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The Sneaky Trick of Envy

I wore a new shade of lipstick yesterday. It was fabulous. Pink and shiny and everything a good lipstick should be. (Except it didn’t taste like coffee. I had this one tube of lip gloss in 10th grade that tasted like coffee. Best. Stuff. Ever.) Anyway, my new husband and I were getting ready to go to a concert. It involved a new top, my favorite jeans, some earrings (which I hardly ever wear) … you know, the works.

But when I came out of our room and met with Aaron in the hallway on the way out the door, I was puzzled when he looked at me and said something like “Wow! You look great!”

Now this threw me off for one main reason: I hadn’t been waiting for his reaction. I wasn’t adorning myself in all those girly ways so that I’d find him in the hallway and stop him dead in his tracks with the urge to compliment me. It didn’t even cross my mind to ask him if he even liked what I was wearing. So when he said he did, it confused me at first. And when that happened, I discovered something a little weird. And quite upsetting.

Through my extensive pampering process, I really wasn’t concerned with Aaron. It sounds completely counter-intuitive, and it is. But here’s who I was thinking about while I was buttoning every silver button and curling every lash and spending an inordinate amount of time to look my best: the other women. Allllll the other girls that were going to be at the same place I was going. I didn’t care if Aaron thought I looked nice. I cared if they did. Because I just wanted them to be envious of me.

Shameful!

If I could say I had a number one enemy, it would be envy. In fact, I am generally so overwhelmed by the vice that I could say I am almost creative in it; in that I can find, in any situation, a reason to indulge it. I could say I worry about being thin. But if I meet a girl who may have a bigger waist than me but a nicer outfit, I will envy her and her curves. If I meet someone with a smaller waist and pretty hair, I will envy her style. I will envy my mother for being wise, my neighbor for being a beautiful vacation bronze and my boss for shining like lovely porcelain. All in the same day. I’ll envy my roommate for being adventurous and my Grandma for her simple dreams accomplished. Envy rots the bones, Proverbs 14 says. I’d better start getting more calcium.

And I feel deeply, passionately and sharply the pain it always brings me. I feel inadequate and embarrassed, imagining that each person I envy in turn looks at me wondering why my skin isn’t so porcelain, or why my curves aren’t as lovely or why my attitude isn’t so joyful. “She must not know how to take care of herself,” I imagine them thinking. And it makes me cry, and want to crawl away. I have trudged through this for years with God. Sometimes I feel peace growing but then sometimes I just beg for mercy. Because I know it’s a sin to compare myself to my brothers and sisters, who are, by creation, other views of God’s face. And I know I should value the view of God that I give, and that only I give. But my envy doesn’t always allow me.

And I hate its rotten smell. How could I harbor so deeply the very sin that served as the driving force behind Jesus’ crucifixion? (“For [Pilate] knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.” (Mt. 27:18) NIV). Herod hated Him from the beginning; he was too powerful an infant. And as He became more dynamic, more famous, more open and more followed, the Chief Priests became more enveloped in their envy—until, finally, it drove them to murderous violence. Listen to how counter-intuitive this sounds:

“But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant.” Matthew 21:15 (NIV).

Indignant? That word seems so out of place there! Jesus was doing “wonderful” things and transforming the hearts of children, and the spectators were … angry. Only one thing could make people so foolish, and weird, and ultimately destructive: Envy.

So you can imagine how troubling it was for me to discover that the vice I most detest and fear in myself, and the sin that most inspired the murder of Jesus, I was striving to create in my sisters as I got ready for that concert. But what I wanted was to finally be on the other side of the awful exchange I was so used to. I wanted other women to look at me, wondering why they didn’t think to wear the shirt I had on or why their hair couldn’t be the same sparkly shade of blonde. Because then I could shove it in Envy’s face. I could show it I knew how to control it.

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How dark of me to wish that pain, embarrassment, and sinful thinking on other women; women I should be worried about building up and helping swim instead of letting drown in Satan’s dirty game of “you wish.”  

But as muddy as I felt after discovering my true motives, I started wondering if I was not alone in this. Maybe other women think about this, too. Could it be because we women are more concerned with our female responses than male appreciation? Does being the object of other women’s envy make us feel powerful, superior, even beautiful —despite knowing how painful it is to be on the other end of it?

What a crafty little plan by Satan: plant a seed of envy in women; then make it feel great for them to plant it in others. He can sit back and watch us fall without even doing any of the work! How cheap!

It is not a sin to want to look nice, but it is a sin to wish our friends to envy it. So second-guess your getting-ready-to-go-out selves and monitor yourselves with humility. Be “peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere”—all the things James suggests we cultivate in the place of envy in his Chapter 3. Be these things, or even try to be, and I have a suspicion that you will have trouble finding time to be envious. Remember, our Maker is trying to teach us about beauty by looking at His creation in our sisters and brothers, not envy.

By the way, I threw that flashy lipstick away. Not because it was a sin to wear it but because it seemed to bring me into envy’s game when I did. I took a Step 1. Now you take one too!

Maria is a recent college graduate from Ohio who just got married and
moved to Arizona because she likes an adventure. She loves to write,
run and sing and she is amazed every day by the love God has for her,
even when she doesn’t comb her hair.

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