Sunday, May 09, 2010

How to Overcome Envy

(Impatient? Jump to the point.)
We had a great time at the Orange County Christian Writers (OCCWF) conference May 1.

Something I really liked about this conference was the speakers' focus on a writer's character and his/her connection to God: purity, humility, attitude toward "success," awareness of the enemy, this sort of thing. One of our speakers said:

Best effort and a pure heart is better than a compromised message with technical excellence
One could (maybe) imagine something like that at a nonChristian writers' conference, but a workshop on writing devotionals? Not so much. And if there were a workshop on overcoming envy, I'm confident you wouldn't find the same content.

The Point

So, how do we overcome envy? When someone else achieves spectacular success, how do we stop saying things like "She won the Pulitzer at 29, I hate her"? God says not to covet (Exodus 20:17 NIV), but what's the trick to actually obeying that command? Kathy Collard Miller gave us a list in her keynote speech, which I have tried to capture here:
  1. Recognize God's sovereignty.
    What is sovereignty? Kathy quoted Swindoll as saying,
    Sovereignty means our all-wise, all-knowing God reigns in realms beyond our comprehension to bring about a plan beyond our ability to alter, hinder, or stop.
    (also quoted on p.103 of Becoming Myself; Becoming His: Living the Life God Designed for You By Kay Watson -- per Google Books)
    When we recognize that God is at work, and that he will accomplish his plan concerning us (Psalm 138:8 NASB), envy will lose some of its steam.
  2. Decide to bless others.
    Kathy suggested a prayer along these lines: “Lord, bless them. Give them many more opportunities. Expand their ministry.” This is a way of applying 2 Corinthians 10:5 -- one method we can use to "take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (NASB).
    This reminded me of Charles Williams's Descent Into Hell, whose anti-hero, the historian Lawrence Wentworth, reads that Aston Moffat (another historian) was honoured with knighthood. The narrator tells us:
    There was presented to him at once and clearly an opportunity for joy—casual, accidental joy, but joy. If he could not manage joy, at least he might have managed the intention of joy, or (if that also were too much) an effort toward the intention of joy... [H]e knew that the fantastic recognition would please and amuse the innocent soul of Sir Aston, not so much for himself as in some unselfish way for the honour of history. Such honours meant nothing, but they were part of the absurd dance of the world, and to be enjoyed as such. Wentworth knew he could share that pleasure. He could enjoy....
    (page 80)
    But Wentworth refuses to enjoy; instead he gets angry. This is part of his quest for hell. If that's where someone wants to go, Descent Into Hell is a good case study. I found it more accessible than some of his other novels. But it is scary and thus instructive.
  3. Remember that we each have a role, and that each role is essential.
    The Apostle Paul talked quite about this in 1 Corinthians 12; here's verse 17 from the NIV: "If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?" There is no "appendix" in the body of Christ!
  4. Pass it on.
    I don't remember what she meant by that, but I'll add on my usual:
  5. (Collin's addition)
    Do the above for 20-30 years and repeat as needed.
    (The "repeat as needed" also appears in my essays on overcoming anger and overcoming anxiety.)
It probably goes without saying that we can count our blessings, and also remember that the lifestyles of the rich and famous aren't all they're cracked up to be. Nicholas Sparks had a spectacular smash hit on his first novel, but he also had family difficulties (details in Three Weeks with My Brother -- I remember at least one of his parents died, and one of his kids was diagnosed with a learning disability).

The lovely Carol mentioned something else: that it's good to remember that all good things are gifts from God. A good idea.

One more thing: when we fail, it's really important to remember that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1). Our identity and security are not based on our own merit, but rather on the merit of the one who died for us and rose again. Thanks be to God!

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