Overcoming Envy: A Conversation with Tilly Dillehay

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Tilly Dillehay

Seeing Green: Don't Let Envy Color Your Joy, 2018 Harvest House

The Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 5:24-26: “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

In Christ, we have crucified the flesh with its passions--including envy. This is true, and yet the insidious sin of envy is often crouching at the doors of our hearts. Seeing Green: Don’t Let Envy Color Your Joy is a 2018 book published by Harvest House. I’m excited to chat today with the book’s author, Tilly Dillehay. I hope that you are encouraged by the below conversation!

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Nana Dolce: Tilly, I’m thankful for your time in conversation today! Let’s start by getting to know you a little bit. Please tell readers about yourself. Who are you? Where do you live? Who do you love? And What do you do?

Tilly Dillehay: I live in Hartsville, TN. It’s a tiny little town about an hour east of Nashville, which is where I’m from. My husband is a pastor in this tiny town, and we have two girls: Norah, 3, and Agnes, 1. These people are what fill up my days! I’m growing in Christ out here in this small place, and I’m very grateful for the community here.

ND: Thanks Tilly! Byron Yawn writes these words in the foreword section of your book: “The effects of reading Seeing Green by Tilly Dillehay is like that of a phenomenon I experience occasionally when I hear a word for the first time and then immediately notice it being used everywhere. Only in the case of Seeing Green it is not a word I suddenly notice. It’s a ubiquitous virus in my heart that has stayed just under the radar of conviction. Suddenly I see envy everywhere in me. And no one likes catching a glimpse of the uglier dimensions of their heart.”

After reading Seeing Green, I have to give an emphatic “Yes!” to the above. Yes, I’m suddenly more aware of the envy in my heart. And yes, no one likes seeing the uglier corners of their heart. This being said, I have to ask: What motivated you to bring the “ugliness” to light? What strengthened you to expose your own envy and offer this tool of detection for others?

TD: Writing the book was part of the process the Lord used to address the envy in my own heart. I wrote it, quite literally, because I had barely diagnosed this serious problem in my life, and because I saw no other nonfiction resources written in the last hundred years or so! I’m sure I missed something, but I truly couldn’t find anything out there. And the envy had interfered seriously with some of my closest relationships (as you know from reading). I think the first thing I did as I wrote was send chapters to my sisters. I wanted them to understand better, where conversations had only hinted at the depth of the problem. Writing was a way of addressing the ugliness head-on. So my motive in bringing the ugliness to light was almost survival… I could feel things dying in there.

ND: Please help us to understand your very interesting concept of “borrowed glory?

TD: One of the first things that I was trying to understand at the beginning was why envy hurts so bad. Why was it that when specific people in my life succeeded, it felt like an attack on me? Why did it feel that they were striking at the very center of my deepest desires and threatening my very sense of self? I read an essay around that time by C.S. Lewis called “The Weight of Glory” (highly recommend) and in it he talks about something seemingly unrelated to envy: the promises of glory that God holds for us at the end of time. It was the first time I began to find language of glory with which to describe attributes that humans have, and to relate it to our hopes that God will look on us and delight in us. It seemed to me that the envy and the desire for glory were related in some way… and after further reading, I concluded that understanding glory was the key to me understanding envy and doing battle with it.

ND: You make a distinction between envy, jealousy, and covetousness in the book. Could you give us a taste of those definitions here?

TD: Yes. Envy and jealousy are often mistakenly used as if they were interchangeable. It’s not a big deal--everybody knows what we mean--but just for clarification: Jealousy is a feeling of discomfort and anger that something you have is being threatened. You can be righteously jealous, like in the case of some lady trying to catch the eye of your husband. The emotion of jealousy is sometimes attributed to God in scripture. Envy, on the other hand, is anger and resentment that somebody else has something you want. It is never righteous, and is never attributed to God.

And then covetousness is a simple desire for something that someone else has. It’s not necessarily angry or resentful. The covetous person would be satisfied to get the same good thing as well. The envious person might be happy if they could get the same thing (and be equal), but would also be satisfied to see it taken away from the other person. Envy is also usually associated with feelings of inferiority, which you don’t find with covetousness.

ND: I appreciate the way your book deals with specific types of envy per chapter. You speak of the envy of body, charm, intellect, and creativity, among others. You said something in the chapter on charm that I found compelling. I’ll quote it here: “It is really difficult for me to stand by and watch while someone else shows herself to be the most likable, most fun, or most influential person in my social group. I want all the influence to be mine. I want all the parties to be my party.”

Sister, I’ve been there! I can testify to that heart pang some feel when--even with a smile--we secretly long for the influence and charm of another. You say later in that chapter that if people are magnets, then Christ is gravity. How does this truth help us in these moments?

