We had a visitor over recently. There was quite a crowd of us gathered in the garden. We had eaten, and were chatting happily around a fire.
Someone asked the visitor, “What do you think is the biggest barrier to?”
“Envy,” he answered, quick as a flash.
Yes, we had heard this before. We Christians know that envy is bad, don’t we …?
But then, he added something that felt like a punch in the stomach.
“You will find,” he said, “that if you go through times when it is not going well in your life – maybe it is not going well with your children – and if you have friends for whom everything is going well – their children are perfect, they are well respected and get a lot of honour – then you will find, deep down in here,” he thumped his chest, “there is a part of you that wishes something would go wrong for them.”
Of course, I have experienced envy. Of course, I have looked at my friends’ lives and wished I had it the same; compared my house, my kids, my job, my clothes, my income, my holidays and come up short. And I know enough of God’s Word to use it to free me from envious thoughts which only lead to an empty, twisted thought life …
But to actually wish it would go badly in some area for my friends, just to make me feel better?
That little niggle
We know our friends well, and we hear all their successes. We hear of the passing of exams, getting engaged, of being invited on this special trip and that invitation to speak. And amid the congratulations that we give there is a little niggle, so small that we can pretend that it isn’t there.
What this niggle says is, basically: “It’s not going so well for me and my family at the moment and hearing about how wonderful your life is makes me really depressed. If you tell me one more time how wonderful your children are, I will slap you …”
And my ears are wide open and interested in any piece of gossip that puts them in a bad light. Oh really? Are you sure? And I commiserate with my lips, but inside I am thinking, finally they have had their fair share of. Because that’s what provokes these niggles. Life isn’t fair. I think they have had an easy life, so of course they are going to be happy and thankful and positive. But I really don’t think they have had to cope with the level of trials I have had.
Just stop there.
So, what I am saying is that God is not behaving fairly in giving me more trials than them? That God has misjudged the situation. God, in effect, has got it wrong, so very wrong …
I cannot live like this if I believe that God has chosen me, and that He chooses my trials specifically to transform me into His image. (Romans 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18) How can I object to that?
I need to keep my nose out of what He allows for my friends. It is just not my business. My business is my relationship to God in my trials, not theirs.
Brought to light
For a long time, I avoided bringing thoughts like these into the light, because it was shameful that I could gain any satisfaction when things weren’t going well for a friend. I never minded admitting to dealing with envy – everybody feels that – but I didn’t like admitting something so underhand.
But I’ll tell you what; when I uncover these thoughts and bring them into the light, they can receive judgement. When I see them for what they are I can agree with God’s judgement over them and rebuke them. Out loud if necessary. I gradually become free of the unrest that always comes when I compare my situation with my friends. Really free! Nothing is hidden: I can look God in the face and know I am in a cleansing. I can look my friends in their faces without guile and bless them. If I can’t do this then I don’t really love my friends.
And this freedom brings an anointing from heaven; it brings peace deep down in my soul where before there had been swirling unrest.
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” Isaiah 26:3.
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