, do the same thing. Put a few hundred of those kind of days together and you’ll see some significant progress.

      And I would highly suggest Maxwell’s latest book 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth to get you started.

      Your success depends on your growth — not on luck or other people.

      One final thought, have you ever thought about sitting down with your cousin and asking her for advice? Most people succeed by being willing to help others.