In college, there was this girl who had transferred in during my sophomore or junior year. I couldn’t put my finger on why, but I just couldn’t bring myself to like her. She was pretty, smart, fun, and had a lot of the same friends that I did. We might have actually had a lot in common, but I couldn’t even read her social media posts without scoffing, so I never really found out. Every time one of my friends mentioned her, I immediately tensed up. I tried not to say much because I knew anything that came out would be sarcastic and judgmental. I just didn’t like her.
Several years later, I was talking to a friend about my frustration with my feelings towards this girl (a few years after I had last seen her). I expressed that I just didn’t know why I didn’t like her; all I knew is that even three years after graduation, I still rolled my eyes at her posts and tensed up every time I saw pictures of her with my friends, current and former. “Sounds like jealousy,” my friend said.
Jealousy? No. I kept telling myself that I had good reasons for not liking her, but the reality is that I ultimately felt like she had swooped in and “stolen” my friends and the life that I wanted during a time that’s so volatile and uncertain to begin with. I was worried that my friends liked her more, that they would forget about me, that they thought she was a nicer, more fun, more exciting person. On top of that, she was friends with people that I wanted to be friends with but just didn’t quite fit in with—the “cool” Christian kids on campus. Why couldn’t that be me? What did she have that I didn’t have? Oh, yeah. That’s jealousy.
I watched this classmate make friends with attractive, fun people (including my own friends), travel to various countries, get jobs in her field almost right away—she just generally seemed to have her life together. Meanwhile, I was struggling to figure out the next steps for my life; I felt like I was constantly losing friends to moving, getting married, getting jobs, anything. I travelled for an internship and barely had the money to do that, let alone go on any other trips abroad. And I really struggled to find a job that felt meaningful to me and allowed me to pursue my passions. Things were changing, but in my mind, they weren’t changing well.
And that kind of thinking is often where feelings of jealousy, greed, and envy start.
So how do jealousy, greed, and envy affect us in the midst of change? And what can we do to move forward from these feelings and not let them get the best of us? Jealousy, greed, and envy all have slightly different ways that they play out in our lives, but they all stem from the same place—idolatry. During seasons of change, it’s easy to place our focus on things that other people have or gaining more of what we already have. Change is hard, and it doesn’t always happen the way we want it to. In those moments, we often make idols out of things that we think will make our lives better—money, friends, love, travel, knowledge, material possessions—which all boil down to control, self-gratification, and significance, things that give us comfort in the midst of change.
The first step to moving away from these feelings of jealousy and greed is to identify them. This usually isn’t hard—jealousy and greed are pretty easy to spot, especially by friends and family who know you. Ask yourself, why do I dislike this person? Why do I feel like I need more of that one thing? How could this season of life be affecting my feelings?
After that, you can start to take other steps to move forward and change your thinking. Here are ways that we can learn to overcome feelings of jealousy, envy, and greed in the middle of change:
1) Read scripture.
Read what the Bible has to say about these issues. The verses can convict and comfort and help you change your thinking. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (ESV). Luke 12:15 says, “And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’” (ESV). Colossians 3:5: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (ESV, emphasis added). The Ten Commandments are framed by the commands to not have any other gods before our God and to not covet—because they both come down to placing other people and things in front of God. The Bible can point us in the direction of Christ instead of in the direction of idols that we use during times that seem the most out of control.
2) Force yourself to take small actions against your feelings.
Facing jealous feelings toward someone? Like her Instagram pictures. Tell her you like her outfit. Just say “hi” and smile. The more you interact with someone, the more you learn about who they are beyond all the “stuff” they have that you don’t. If you’re getting greedy, it may be time to do some clearing out of your own stuff. Sometimes giving things away can make us realize where our priorities should be. Take time away from the normal pace of life and get out of the way for Christ to take first place in your heart. During periods of change and turmoil, this is sometimes the most important thing we can do to realign our hearts and minds and clear away any idols that may have taken hold.
3) If you’re unhappy with how things are, change!
Sometimes changing our life circumstances is out of our control, but the things we often get jealous and greedy over are things that are within our control if we put in the effort and time. Jealous because you’re not travelling? Save money and plan a trip! Envious over how many friends someone has? Get out there and make the effort to invest in other people’s lives and build those relationships. This doesn’t mean to go out and take whatever we want, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we should give into greed and envy, but sometimes the only thing that separates us from someone else’s circumstances is time and effort. If these feelings stem from true, meaningful desires, pray about it and pursue it in a way that is going to allow Christ to be first in your life!
We usually can’t control change in our lives, but we can control what feelings come from those seasons. Don’t let your life circumstances lead to resentment of someone else or obsessing over money or material things. Don’t let idols take over the throne of your heart. Put Christ first, and let Him be the one thing you choose to pursue.