Envy, the No-win Sin

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Let’s play the “What if…” game.

What if you just lost your job while your co-worker received a promotion and a big raise?  Would you be happy for him?

What if a parent that was often critical of your children, found out that her child was just caught for cheating?  Would you feel the slightest bit of satisfaction?

What if your child dropped out of school while a friend’s child was just awarded a 4-year scholarship to a prestigious university?   Does the news make you feel sick with envy?

What if you just learned your spouse was having an adulterous affair and a friend calls to share that her husband just surprised her by planning a second honeymoon to Hawaii. Would you share her happiness?

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

In the Christian world, this is where the rubber meets the road.  Going to Mass and praying is easy compared to mustering up the love for those that tempt us to envy.  It’s as if someone has punched us in the stomach. They did not do it intentionally, but they did it just the same.

When someone’s success makes our failure feel bigger, the temptation is to feel envy and to even desire his or her failure.  Misery truly does love company.  No one understands our suffering like a fellow sufferer and no one can deepen our pain like someone that has great success in the place we feel loss.

For example, someone with an abusive, unloving spouse could best find comfort in a fellow betrayed spouse.   On the contrary, if the abused spouse has to sit next to a person with a publicly adoring husband or wife, a new seating arrangement might be necessary before nausea sets in.  Then, if down the road, the adoring husband or wife was found out to be having an affair, the abused spouse would be tempted to feel some level of satisfaction. This is where the sin of envy lies.

Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  If we cannot love those whose success is greater than ours, then we are not loving them as ourselves.  And if we rejoice in their failure, again, that is not love but sin.

Please! you might be thinking.  Am is supposed to be a saint? Yeah, actually you are.  But how on earth can we muster such love?  From earth, we don’t, but from heaven, we can.  It will take prayer and an iron will, because it ain’t easy.  Yet, if we succeed, we truly follow Christ and in the end, the reward is ours.

“Give and it will be given to you.  They will pour into your lap a good measure–pressed down, shaken together, and running over.  For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” ( Luke 6:38)

What does this have to do with envy? It’s about giving love even when it’s hard so that we may receive love in return.  We may be helpless to change the circumstances that cause us pain, but God never wants us to wallow in it.  Still, it is what it is.  Loss and failure cause us sadness.  But if we rejoice or desire failure for others, then we have sinned.  Instead, we should force ourselves to pray twice; once for the person that experienced the success and once for ourselves for help not to be envious.  By praying for the person with the success, we are taking a step to protect ourselves against envy.  You may think, that person is already experiencing success, do they even need our prayers?  Yes, everyone needs prayers.  By saying prayers for a person tempting us to envy, we are giving a truly Christian love that might at that point, take every ounce of energy to muster up.  By loving others under such difficult circumstances, it will be returned.   Love always comes back to us; if not from the world, from God.  For the measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.

Jealousy and Envy

There is a difference between jealousy and envy. They are often used in the same way, but are two different things.  Jealousy is the feeling that someone has something that rightfully belongs to us. Thus, a person might feel jealous that a sibling seems to be getting favored treatment.  In sports, there might be jealousy that a fellow teammate viewed as an equal or lesser, is being given more playing time. With jealousy, on some level, the person feels something was taken from him. If an attractive person is flirting with our partner, we are apt to feel jealous because our partner belongs to us.

Envy, on the other hand, is when a person has a desire for something that someone else has. Not in a shared-goal sort of way but in an angry way–they have what we want so we feel angry inside.   There is a feeling of ill will at the success or good fortune of another.  Envy tempts us to bitterness.   In the end, it is a sin with no earthly reward. For instance, a person that steals has sinned, but his incentive to do so is the goods he has taken.  A person lies in an attempt to benefit in some way.  With envy, there is no reward.  Don’t misunderstand me and think that some sins are okay because a reward is involved.  My point is that there is even greater incentive to ward against such sin because all the way around, we come up empty.  With jealousy there is the perceived feeling that something is being taken from us.   With envy, we got nothin’ and knew it all along.

