My first book was published last year. The process of finding a publisher willing to publish my manuscript was slow, but I finally succeeded. Then came the long hours of editing my manuscript, finalizing the design, and preparing for my book launch. I had dreamed about becoming a published author for many years, and it finally became a reality.
A couple months after my book came out, a friend of mine got her first book published. Even though her book was very different from mine, I knew it would be emotionally challenging to have them debut around the same time. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how emotionally challenging it would be.
Although we celebrated each other’s accomplishments, I soon became bitter and resentful of my friend’s book, its success, and its impact. I knew I should be happy for her, but whenever I heard an update on it, all I felt was frustrated — not because my book was a flop, but because hers just seemed so much more successful than mine. I struggled with insecurity, self-doubt and envy. Do people prefer her writing? Are her sales outpacing mine? Why does she get to be so successful?
As Christians, we know we’re made in the image of God and that He loves each of us fully and unconditionally. Yet we’re tempted to ignore this truth when in the midst of a comparison struggle. On some level, we all wrestle with this question: “Am I as _____ as he or she is?”
Sadly, culture’s me-versus-you mentality sometimes creeps into the church and destroys even the strongest relationships. When a brother or sister in Christ has something we want, the easy thing to do is wish we had it too — and be upset when we don’t. This is called envy. Envy often starts in our hearts, but it flows out through our thoughts, words and actions. Maybe we become bitter toward that person, or we belittle or bad-mouth them or their work, or we withhold something — resources, time, even friendship.
So how can we transform our envy to joy and reclaim the relationships that Satan would love to destroy?
- Kick envy out of your heart.
Instead of giving in to your emotions and reacting sinfully, whether in thought, word or deed, pause and consider what could happen to your relationship with the person if you do. It’s a conscious decision not to envy someone who has something we want — but it’s a doable decision.
Paul wrote in his letter to Titus, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:3-7).
The foolishness, disobedience, naiveté, enslavement, malice, envy and hatred that used to define us — and every decision we made — no longer define us. Now that we belong to Christ, we have been regenerated and renewed by the Holy Spirit. Envy should no longer be native to our relationships, and it doesn’t have to be because we are no longer bound to sin. With the power of the Holy Spirit, you can say no to envy.
- Remember that God knows best.
Ultimately, no matter how hard it is to accept, we must come to terms with the fact that God’s plans for us are different than His plans for our brothers and sisters in Christ. He customizes situations, experiences and journeys for each of us — and each exists for a specific reason.
John described Peter’s reaction when Jesus, after the resurrection, told him to feed His lambs: “Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!’” (John 21:20-22)
What a helpful and convicting reminder for us not to focus on the plans God has for others, but to focus on the plans He has for us. While we’re at it, let’s encourage one another as we follow God’s leading; and no matter what comes next for any of us, we can and should remember that God is both sovereign and good.
- Celebrate others’ success.
During the moments when we’re most tempted to envy a brother or sister in Christ instead of rejoicing with them, panic, despair and resentment are all unwise options. Instead, we can celebrate the blessing or success of our brothers or sisters in Christ — even in small ways.
Paul told the Romans, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Practically, what does that look like? Try sending an anniversary card to a friend whose marriage you’re tempted to envy. Or a congratulatory text to someone on their recent promotion at work. Maybe you can affirm the way someone uses her home to show hospitality, or help get the word out about a friend’s groundbreaking ministry — or book! Celebrating with a brother or sister in Christ who has something you want will look different for different people and situations, but the main point of the exercise is simply to shift our focus from envy to joy.
The right path forward
The nagging question, “Why does he or she have _____ and I don’t?” is a dangerous one to ask, because it never ends with just asking the question. The answer inevitably breeds discontentment and small-heartedness. But if we make the conscious decision not to succumb to our fleshly desires and instead open our eyes to the wisdom and goodness of God for all of His children, we will find the ever-elusive contentment we seek. Only then will we be able to rejoice — both with and for others — whatever the circumstances.
Copyright 2023 Grace McCready. All rights reserved.