Envy is the consuming desire to have everyone as unsuccessful as you are –Fredrick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC, 24.
Envy is another one of the deadly sins that has a hold on my heart. As a parent I envy you for having better behaved and smarter kids (theoretically). As a runner I envy other runners’ speed, stamina, commitment and technique. I think I am a pretty outgoing, friendly guy whose smart, caring and funny. The problem is I keep meeting people who are more likable, more intelligent, more sensitive, and funnier. I think I can lead well but there are better leaders with better ideas and much more follow through. And when I see them it tears me up inside because they embody qualities I want but don’t have. So I hate them.
This is worse when you consider that I see my life calling as a minister of the gospel. I am ashamed of the fact that when I hear someone else preach better, pray better and have deeper insights than I have, I feel the sin of Envy tighten its grip on my heart. When I am at the bedside of someone who is sick trying to listen, love and care for this person and someone else comes and does something more touching and thoughtful than anything did, I feel I am a complete failure as a minister. Rather than appreciating the gifts and characteristics of other people, I see only what is lacking in my own gifts, talents and character.
If you’ve felt these sort of feelings too than you know how Envy can poison your soul, steal your joy and cause you to dwell unhealthily on your own failings.The sin of Envy desires what another has. It ‘targets the inner qualities of another person, qualities that give a person worth, honor, standing or status (DeYoung, Glittering Vices, 43).’ Envy causes us to recoil at another’s good qualities because it reveals our own lack of worth and status. We are incapable of rejoicing with them for their success because they have shown us up for what we truly are: failures.
Of course we aren’t threatened by everyone. We are comfortable putting some people on a pedestal because their rank, social standing and aptitudes far outstrip our own. Those people we can appreciate, but the people who are like us but just a little better are rivals we want to see fail.
Why We Are Envious
When we look at others we are bound to see virtues and goods that we do not have. Somewhere along the way we got in the habit of comparing ourselves and measuring our worth against them. We think that because someone is better than us in some respect, they are inherently more lovable than we are. At our core we doubt the Love of God for us and that manifests itself in bitterness towards people because God must love them more. We might know, intellectually, that God loves us but we doubt it when we look at our neighbor. We are Peter perpetually pissed off because Jesus keeps saying John is the one that he loves. We wish we were the successful and they weren’t. Then we would be the lovable ones.
How to not Envy
Altering unhelpful thought patterns is a hard habit to break. How do we not Envy our better looking, smarter, more talented neighbor? Fulton Sheen once said, “The only way to overcome envy is, like the thief on the right, to show pity. (Victory Over Vice, 23). With due respect to the late Monsignor, ‘pity’ doesn’t mean what it used to. Today we think of ‘pity’ as patronizing and condescending. What he meant was compassionate action towards our neighbor. What if when we feel the pangs of Envy toward our neighbor we disciplined ourselves to actively respond in love? When we feel Envy towards others for their character, status and talent we can choose to act in love and care. Envy is a great enemy of real love but a practiced love weakens its grip on our hearts.
But there is more. We also need to grow in our knowledge of God’s love. I find that it is as I grow in my confidence of God’s love that I am freed to love my neighbor without feeling threatened by them. To love as God loves I need to cultivate my awareness of the God who is love. This is done through prayer. Taking time to thank God for his goodness, to extol the blessings he bestows on you everyday sets you free from the comparison game. You see more of who you are in God’s eyes: beloved.
As you continue your journey through Lent, may you turn your heart towards the Lover of your Soul and be freed from the tyranny of Envy.