I was in sixth grade at the school’s monthly roller skating party when my skate slipped and my legs went sprawling in two different directions. Before I could even scream in the horror of the moment, my white Fruit of the Looms were now visible to each and everyone of my classmates. I had split out the whole crotch of my parachute pants.
Mom couldn’t fix them. Heck, Alice from the Brady Bunch couldn’t make this right. Mom just kept shaking her head saying, “I should have known better than to buy you pants made out of nothing. I’ll tell you, this would never happen in your Toughskins!”
Toughskins. Yes, this epic disaster threw me back into my Husky size 14 Toughskins, fresh off the shelves of Kmart, and my mother never bought me another pair of parachute pants again. But all my friends had parachute pants and they were wonderful.
Envy reared its nasty head, as boy after boy showed up at school in their new parachute pants, and I in my Kmart Specials. I loved everything about my parachute pants, from the look to the feel, but none of it mattered. Sixth grade boys live in the prison of clothes chosen by their parents, and mine had secured me into solitary confinement with little help of reprieve.
You know what? I still get that feeling sometimes. I got it once when an old friend’s bestselling book was nominated for an award. Or when another friend qualified for the Boston Marathon. I got it when a wealthy friend posted a picture standing with someone pretty famous, who I’m pretty confident isnot waiting with bated breath for a selfie with me. I got it when a friend ran faster than me, and he hadn’t been running as long. It’s this thing and out of nowhere it can erupt on you at the most bizarre times and in verypeculiar ways.
The scriptures, fortunately, have a lot to say about envy, and I for one am quite grateful. As little screen time as the topic gets in our cultural landscape, the Bible pulls no punches and dives straight in.
“You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:2).
Well, that’s some pretty happy stuff about me and my envy issue. Parachute pants or not, that pretty much cuts to the core. But wait, there’s more –
“A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot” (Proverbs 14:30).
Years ago a friend of mine came and confessed his envy of me and apologized for the way he had been treating me. I was like “WHAT???” First, this guy was really good looking and successful, and everyone loved him, yet he found something in me that caused him to experience envy on a deeper level. I more than forgave him, and also tried to learn from him, to understand how he had come to allow envy to influence the way he treated me.
In my world, envy could stem from knowing a dad who has done a better job of supporting his kids in sports or in their academic achievements. It could harass me about being a better writer, someone who gets more clicks or likes and those always coveted comments that read “I totally connected to this.” Sometimes it rears its nasty head in strange and random ways, like spotting a guy driving a Ferrari or a group of friends out having a great time. “Boy I wish I had a bunch of friends to go laugh and have fun with tonight. I wish my life was like theirs.” Sometimes envy kicks the door down when a man provides great wealth for his family in a way I have never been able to. And will probably never will.
Its Smeagol wanting the ring. Or King David killing Bethsheba’s husband. And in the words of Judas when he questioned the actions of the lady who poured perfume all over Jesus’ feet. It is always shameful. Always ugly. And always leaves a feeling of void, especially if we ever get the “thing” we were truly envious of.
Envy isn’t a materialistic void, as much as it is simply worshipping something that was never intended to be worshipped. When our hearts take us down the path where we are filled with envy and longing, we need a “worship reset” to readjust our inner core, our spiritual self. Through the consistent practice of studying the scriptures, we not only reset our spiritual base, but we also provide our hearts with a passion that is good, and just. Here’s an example from 1 Chronicles 16:23-25 –
“Sing to the Lord, all the earth! Tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be feared above all gods.”
When worship of Jesus increases, envy decreases, because our passions are redirected towards a God who passionately loves us, and wants us to be in a loving relationship with him. As we study the Bible, listen to Christian worship music, or engage in our local church, our hearts are captured by what is good, what is pure, and what brings life not death.
Envy, the worship of what you don’t have, brings death to marriages, friendships, reputations, and so much more. Worshipping God, however, brings light and life, first to your heart and then to the hearts of others. It provides a constant reminder of who we are and who God is, and when we practice the worship of God, we are left amazed and entranced, and also left wanting little else.
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26).