I can’t believe it’s been over 40 days since I last wrote here! God took me me on quite a journey over Lent, and I’m excited to share some of that with you.
The last 40 days have been great. Better than great, in fact. They’ve been peaceful and full of joy. After I got over the initial reflex of checking my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram whenever I got bored for more than a few seconds, I didn’t miss it at all.
After that, I began to realize what a toll social media was taking on me spiritually. Social media DRAINS me, and for two key reasons.
The first is content–so many of the stories and statuses on social media make me feel frustrated and angry. The world makes me sad, and more often than I like to admit, Christians make me mad…and disappointed. It was nice to have a break from the noisy mess of it all, and focus on the flesh and blood people in my community.
The second reason social media drains me is the temptation to compare. I knew comparison was a struggle of mine, but it wasn’t until I stopped inundating my brain with images of other people doing it better that I realized what a burden it had become.
Once those images and reminders were gone, so was the weight.
Until last week, that was about as much personal insight as I had gained. Comparison was a problem, and social media was a temptation. The end.
But then I watched a show on the History Channel about the Ten Commandments. As the scholars and experts discussed the tenth commandment, the commandment against coveting, one scholar shared,
“Coveting is more than thinking, ‘Oh gee, I wish I had his house or his boat.’ Instead, coveting entails action. Coveting involves taking the steps to have your neighbor’s belongings, to steal his wife, to take his ox and donkey.”
Believe it or not, this explanation, paired with my personal insights from Lent, gave me an epiphany. This definition helped me to see my work–my striving, my constant churning out of writing material–in a whole new light.
All the good things I do, all the writing and encouraging and producing more ministry, there is a sin lurking behind them.
And that sin is envy.
That emphasis on action, that’s what made it so clear. I may not sit around feeling jealous, but much of my action is motivated by it. I covet my friend’s growing ministry, or her perfect home, or her beautiful appearance, and then I take the steps to have those things for myself.
That is what envy does. It leads to action. It’s why Cain killed Abel. It’s why Jacob stole Esau’s birthright. It’s why Leah competed with Rachel. It’s why the Chief Priests persecuted Christ.
Envy leads to action, silently fueling much of what we do. Why else are we so ridiculously busy? Our actions might be good–we might be volunteering at church, leading a ministry, helping with our child’s class–but too often our commitments are motivated by a need to keep up. To have what others have. To look the way others look. To succeed the way others succeed.
That’s what social media was doing to my motives. Though my call to ministry is good, envy was poisoning it. Whenever I saw other Christians doing more, writing more, ministering to more people than me, envy crept in. And when envy is behind the wheel, even the best actions will leave death and destruction in their wake.
For me, the collateral damage was myself. Comparison and the need to keep up, it was crushing my soul. So I followed Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 5–I cut off the thing that was causing me to stumble. I got off social media so that I was no longer confronted, day after day, moment after moment, with the temptation to covet.
And it was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.
So, Lent is over. Now what?
Cutting off the source of temptation didn’t change my heart, but it did carve out just enough space for the change to occur. Now that I’ve realized the root of my struggle, I can keep carving out that space.
For me, that involves spending less time on Facebook than I did before. I am filtering my news feed of the people who most tempt me to compare. My phone isn’t constantly pinging me with updates. And I’ll be writing less until my dissertation is complete.
In addition to changing my behavior, some major heart work is also in order. Because, at the end of the day, that’s where the real problem lies.
Envy is a sign of a disordered heart. But envy will never let you know. When you detect some part of yourself that is wounded, lonely, insecure, or afraid, envy turns your attention outward, not inward. Envy shouts, “The problem is that you don’t have that. If only you had a husband, or children, or a little more money, or if you were a little bit thinner, a little more organized, a little more successful, THEN, you would be happy.”
Rather than address what’s going on in your heart, envy distracts. Rather than examine why you aren’t content in the Lord, envy lunges after an idol.
I think a lot of my ministry work over the years has been, at the very least, laced with that motivation. And ever so slowly, that motivation has hurt me more and more, to the point that I can’t tolerate it anymore. That has been the mercy in all of this–God spared me the self-destruction that so many leaders succumb to, allowing me to taste the death just enough to flee from it.
It’s humbling to admit this, but I am only just beginning to grasp the deep emptiness of a ministry centered on myself, for my glory and my pride. It isn’t just pointless; it’s joyless. The burden isn’t light like Christ’s, but heavy, so heavy that it keeps you always bowed low. It is not the life that I desire, and God is helping me to despise it.
There is a Danish proverb that says, “If envy were a fever, all the world would be ill.” Throughout Lent I had several conversations with women who also struggle with jealousy and comparison, and I don’t think it was a coincidence. A lot of women experience envy, and it’s hurting us.
That’s because envy isn’t just a bad thing. It’s a sin. Plain and simple, it’s a sin. Envy isn’t cute. It isn’t minor. It isn’t a “lesser” vice.
Envy will hurt you. It will divide your friendships. It will burden and crush you. Proverbs 14:30 says, “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.” Envy will rot you from the inside out.
Many of you really are sick with envy, and I hope you will take that sickness seriously. Envy will poison your soul. It will produce in you a pace of life that is harmful to you and those around you. And among us women, it really is a virus. So, I’ll close with the one question I’ve been asking myself these 40 days:
You already have all you need in Christ. In what area of your life is that not enough?
Thanks for bearing with this long post! Love to you all!
Sharon, I love your honesty here. So many of us women have this envy fever. Once we begin to realize that God has made us unique with different plans for each of us, none being more or less important, we can start to be satisfied. It’s one thing to know this logically, but it’s another thing to believe it!
Ouch. Relate so much to this, Sharon. Another sign of our twin-ness? 😉
It also makes me very curious about your Enneagram type. I’m a Four and envy/comparison is our chief struggle.
You are a gift to us all….
Such a beautifully common and unrecognized truth “so heavy that it keeps you always bowed low” – sigh! Thank you for your transparency and this message. Have a beautiful day!
Love this: “You already have all you need in Christ. In what area of your life is that not enough?” So true. So hard to remember, though.
I so, so needed to hear this. Thank you for your honesty, Sharon.
Thank you for sharing this. I decided one week ago to take a social media break for these very reasons and a few more. I didn’t realize just how noisy my soul had become.
Although it was a blessing for you to have some time away from writing and social media, I’m happy to once again have your writing meet me with the dawn of a new morning—giving me something meaningful over which to think in a way that can change me.
Thanks for all the feedback, everyone! The Enemy wants to isolate us in our struggles, so it’s encouraging to know that none of us is alone!
I have recently taken a partial leave from FB for similar reasons. First I found I was irritated a lot with people, second I found that Christians in particular were all about patting each other on the back, third I was appalled at how some Christians used FB as a weapon to hurt people, and fourth that I found myself being jealous, feeling left out, etc. I decided I needed to have a heart check myself and guess what-it has shown me some areas that are not too hot within my heart. Still sorting it all out. Thank you for sharing your journey.
This is so powerful. And so true. I took a six-month blogging hiatus in an attempt to figure out this pull toward constant envy and obsession with hits and likes. It’s not easy to let go of earthly impulses, especially when they are so easily accessible through social media. This is definitely a message to remember!
I completely relate to this. I have also limited the people I see in my News Feed and Twitter Feed because their actions were directly affecting my emotions in such a negative way.
Thanks for sharing!