The Antidote to Envy

The tenth commandment says you shall not covet your neighbor’s house or anything that belongs to your neighbor. I don’t covet money or possessions. I tend to envy certain people for their achievements – like classmates who have done very well or colleagues with impressive titles.

And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes 4:4, NIV

In his book Signature Sins: Taming the Wayward Heart, Michael Mangis says that envy is about “one’s place in the world.” Envy reflects dissatisfaction with who God made you to be. Envy is never content. When you envy another, you may think that God is withholding what you deserve.

There are many downsides to envy besides ungratefulness. Envy blinds you to your own gifts. Envying someone else is a huge waste of time and energy, like chasing the wind. Even worse, envy can lead to other sins.

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

James 3:16, NIV

Sins have opposite virtues. Mangis calls these opposites antidotes. Antidotes to envy include gratitude, contentment, and satisfaction.

I choose to fight envy with affirmations of my worth and praise to my Creator.

I am uniquely and wonderfully made. (The use of the word “fearfully” in Psalm 139:14 has always puzzled me.)

Thank you, God, for my unique talents and interests, for my spiritual gifts, and for the fruit the Spirit is producing in me. You created me with a purpose far more important than any career.

I am a beloved child of God.

Thank you, Father, for choosing me as your own. You know my name! I am precious to you. Thank you for loving me so much that you want to transform me. You discipline the ones you love.

I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Salvation is my most precious gift. Thank you, Lord, for redeeming me. You paid the ultimate price for my sins and you are my best friend.

Affirmations and praise are good, but I must also change the way I view other people. Regard no one from a worldly point of view. When I am tempted to envy others, may I instead lift them up in prayer.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:14-19

Be still and wait on the Lord

Waiting for God to answer your most fervent prayers is hard. I have learned not to expect an immediate answer because I know that God’s timing is not the same as mine. But when you have been waiting on the Lord for months or even years, you may wonder why he isn’t answering your prayers.

In my last Bible study on The Extraordinary Power of Praise, Becky Harling offered excellent advice on what to do while you wait: worship! Thank God for what he is doing in the background.

Even when I can’t see how God is working in my life and in the lives of others, I know that he is working things out for my good. He is accomplishing extraordinary things that I know nothing about (yet).

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Psalm 27:14

When I praise God, I soften my heart to his will. As I wait, God is shaping my heart and my character. He is refining me, making me humble, ridding me of my imperfections and impurities.

Becky Harling said to direct your thoughts to the character of God instead of worrying about the what-ifs. I know that God is good and I know that his intentions towards me are good! I know that he is merciful. I know that he is faithful and he has been good to me!

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.

Psalm 13:5-6

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him to give you the desires of your heart.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:4

Be still. Listen. Stop questioning. Stop doubting. Have faith! God is in control. God is good. God is loving and merciful. He is my ever-present help in times of trouble.


Photo credit: Mindful Christanity Facebook page.

Struggles of the Good Son

In part two of The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen focused on the struggles of the older son. We think of the younger son as the one who was lost. He was the one who left home and squandered his inheritance on wild living. The older son was faithful, hardworking and obedient. The truth is both sons were lost.

The younger son’s sins are easy to see. He was greedy and self-indulgent. He spent money recklessly. The older son’s sins are not as obvious. We know he was obedient. We can assume that he was respected and admired as a good man. When his self-indulgent brother was lavished with a huge welcome home celebration, he became angry, resentful, and jealous. He felt unappreciated.

What does more damage? Sins of the flesh or sins of the heart? Lust and greed or anger and resentment?

Nouwen pointed out that you can be lost while still at home. Even righteous people struggle with sins of the heart – anger and resentment, judgment and condemnation, bitterness and jealousy. This way of being lost is “closely wedded to the desire to be good and virtuous.” Sins of the heart are the dark underside of virtue.

The older son worked hard and did not get what he thought he deserved, certainly not compared to his younger brother. As a result, he became self-pitying and envious. He felt no joy at his brother’s return.

I can relate to the older brother’s response to his father. I’ve often complained and grumbled about unfairness, in my heart if not out loud. I can relate to his feelings. I’ve also felt unappreciated, rejected, and overlooked.

Nouwen noted that in this world, people are compared and ranked as more or less successful, more or less attractive, etc. How much of our sadness or happiness comes from comparing ourselves to others? I know that comparing myself to others often makes me feel like I’m not good enough.

We are so conditioned to measuring ourselves against other people, it can be hard for us to accept that someone loves us unconditionally. God loves each of us completely. He gave us our unique gifts and understands our shortcomings.

Nouwen told a story about a young man who was loved and admired by everyone who knew him. One critical remark from a friend sent him into a deep depression. His self-esteem was so fragile, he believed his friend had broken through the facade and had seen the despicable man he really was.

Even people who outwardly seem to have it all can feel insecure inside. Beneath the self-confidence and arrogance there can be an insecure heart that isn’t as sure of itself as the outward behavior leads one to believe.

Nouwen wrote that for those of us who struggle with sins of the heart, trust and gratitude are the keys to returning home to the father. “Trust is that deep inner conviction that the Father wants me home.” Trust that God loves us completely as we are. We are worth finding.

Gratitude is the opposite of resentment. When we choose to be grateful, we acknowledge that all that we are and all that we have are gifts from God. Gratitude for what we have helps us see that our brothers and sisters belong to God as much as we do.

Nouwen’s reflections on the challenges of the good son remind me to pay attention to my feelings. When I catch myself judging, condemning, or resenting someone else (as I surely will), I should stop and remind myself that God loves each of us unconditionally. He loves me completely even though I am flawed in so many ways. He has forgiven me. His amazing grace is available to all of us! We are not rivals.

