How Do I Not Be Envious or Jealous

biblical body image body image idolatry christian living comparison friendship Feb 29, 2024
how do not be envious or jealous

One Sunday morning, a sermon revolutionized the way I thought about my body image.

In truth, I have no idea what the pastor actually preached about that day. (Don’t worry, this was before my husband was also my pastor). But, as we read through the section of Exodus chapter 20, the Ten Commandments, the Holy Spirit enlightened one verse in a way I never expected.

Pastor Randy read straight through the passage, without stopping. But I drifted off into thought land when he got to the verse about coveting your neighbor’s animals. Feeling somewhat self-righteous, I thought how I’ve never–not one time–desired any of the cows from the farm down the street. My friend’s flock of chickens are useful, yes, but coveting them? Wouldn’t think of it.

Here was yet another of those commandments I knew I wasn’t guilty of violating.

Someone give me a “Good Girl” badge. Please?

I looked back down at my Bible app to try to find my place. Suddenly the passage looked different. There were “Thee’s” and “Thou’s” everywhere. The translation defaulted to the King James version. Right before clicking to change it back to something more readable, I caught a glimpse of that same verse. It read (emphasis mine):

Exodus 20:17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s. (KJV)

Coveting my neighbor’s a**? Could it be that God would get my attention through a word I always classified as “bad.” (My grandma would say that the word “bottom” was more ladylike.)

Yes. Yes, He was.

Oh, hey, covetousness…I didn’t see you there.

Usually, it wasn’t the actual backside of the person next door that I coveted. Rather the abs on that woman on the magazine cover or the thin figure of that temptress on the billboard. I never said it out loud of course, but in my heart I sang a chorus of, “I wish I had her. . . ” Then, I pictured how much easier my life would be if I had her thin thighs, sculpted arms, straight and shiny hair, blue eyes, or cellulite free skin.

It seems I’m a great coveter.

During seasons where I’m not as obsessed with my own physique, I’m also prone to envy my neighbor’s marriage, career success or mothering style.

Why can’t I have that kind of connection with my husband?

Why do I struggle to get everything done while it seems like she manages her life with ease?

If I could just get a house like her’s, then I know I would be happy.

My heart desires what it does not have.

If you struggle with the occasional case of the “I wish I had’s” or the “I want’s” (like I do) then here are three ways that I’ve found to be helpful in moving past the jealousy, discontentedness, and frustration involved in taming the covetous heart.

First: Call it Like it Is. 

I see my sisters struggle with covetousness and never break out for one main reason. They don’t want to call it sin. They think it’s just a little “thing” that they struggle with…that wanting to look more like the magazine cover is some sort of allowable pursuit because it’s so commonplace.

No one likes to talk about sin, I understand. But as believers we shouldn’t shy away from calling it out for one reason: God has provided the remedy for it. If we confess our sins to him, we can be freed from them. Did you hear that? Free! Yet, when we just call them “normal girl issues” we have to carry them around with us indefinitely. There’s no remedy for normal girl problems.

Let’s call a spade a spade. Let’s be bold and say: Hey, the fact that I want what you have is called coveting in the Bible. And, since it’s a sin problem I can straighten out and receive grace and forgiveness for it and move on in freedom.

Second: Get Real. 

Whenever I find myself in that dark hole of covetousness or envy, I have to remember this: What I want–be it her great body, job, or family– will not save me. That gorgeous, seems-to-have-it-all-together-girl still struggles. A perfect body does not equal a perfect life. Why? Because perfection (this side of Heaven) doesn’t exist. Yet, we daily battle the lie in our hearts that maybe it does. Maybe we could get there . . . if we tried just a little harder.

If thoughts of ways you could or should be more like her (or her, or her) bounce like ping pong balls around in your head, confess them as sin and then recognize that your salvation is secure. You don’t have to work like crazy to find perfection here on earth. You can give yourself grace that you are on your own journey and that Jesus can’t love you any more than he already does.

Third: Give Grace and Erase.

If envy has seeped into your soul, take a deep breath of grace. Just as much as you need that grace for all of your imperfections, so does that woman whom you find yourself envying. She’s a real woman too. And, to see her life as better or easier because she possesses a quality you desire (be it a perfect body, fame, or a seemingly fabulous family) is to objectify her.

Take the pressure off by cutting out comparison. Erase the programming that says someday you need a life (or a body) like her’s and, rather, embrace what you have now, today. This is all God asks of us: to serve him with our heart, soul, mind and body each day. He doesn’t ask us to be, look, or act like anyone else. His purpose for us is unique and comparison drags us away from finding it.

Do you ever wrestle envy? What ways have you used to tame a covetous heart?

Want to find new freedom from body image struggles this year? Then you need to read this book or read more about the differences between covetousness, envy and jealousy in my new book, “The Burden of Better: How a Comparison-Free Life Leads to Joy, Peace, and Rest” – start reading sample chapters here. 

Need daily encouragement? Listen to Heather's hundreds of podcast episodes where she covers more topics like these. Episodes are added semiweekly.

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