A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. (Proverbs 14:30)
Envy Got Me
I’m not usually an envious person. I admire other people’s houses and possessions, but I don’t find myself envying them. When other women talk to my husband, I don’t find myself getting jealous or worrisome. So when I found myself dealing with feelings of envy and jealousy, I had to take a while to actually figure out what my “deal” was.
Some people say you turn “green with envy”. That wasn’t me; I was red hot angry. Seriously. I think you could see steam coming out of my ears. But with prayer, Scripture, and coming clean about my emotions, I am on the path through working through this difficult emotion. If you are a person who struggles with envy, it’s my prayer that you take my experience and learn from it. Because envy is not an emotion I’d wish on anyone.
I have been a runner for over 20 years. My love of running started in track my freshmen year of high school. I ran competitively through college, and as an adult I’ve run races from 5Ks up to a marathon in 2008.
But after my most recent race in April, I have been fighting tendinitis in my knees. All summer, I worked with a physical therapist to identify the issues, strengthen weak areas, and build myself back up to running. It has been a frustrating process, and I’m only able to run a sliver of what I would like to be able to. I’ve had to completely change my workout routine, limiting myself to a few days of running and adding in strength training.
My husband, on the other hand, is relatively new to running. We started training for races together after we had our second child. He has had his share of injuries, but he’s really found his stride recently. While I’ve been fighting for every quarter mile this summer, he’s worked up to over 20 miles per week. This last weekend, he was able to run eight miles at a good pace.
I want to be proud of him. I really do. Every time he comes home from a run, I ask how far he went, what his pace was, and he shows me his stats on his GPS watch. I congratulate him and give him a glass of water as he cooled down.
But then I go out for a run. More often than not, I drag my tail through a couple miles, only to start feeling like garbage and have to stop short of my goal. I storm in the house and, when my loving husband asks how my run went, I can do nothing but grumble. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I was finding it really hard to be genuinely happy for him when I am struggling so much.
The Reasons for Envy
Why is envy so destructive? Psychologist Neel Burton explains: “The fundamental problem with envy is that it blinds us to the bigger picture. As with Cain and Abel, this blindness destroys lives, including our own… By holding us back, envy makes us even more apt to envy, opening up a vicious spiral of envy.”1 But envy doesn’t just have an impact on our earthly well-being.
Throughout Old Testament stories and New Testament teachings, God is clear that envy is no joke. In Genesis, Cain kills Abel over his envy. There are four different Proverbs in which Solomon shares the dangers of envy. In Mark 7, Jesus lists envy as one of the sins that comes out of a person and defiles them in God’s sight. Paul says in 1 Corinthians says that love does not envy, and he explains in Galatians 5 that we should “keep in step with the spirit” by not falling into the sin of envy.
So I’m definitely not the only person to deal with envy. At the time, however, I didn’t quite understand my emotions. When I found myself uncontrollably angry at my husband for no reason, I had to come to grips with them – for my own sake and for the sake of the relationship with my husband.
After a few weeks of this nonsensical anger, I decided to forego the run and walk instead. I put my earbuds in, strapped my phone to my arm… and found absolutely nothing to which I wanted to listen. No matter how many podcasts I started, different radio stations I tried, I wasn’t satisfied. So I decided to talk to God. (Note: obviously this is where I should have started. Isn’t it awful how our sinful natures often make prayer our last resort?)
It was in this long walk and talk that I realized how deep my envy had gotten into my head and heart. Rather than being happy for my husband and patient with my healing process, I allowed this vine of envy to wrap itself deeply into me. God didn’t answer my prayers with some lengthy response; the answer I got was one word: Romans. I paused my walk, found an audio recording of this book of the Bible, and just listened. As I listened to the familiar words of this New Testament masterpiece, God’s words rang true with me over and over again.
Romans 5 in particular spoke to me:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us (Romans 5:1-5).
Through this, God reminded me of the importance of perseverance. I could choose to be embittered about my present situation, taking out my frustrations on a person of whom I should be proud, or I could see it as an opportunity to build my character and recognize the love that Christ has for me in all circumstances.
The Road Back from Envy
Although I found a lot of peace through talking with God, and I had come to a recognition of my sin, it didn’t mean my struggles with envy were gone. It was several weeks of prayer and reading before I could confess my feelings to my husband.
He, of course, already knew my struggle. It’s difficult to hide things like this from someone you’ve known over half your life. We had a great talk about my frustration with my aging body and my desire to be happy for him (but my struggle to honestly do so). He reassured me that it would get better, and I told him he shouldn’t stop running because I’m struggling to be okay with it. And, most importantly, he forgave me. He showed me grace, and he reminded me that neither my running ability nor my envy define me: God does.
Pastor Ben Kuerth reminded us of something similar in a message about identity: “Our sins, our shortcomings, our performance failures as well as our successes and achievements plus all the labels that the world has slapped on us…these things no longer define us.”2 It’s what God thinks that truly matters. And, because of Jesus, he sees us as His children.
I’m not “there” yet. I’m still working on being patient in my healing. When my husband goes out on a run, I want to be truly proud of his accomplishments. I’ll keep working at it. And I’ll keep praying about it, finding security in the fact that God still extends grace to me, even when envy gets the best of me.
1 Burton, N. (21 August 2014). The psychology and philosophy of envy. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/201408/the-psychology-and-philosophy-envy
2 Kuerth, B. (14 January). Identity: What’s yours?. New Year Revolution message series. Retrieved from https://victoryofthelamb.com/sermons/identity/