Leaving Home

I am reading my first Henri Nouwen book, The Return of the Prodigal Son. Nouwen was so moved by Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal that he spent hours gazing at it at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and obtained a copy so he could look at it frequently over the years.

I don’t understand Nouwen’s obsession with the painting, but it obviously moved him. I was moved by Nouwen’s reflections on the parable. The parable of the Prodigal Son invites us to see ourselves in the story as the wayward child or as the dutiful but resentful child of God. Nouwen saw himself as both sons and even as the welcoming father.

When I see myself in the story, it is as the prodigal, which seems odd because I am normally such an obedient person. But as a teenager, I yielded to temptation and began to wander away from God. I stopped going to church. I stopped reading the Bible. I continued to stay away from my spiritual home as a young adult, but like the Prodigal Son, I wasn’t satisfied with what the world had to offer. I missed my Father.

While I have always thought of leaving my Father’s home as a specific time in my past, Nouwen sees leaving as an ongoing spiritual struggle. Where is my home? To whom do I belong?

When we stray away from God, we deny that we belong to him completely. We live as if we belong to the world. We live as if we must look elsewhere to find a home.

Home is the center of my being where I can hear the voice that says: “You are my Beloved. On you my favor rests.”

Henri Nouwen

Many of us long to hear God’s voice. Nouwen describes God’s voice as the voice of love that speaks from eternity. When I hear that voice, I am home.

When Jesus prayed for his disciples, he said, “they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.” In other words, we do not belong to the world. If we follow Jesus, our true home is with God.

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.

John 17:13-16

Every time we go elsewhere looking for love and acceptance, we stop hearing the voice that says we are Beloved. The voices of the world tell us that we must prove our worth. When I doubt my worthiness and goodness, I am listening to the voices of the world. Those voices can pull me away from my true home.

The world offers love conditionally. You are loved if you do this or that, if you are this or that. I will love you if you are successful. I will love you if you give me what I want.

Nouwen says that when you feel angry, resentful, jealous, or vengeful, it is a sign that you have left home. When you wonder why someone hurt you or rejected you or ignored you, you have left home and are seeking love and validation elsewhere.

I can really relate to what Nouwen had to say about seeking love and acceptance from the world. How often have I been filled with doubts about whether I am good enough based on the world’s conditions? How often have I fretted about being rejected or ignored?

It is so easy to forget how much we are loved by our Father. He loves us unconditionally! His love is enough.

The siren song of social media

Years ago, I signed up for Facebook to get updates on a nephew who was in the Peace Corps. In the beginning, Facebook seemed like a great way to stay in touch with family and to reconnect with classmates and old friends. But over time, Facebook had an unhealthy, almost addictive hold on me and I would get angry or depressed about things I read. How could something that was so appealing in the beginning turn into something dangerous and destructive?

In Greek mythology, sirens were beautiful half-bird, half-woman creatures who lured passing sailors to their deaths with sweet songs and music. A siren’s song is an enticing and seductive appeal that ultimately leads to destruction.

Siren song describes something that is very appealing and alluring on the surface but ultimately deceptive, dangerous, or destructive.

Facebook is a siren song that appealed to my desire to connect with people. It appealed to my desire to be entertained. It appealed to my desire to receive positive feedback from other people. But below the surface, there was a dark side to it.

When I thought about how hard it was for me to resist checking my Facebook account several times a day, I wondered if there is such a thing as social media addiction. While there is no clinical diagnosis, according to Leslie Walker, “a social networking addict could be considered someone with a compulsion to use social media to excess – constantly checking Facebook status updates,” for example. The compulsive behavior may very well fit a common definition of addiction.

Addiction usually refers to compulsive behavior that leads to negative effects. In most addictions, people feel compelled to do certain activities so often that they become a harmful habit, which then interferes with other important activities such as work or school.

Leslie Walker, What is Social Networking Addiction?

My use of Facebook had become compulsive and it was clear to me that social media was having a negative impact on me.

  • Facebook interfered with face-to-face interactions. My husband didn’t like how much time I was spending glued to my phone. And I understood his reaction because I don’t like it when other people do the same thing.
  • I wasted a lot of hours looking at unimportant posts, which took my attention away from more important, productive, or edifying activities.
  • I had the ridiculous fear of missing out (FOMO) on something interesting if I didn’t check my news feed every day.
  • I cared too much about social approval. Facebook encouraged me to be narcissistic – to be overly concerned with how people reacted to my posts. I became too concerned about the image I presented.
  • My moods and my feelings about other people were negatively impacted. Social media exposed me to a lot of negative attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. People say things online that they would not say to a person face-to-face.

On the website “MakeUseOf,” Joel Lee asks a couple of important questions about social media. Does it really improve our lives? Or have we become slaves to it? He warns that social media interferes with our dopamine systems. He warns about “social media creep” – an addiction takes a hold of you before you realize it. He recommends doing a social media detox.

The comment about dopamine intrigued me. So I read Simon Parker’s post, Has dopamine got us hooked on tech? It was disturbing to read about how the “feel good” chemicals in our brains are being exploited by social media companies to keep us hooked. I don’t like being manipulated.

This is the secret to Facebook’s era-defining success: we compulsively check the site because we never know when the delicious ting of social affirmation may sound.

Simon Parkin

When my pastor recommended giving up social media for Lent, he motivated me to take a much needed break from Facebook. I had become a slave to it. It was bringing me down. When Lent is over, I will replace my social media fast with a severely restricted diet. Resisting the siren song of Facebook is liberating!


By Edward Armitage –

Public Domain,