I feel like today’s world offers more opportunities than ever to compare ourselves to others. Social media can be fun, and a great way to connect with people, but it also can be a trap for many distractions and pitfalls. When we see the perfectly filtered photos of our friends on a tropical vacation while we are knee deep in bills, or a picture of our friend celebrating their promotion while our boss hasn’t even bothered to notice us, or a picture of a friend’s beautiful third baby when we haven’t even found Mr. Right yet, it is hard not to feel a twinge of jealousy. Envy is one of those social media pitfalls that we can easily fall into, and have to be on guard against.
Thou shalt not covet (Exodus 20:17). This is one of the ten commandments, and it follows the other commands telling us not to worship idols, murder, steal, commit adultery and lie. It is, in fact, the very last commandment. For a long time, I thought of it as a call to gratitude, to be thankful for what you have and not to be concerned with others and what they have. I think that is a fair interpretation, but maybe it is also important to consider why this would be so significant that it made the top ten list of things we should do and not do.
First, we need to understand that we often don’t have the whole picture. Lysa Terkeurst writes “You are not prepared for what others have, good or bad.” You are not prepared for their blessings, and you are not prepared for their pain. I once knew a lady at church who I literally wanted to be. She was such a strong Christian, beautiful inside and out, and had the whole package, complete with the husband, house, children and super cute clothes. I later found out that she was on her second marriage, and her first husband had died, leaving her to raise her boys on her own until she re-married. She faced many hardships in her life that had made her the woman I saw. You do not know what someone has endured to get where they are, or what God is preparing them to accomplish. This doesn’t mean that you cannot have a mentor, who you respect, to help you grow into the person God created you to be. I hope we can all think of someone that we look up to and are inspired by. You just do not want to cross that line from respect and admiration to jealousy and envy.
The biggest reason to avoid envy is that God is preparing you for His purpose, and focusing on others’ lives and successes distracts you from seeking to know His will for you. What if David had coveted his handsome, big and strong brothers? David was the overlooked shepherd boy who God had hand-picked to be king. His obedience and faith prepared him for that role, and eventually when King David did fall to the temptation of coveting another man’s wife, he fell hard and brought consequences on himself and his whole family (1-2 Samuel). Any time we go against the will of God we distance ourselves from Him and create the perfect opportunity for other distractions and sin to get in the way.
I think we have to be careful even comparing ourselves to others. When I competed in my first CrossFit competition, there was one workout where I felt slightly less intimidated than the others. During the workout, I found myself listening to the count of the athlete next to me and realized I was ahead of her by about 12-15 reps. I maintained that lead throughout the workout but in the end, I realized I had finished far behind others that I am usually competitive with. By pacing myself based on her performance, I performed according to her abilities, not mine. I know I could have done better if I just focused on what I was doing, not what anyone else was doing.
I heard it stated this way once: coveting is living in the what if, not what is. Goals are great, if they are the right goals for you, but it takes consistent action each day to meet them. You have to look at today and know you are doing what you need to do. The worst consequence of coveting is that it takes you farther and farther from your destiny. Instead of comparing yourself with others and becoming jealous of what they have that you don’t, focus on yourself. Look at where you are today and where you have come from, and you will see your accomplishments, how far God has brought you and what amazing works he has done in your life. This type of reflection not only helps us to avoid jealousy and develop gratitude, but it also allows us to see more clearly where God is leading us to.
God doesn’t want us to allow envy to distract us from our daily blessings or our destiny. Stop asking “why can’t I do what they can?” Start asking “What has God blessed me with and brought me through? What am I being prepared for? And what do I need to do get there?”