TD: We know that Christ’s pull on men is qualitatively different than the little attractions that we find in other people. People attract us with their humor, their frankness, their ability to see us, their cheerfulness… Christ attracts with the total perfection of his nature. But as well as attracting with attributes that we respond to with adoration, he attracts with a call that we can’t resist because it’s not resistable. Men left their jobs and followed him on the spot because of this call; it’s the call mentioned in Romans 8:30 that leads to justification and glorification.

We have to be tuned to this call and more and more transformed by gazing on the beauty of Christ. As a byproduct, we’ll begin to understand how to navigate the lesser, “borrowed” glories of charming men and women. If they are godly, we can imitate and enjoy their charm; if they are ungodly, we won’t be fooled so easily because we know what real glory looks like.

ND: Your chapter on the envy of intellect brings the subject down to our Christian subcultures. You remind us that in communities where theological precision is valued, there can be pride, secret rivalries, and the temptation to envy the “experts” among us. In a later chapter, you write this: “If we can’t rejoice at genuine strokes of beauty wielded against our satanic enemies, then we are obviously blind to the battle.” The imagery is helpful. We are soldiers on the same side. We share union in Christ.

How do you personally remind yourself of this truth? And as a writer, how do you champion the “beautiful orthodoxy” of others--knowing that the wisdom and the theological precision that God gives to another strikes at our satanic enemies?

TD: The warlike nature of our time on earth has to be kept at the forefront of our minds. We’re fighting for truth and beauty with our humble talents--all of us! Knowing what’s at stake, and knowing the unearthly smell of lies (sometimes told beautifully!), we become grateful to see people fighting for our own team… maybe even especially if they’re better warriors than we are! A warrior cheers when a good stroke--a great song, a truthful painting, a masterful piece of writing--is made on the side of truth and beauty. Envy has no place in this scenario, only rejoicing.

ND: You write this in your chapter on the envy of options and money: “If this world is all we have, then envying another person’s lifestyle isn’t just understandable. It’s logical.” Well said, Tilly! Passages like 1 Peter 1:3-6 and the certainty Scripture gives of our living hope in Christ should shatter our temporally-focused envies. In your experience, what distracts us from this eternal perspective and how can we pull our gazes back to the resurrected and coming Christ?

TD: A weak affection for Christ, choked by love for the world. I know in my life, my faith begins to starve first because I’m not feeding my affections properly--not praying, not communing, not meditating on the Word--and then, in the vacuum that opens up, I begin to search my vicinity for something to fill my soul. This is when you stop believing and start grasping. It’s the soil of envy. It means we’ve forgotten about that “imperishable, undefiled, unfading” inheritance mentioned in 1 Peter 1!

ND: Envy can be a heavy subject and reading it, as mentioned above, can conjure up some heavy conviction. That said, you do well to provide words of comfort in the book. I was especially thankful for these in your last few chapters: “The work of fighting sin is hard work, but it is merciful work too. To gain any kind of freedom from sin is a luxury that the world simply doesn’t have.” Tilly, what is our hope, confidence, and even joy, as we battle against the envy that crouches at the doors of our hearts?

TD: Our confidence in fighting sin is always in God’s promises. He has made it so clear, so very clear, what he intends to do with us! He has no intention of allowing us to continue as we are. Returning to that same passage in Romans 8, we get a full picture of his plan:

He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Romans 8:27-31).

ND: Tilly, thanks for your time today. As we end, I have to ask: How has God used the writing of this book as a means of sanctification in your life? And what is your hope and prayer for others as they read it?  

TD: He really used it in my life for change, Nana. I sat on this unpublished book for almost four years before it was finally picked up by a publisher. Throughout that time, I knew that if nothing else happened to it, it had already been so instrumental in rooting out sin in my own life that this was enough. I needed to read and write on this subject or I was going to be in bondage to envy for the foreseeable future.

Relationships are the thing that get destroyed by envy. My sisters and a few other friends were the ones I’d lost to my envy--they had become strangers, and none of them knew why exactly. The Lord has restored each of these people to me. They have all been so ready to forgive, and so ready to believe the best as I slowly worked through the process of heart change towards them.

My prayer is that people reading this book will allow the conviction of the Holy Spirit to do its work, and that the scripture and personal experience I share will give them the means to do battle with this secret sin. I pray that relationships will be restored--like mine were.


Tilly Dillehay is wife to Justin and mom to Norah and Agnes. She is the author of Seeing Green: Don’t Let Envy Color Your Joy, and she blogs with her husband at While We Wait.