Escaping Envy’s Grasp: A Faith-based Approach to Embracing Contentment

Just a few months ago, I might have told you that I was immune to envy. Yet, a book by Gavin Ortlund, “Humility: The Joy of Self-Forgetfulness,” lifted the veil, revealing the subtle presence of envy and its miserable consequences.

In Proverbs 14:30, we find the wisdom that, “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.” Those at peace with their own circumstances, and of those around them, are a source of life, while envy sows decay within ourselves and in our relationships.

To better grasp envy’s destructive power and how to combat it, let’s examine three points.

  1. Envy is the antithesis of love. Scholar Thomas Aquinas described envy as “sorrow for another’s good.” Ortlund, in his book, observes that envy is the inversion of love. Love rejoices when others are happy and grieves when they’re in pain. Envy, on the other hand, thrives on others’ misfortunes and resents their successes. It’s a cousin of hatred, coveting what others have, and begrudging their possession of it. Where envy thrives, hatred lingers, and misery inevitably follows.
  2. Envy is a relentless pilferer of joy. Most sins have a deceptive sweetness, leaving a bitter aftertaste. But envy carries a two-fold bitterness – both in indulgence and in retrospect. Ortlund states, “Envy is one of the most miserable vices… It is the constant thief of joy.” It promises happiness but only delivers suffering.
  3. Envy has the power to transform any paradise into torment. Envy can turn even God’s blessings into sources of discontent. No matter what joy exists in your life, envy can undermine it by suggesting that what you have isn’t enough. It is the ultimate saboteur of contentment. In contrast, gratitude affirms, “I might not have X, but I’m thankful for Y,” while envy insists, “I have Y, but I won’t be satisfied until I have X.” Envy doesn’t just obstruct joy; it utterly rejects it.

Conquering Envy: Practical Steps

Ortlund proposes a transformative approach to conquering envy: pray for God’s blessings upon those you might be tempted to envy. He shares a personal example where he prayed for his brother’s book’s success to ensure he wouldn’t fall into the pit of envy. This proactive prayer allowed him to cultivate genuine affection and wishes for his brother’s further success.

Inspired by this practice, I identified three individuals in my life who I was tempted to envy. I committed to praying for them each morning, praying for their blessings, particularly in areas where envy might have taken root. As the weeks passed, I noticed not only a reduction in my envy but also a growing affection for these individuals.

Another effective tool is to express encouragement to those you’re tempted to envy. Compliment their strengths or possessions. As you pray for their blessings and voice your admiration, envy’s grip weakens.

Inviting humility into our hearts is like using soap to cleanse a deep wound. It reaches into the depths of our envy, purifying it. As we nurture humility, praying for and supporting those we’re tempted to envy, we can rest in the assurance that God will reward us with life, joy, and liberation (Prov. 14:30; 22:4).