Bitter Envy & Comparison: And What To Do

“Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” I Peter 2:1-3

Envy has been on my mind lately. Gifted For Leadership will post some of my thoughts about it in the near future (and I’ll be sure to post that piece here for you to read).

A few weeks ago my friend Aleah Marsden wrote what for me turned out to be a surprising post about envy and comparison. How does she combat the beast of comparison? She writes that God “… reiterated the importance of teamwork in accomplishing His purposes. He told me to pray blessings on the women who brought out the ugly feelings…in me. So I did. Sometimes it was really difficult.”

I asked some others, who many (including me) consider successful, if they struggled with envy. Since envy is so prevalent, I wanted to know how these successful people overcome envy. Here are some of their responses:

K: “I’m glad to share: I think that because I see writing as a second calling that comes out of my first calling (teaching), I struggle less with envy than would otherwise be natural. Beyond that, if we find our identity in more than what we do, it’s easier to feel more security and confidence in what we do. The only anti-dote to envy is love.”

A: “I used to struggle with envy more, which might be a sign that I’ve matured or just that I’ve met with a little more success or something. But early on I learned a lot from what I was always saying to my kids: “Share!” “Don’t Grab!” and Psalm 131. I felt like God was calling me to offer that attitude in my writing life–to share ideas and space on my blog with others, to gladly refer people to my agent (as it seemed appropriate), to recommend other people’s books, etc. It helped a lot.”

Billie: “There’s a co-worker who gets a LOT of attention and assistance from the boss, which is what’s making me envious. He has some major personal issues and really needs the attention and the help, so I’m glad that he has someone in his corner, but the way it plays out is that he gets attention and I don’t. How sad and pathetic these things look when one writes them out, don’t they?”

M: I have my moments. (Sometimes those moments stretch into hours or days.) As “A” noted, generosity is an antidote to soul-sucking jealousy. And so is honesty – acknowledging it may be spiritual warfare (like a friend of mine did). The enemy would like nothing more than to sideline God-glorifying proclamation by consuming our attention with envy of another’s perceived success. I’m grateful we can speak of these things with one another, pray for one another, and cheerlead one another.

Clare Ramsey-Reid (Boston, MA):  I don’t struggle with this a lot – not because I am so pious but because whenever I’ve felt a twinge of envy about someone or his/her situation (marriage, finances, success – whatever) and then I have gotten to know that person well, I have found that he/she has issues to contend with that I didn’t see from the outside. One example is a family in our neighborhood who truly seemed like the perfect family. Two attractive, successful parents, two attractive, sporty, popular (and nice) kids. Gorgeous house. Several years ago I learned they were separated. And they are selling the house, the kids are upset, and apparently there was great unhappiness there for a long time. Whenever someone asked me (in the past) about envy, I’d think: NO I don’t envy anyone. Oh, wait, maybe that family. More than anything, they seemed SO HAPPY. Just shining. I think of my own house, kids, marriage, etc., as more like George Bailey’s house. Kind of a fixer upper in some ways. My husband can be difficult. I want to do some home improvements but can’t afford them. But look – we really are happy and functional. I should just be grateful and know I can’t see what anyone else’s life is like from the outside, no matter how shiny it seems. The wife, had an affair with the son’s basketball coach. She told me her husband has been unfaithful a lot over the years and she’s been desperately unhappy. Really, had you told me this five years ago I would have said you were nuts. So generosity, gratitude, and grasping that everyone has his/her own private struggles and pain is a good antidote to envy.”

S: “Another antidote to envy is getting to know uber-successful writers and seeing that their lives can suck, just like ours. I met a writer last spring who’s had tremendous success—her books have sold millions. Yet, she suffers from a disorder that leaves her feeling horrible most of the time and very low on energy, and she went through major-major marriage problems. Her life was a huge mess and no amount of professional success can mitigate that sort of pain. She has not been able to fully enjoy her writing success. I’ve thought a lot about this issue (I’m definitely envious and competitive–I think you have to be, to make it as a writer and make any money at it) and every time I’ve had a professional success, I’ve had some personal heartache that accompanied it. Not sure why.”

Andrea Dilley, a new friend, had this to say about envy over at Micha Boyett’s Blog:

I imagine a series of concentric circles where everyone else sits at the epicenter and I roam the outer rim, struggling with an ongoing desire for entrance to the inside. When I fight my way in to the next stage of concentric circles, I find it wanting, and when I find it wanting, I’m forced back into a lesson that I’ll learn and relearn over a lifetime: my sense of identity and self worth have to derive not from some illusory inner circle but from the more enduring inner sanctum of faith.

 Thou and thou only, first in my heart,

High king of heaven, my treasure thou art.

How do you actively seek to rid yourself of envy?

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