Children never believe they have enough.
You give them one cookie, they want two. You give them two cookies, they want four. They are as a mouse given a movie ticket, who now needs popcorn. Parents get to see snippets of gratitude, moments of gratefulness which seem like mirages in the desert -
“Was my child just grateful for something? Wait, did I imagine that moment? Someone pinch me, please.”
Add a sibling or a friend to the mix and in walks the spouse of want named envy.
“But she got the green one.”
“I only got one—he has one and an extra tiny, minuscule crumb you can see if you look with infrared vision.”
“But this one has a dent and theirs does not.”
And so on.
This is all very developmentally appropriate for children.
The questions is …
Why is it so darn hard to outgrow?
Envy clings to us. We can bat it off with the back of our hands, but all it takes is one episode of House Hunters or one peek at Instagram to bring it back again. Part of envy is making peace with parts of ourselves we don’t like. Saying hello to them, recognizing them, inviting them to even stay, but only if they behave.
This sounds dangerous. We are normally taught to push aside, fight epically, to the death against the difficult emotions, reactions, and ugliness deep inside each of us. God however handles our junky parts, even our sin, differently.
David, the king of a whole nation, who was struggling wanting someone else’s something, once wrote a song:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
(Psalm 139:1-5 button)
God sees the envy in our hearts, the lying, the chorus of “more, more, more” and lays His hands on us still. David had that kind of relationship with God, a present, connecting relationship. God offers us the same relationship. A God who reaches in when our ugly thoughts and emotions are all over us, teaches us it isn’t always about battling, but always about our connection to Him. He brings light. He brings brave love.
When Jesus came into the world, He came to save and to change the world. He knows our envy. He knows our ugliness. He knows our envy of one another’s lives and one another’s everything. Jesus lived here. He saw people as they were then. He sees people as they are now.
And still He lays His hand on us.
Consider one thing you’d like, one thing that’s been in the hidden place, deep down. Maybe it comes out when you walk through Target. Maybe it comes out when the invitation comes to someone else and not to you. Maybe it comes out at 9pm with your family who has intentionally and unintentionally sucked time and energy from your day. Recognize the “more” for a minute.
Envy says, “I want this. I don’t have it, and I want it. It seems like someone else has it. Why not me?”
God says, “Yeah, I see you. I didn’t give it to you for a reason. You’ll see it someday. You can’t see it now. You weren’t made to see it now. Don’t be ugly about it. Let Me hold your hand. It may not be what you want, but it’s better.”
We can join the conversation with God, or continue to try to manage our struggle ourselves.
Fighting against envy isn’t working. We end up pushing our relationships away, because we are trying to push away thoughts those relationships bring forward. Inviting God into the envy? It’s harder, it’s uncomfortable, but with God’s hand in it, we’ll see some change.
Love does not envy…
The Spirit rests a hand on our arm and brings grace and forgiveness into the moment. Sometimes, developmentally, we will all revert back to glorified two-year-olds wanting a bigger cookie, the color God gave to our neighbor.
God’s hand on our arm brings us back to the developmental present where we are adults, forgiven, super imperfect, and loved by a brave God in our darkest moments. His hands thresh out the ugly of envy to bring us to a place where we love brave enough to say,
“I’m glad you got the extra cookie.”
Questions tumble through my head after reading Heidi’s post. Will I ever outgrow envy? What would it possibly take for me to rejoice in what I have instead of lament what I lack? Who can save me from myself? Only God. Paul repeatedly stresses contentment in his letters to the church. This isn’t contentment that comes from within, but from God. I will always default to envy in my sinful self, but God working in me can create a grace-filled contentment in all situations. As God enables me, I can celebrate the success of my family, friends, and even my enemies with contentment that comes from Him. And when I see that new thing, or next thing, I just have to have or have to do, instead I can rest in what He has already done.