“The most common form of despair is not being who you are.” — Søren Kierkegaard
I recently listened to a fantastic podcast series on Envy from the good folks at Ransomed Heart, and by “fantastic” of course I mean deeply convicting and painful to listen to. But it’s so so good and so worth the personal angst it will undoubtedly stir up. Here’s a link so you can listen to it yourself:
As they say on the podcast, Envy begins with a simple question: Why do I not have what they have? There’s nothing particularly dark or sinister about the question itself, but it quickly devolves into Envy (and then to resentment, hate and self-destruction) when it follows this path:
1. Loss or Lack of Faith — I can never have what they have. It will always be denied me.
2. Judgment (of Self and Others) — I am less than they are. Defective. Unworthy. I will never measure up. I can’t compete. I will never win. I secretly hate all those who have what I’ve been denied. They are arrogant and always look down on me.
3. Shame / Self Hatred — I am ugly. Unlovable. I hate myself for being so defective. My only way to survive is to hide, and pretend.
4. Hiding in Fantasy and Pretense — I’ll never have what I desire, so I will numb my desire by escaping into fantasy, and disconnecting from the actual reality of my longing. I will build my external life around pretense, putting forth an image of myself that I desperately want others to believe, even though I do not believe it myself.
5. Self-Destruction — As my commitment to fantasy and pretense deepen, my disconnection to my real self and my true longings will cause my heart to atrophy. I will increasingly engage in behaviors that will kill my heart and my body, with the empty promise of allowing me to escape the pain of my own broken dreams.
I mean…Yikes! Right? But I know this path. I’ve traveled down it more than a few times over the years. It’s dark, but it’s also seductive, and can be hard to shake once it becomes a habit.
Thankfully, there are some ways to untangle yourself from Envy. Here are a few that I have found to be particularly helpful:
1. Choose Faith — After asking the question, “Why do I not have what they have?”, consider the very real possibility that you can have what they have, so long as you’re willing to pay the price to get it. Shift the question to, “How might I also achieve what they have?” If the cost seems worthy to you, then go get it, believing the entire way that what you seek can be yours.
2. Choose Yourself — Sometimes when you ask, “Why do I not have what they have?”, the answer is “because their glory is different from yours.” There are different kinds of glory, and you’re not meant to have every kind. Some glories that others possess will never live in you, just as some glories you possess will never live in anyone else. When this is the answer to the question, the thing to do is to choose yourself. You are a steward of incredible beauty. Do not waste it pining after someone else’s gifts. So, how do you “choose yourself”? One of the most accessible ways is by practicing gratitude. It’s impossible to be full of gratitude for who you are and what you have and envy other people at the same time.
3. Avoid Fantasy and Pretense — Don’t lose yourself by pretending you’re something you’re not, or fantasizing about having someone else’s life, money, body or talent. Doing this casts a dark spell over your heart, leading you to long for what others have even as you resent them, and to lose connection with your own beauty and gifts. Rather, stay connected to your own true Deepest Desire. Stay awake to what you want in the best and highest part of your soul, even (especially!) when the gap between where you are and where you want to be hurts. That pain is your hunger, and it’s calling you to step out of your comfort zone and take meaningful actions of growth and expansion in your life.
4. Renounce Envy — Conduct an inventory of your thought life. Seek out Envy wherever it currently lives in you, and by the grace and power of God, renounce it. Sever any contracts you’ve made with it. Bless the one you envy and pray for their glory to increase, then release them to live their own life, and you to live yours. You may need to renounce envy in this way repeatedly until old patterns are broken, and new ways of thinking are established.
Envy is very hard on the soul…but it doesn’t have to stay lodged inside you. You can choose another way. Are you willing to stop envying other people, and start enjoying your own gifting and glory?
“Now with God’s help, I shall become myself.” — Soren Kierkegaard