Transforming Envy with Gratitude
By Sharla Fritz
Envy is an equal opportunity foe. It strikes young women, middle-aged women, and older women. Envy hits both professional women and stay-at-home moms. It has even been known to deliver a sucker-punch to women in ministry. Most women struggle with jealousy when they observe someone more popular, more successful, or more affluent than they are. Many might admit to envying the woman who looks good in skinny jeans. But women in ministry may also fight against the temptation to envy those who aren’t in ministry and don’t have the problems that go with a life of service. Or they may harbor resentment against other ministries that appear to be flourishing more than their own. Envy strikes us all.
Envy hit my life when my pastor-husband and I first moved into an aging parsonage in a suburb of Chicago. I had always thought it would be pleasant to live in a quaint older home. This house, however, did not fit in that category. While it had all of the problems of a fifty-year-old building, it had none of the charm.
Although I tried not to complain, this not-so-charming home left some things to be desired. Large, airy windows gave us a view of our street; but most of them were painted shut. Upstairs, the bathroom had all the necessary fixtures – toilet, sink, and shower – but only two square feet of floor space. The kitchen came with a functioning stove – the 1970s harvest gold!
Particularly annoying was the damp, dark basement. The story was that the man who built the house had hand dug the basement so it was far from level or even. It varied in height from five and half feet to six feet, especially irritating to my 6’2” husband. This basement also leaked. Every time it rained a puddle the size of Lake Michigan appeared at the bottom of the stairs. In order to get to the washer and dryer, I had to hurdle over this lake with my laundry basket.
Speaking of laundry, the most bothersome aspect of the house was the water. When we first moved into the house I was told that it had a well and I thought “Well water – no problem.” I had grown up in a house with well water and we never had any trouble. So my husband hooked up the washer and dryer. I was eager to get some laundry done since we had been traveling from Montana for several days to get to our new home. I popped in a load of whites, but when they come out of the washer they were orange! Apparently there was a lot of iron in the water. This even affected my hair. I usually wash my hair in the shower and after a time of sudsing up in this water, I had an orange streak going down the back of my blond hair!
So here I was living is this older house with its idiosyncrasies when a new subdivision started up about a mile from our house. The homes they were building were all luxury homes – big, beautiful, and brick. I was sure that even bathrooms in those houses were bigger than my living room. I may not have admitted to out-and-out envy, but driving past those mansions only to park in my crumbling driveway left me dissatisfied. The difference between my home and those homes were all too evident and started a little green streak in me (to go with the orange one in my hair).
One day when I was struggling with my attitude, I read what the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11) and I sensed that God was telling me this was what was missing in my life. Contentment was the key to victory over envy.
But how to cultivate this attitude of contentment? I was encouraged to see that even Paul, pillar of faith that he was, had to learn contentment. Perhaps that meant that I too, could train my heart to be satisfied instead of sour. Consider the following lessons on contentment Paul teaches us.
1. Remember God is Enough.
In Philippians 4, Paul goes on to say, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:12-13). I first discovered the secret of contentment is finding it in Christ, in trusting a faithful God who will give me everything I need.
I needed to remember that God is enough. As I learned to desire my Savior more than windows that opened, when I longed for His nearness more than extra square footage in my bathroom, when I craved Him more than a dry basement, I was on the way to contentment. Of course, I still struggle with this truth. In this world, desire for large bank accounts and spacious homes seems more practical than longing for God. But when I find true satisfaction in my Shepherd and trust in His wisdom in providing what I need I do find contentment.
2. Avoid Comparison.
Have you heard? “Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings rather than your own.” My happiness shrank when I counted the bricks on the facades of the fancy homes down the street, numbered the elegant windows that most likely opened and calculated the probability of spacious bathrooms on every floor. Envy came from looking at what the neighbors had rather than keeping my eye on my reasons to be thankful.
Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else” (Gal. 6:4). It is possible to find satisfaction in what I already have, but it’s difficult to hold on to happiness when I compare my situation to that of other people. Someone else will always have something better or more desirable. Envy destroys my joy.
3. Practice Thankfulness.
When I was struggling to find happiness in a house that turned my hair orange, I certainly was not finding it while gazing at the million-dollar homes down the street. But those homes were not available to me. What was available was an older home with a few peculiarities. I learned to look past the windows that didn’t open and the leaky basement. I practiced contentment by thanking God for the fact that we had a roof over our heads. I reminded myself of the good points of our home. It was warm and cozy and roomy enough for our family. We had a large yard and lived across the street from a park where our children loved to play.
It wasn’t always easy to be thankful when things were not going my way. But the Bible tells me in Ps. 50:23, “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” Sometimes it seemed to be a real sacrifice to come up with words of thankfulness, but when I did, I honored my Savior by demonstrating to Him that I trusted His provision and His timing. Although I am no longer living in that not-so-quaint home, sometimes I still feel needy. I still think I am lacking something crucial for my happiness. But as I express gratitude for the gifts I already have, I am honoring the Giver and preparing my heart to see Him and His continual saving grace in my life. I pray that God will enable me to trust in Him to supply what will truly satisfy me. I ask my Shepherd to open my eyes to the blessings in my life and give me victory in the struggle for contentment.
Now when envy strikes, I battle back. I combat dissatisfaction with contentment in Christ’s sufficiency. I try to avoid comparing my home, my husband, my kids, or my ministry to those of women around me. The attitude of contentment is fueled by thankfulness and gratitude as I remember to count my blessings. Then, whether living in a mansion or a house that turns my hair orange, I can find true happiness and satisfaction in Christ.