To me, envy is the granddaddy of them all to overcome.  Loving God, going to Mass, not taking His name in vain, not killing, stealing or lying or committing adultery…. these involve choices. But envy….it has a mind of it’s own.  Envy pops up in a place where we hurt or feel insecure in some way.  We don’t want to feel bad about ourselves.  We want to succeed.  So watching another’s success in an area where we are falling short seems to cut us to some degree.  If our pain is deep the cut is equally as deep.  In reality, it’s probably not so much that we don’t want others to succeed.  We just don’t want them to succeed while we fail.  We don’t want their child to be the honor student with the scholarship while ours is arrested for breaking and entering.   If our child was doing well, then it would not hurt us to hear about the success of their child.  Instead, we might be kindred spirits and celebrate together.  But without our own reason to celebrate, it’s harder to be happy for others.

Prayer and Perspective

It’s not our fault if the pain comes and we are tempted to envy.  It is our fault if we wallow in it.  In reality, there is great incentive to overcome it because in doing so, we overcome the pain it causes us.  But how can we overcome something we did not cause and do not want?  It’s a matter of prayer and perspective.

It’s good to keep in mind that God has our lives in His hands.  Who are we to argue with our lot in life?  We must realize that doing so is a lack of faith and us telling God that we know better.  And we also can only know what is happening on the outside of most people’s lives and in the present.  How often do we look at a family that seems to have it all only to later learn of some tragedy that befalls them? Or they are dealing with something very painful that they keep hidden from the world.  Stop looking at the things we want in their lives because a life does not just come with good stuff, but crosses too.  Do we also wish for their crosses?   We should never want to trade lives with anyone for their crosses would not be suited for us anymore than the rest of their lives.

Sure, someone may have gotten the promotion we wanted, but stop and think a moment.  Could offering up this disappointment lead to the salvation of someone in your family or even your own?  God knows what we need and don’t need.  Adjust your perspective and pray through your weaknesses. Those pangs of jealousy and envy spring from your own pain, so offer up the whole thing and force yourself to pray for the very people causing your pain.  Of course it’s not an easy thing to do:  “They already have what I want and I’m suppose to give them my prayers too?”  Well, it’s a great idea.

You’ll ultimately relieve your own pain through the grace of God and in the end, your generous spirit will come back to you because God cannot be outdone in generosity.

Copyright 2011 Patti Maguire Armstrong

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About Author

Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s Amazing Grace Series and authored: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families, a collection of stories to inspire family love. Patti is a correspondent for the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor & Dakota Catholic Action.

9 Comments

  1. Thank you for this article – it was so timely for me as I have really been struggling with envy this weekend! I really need to offer it up – I don’t like this feeling!!! Thank you for your inspiration.

  2. I have been struggling with envy for quite some time, and reading this article helped bring peace to my mind and a smile to my face. Thank you for your words. I will continue to offer it up as well!

  3. I loved this! I struggle with envy so often, especially this morning. Because I was struggling so much this morning, I went online to find inspiration or words of wisdom on how to deal with the envy. And, providence led me here! Just reading your post brought me peace! Thank you! 😀

    • And it is such a blessing to me to know that something I wrote helped someone. I pray daily for those who read my articles and books, that the Holy Spirit guides them along right paths. God bless you and thank you for sharing.

  4. Thanks for all that you have written about envy and jealousy. I didn’t know the difference and now I do. I guess I’m on the receiving end of this jealousy/envy thing. I am not sure what to do about it. My husband and I are acquaintances with a couple. The husband is very gregarious. He is a very friendly guy. He seems to have a slight problem with boundaries or perhaps respecting the feelings of his wife. I have always sensed that the wife is jealous of me. I have never done anything to encourage the husband to talk to me or to receive attention from him or any man. I can totally get that she would feel jealous about her husband talking to another woman. My husband is a quiet and reserved and has never provoke jealousy. I have tried to make friends with this woman but she is uninterested. She is friendly to my face but it goes nowhere. Over time I have noticed that our parish priests will suddenly become rude to us, avoid us and such where we once enjoyed good relationships with the priests in our parish. It was a mystery until one day I discovered that this couple has actively sought friendship with our parish priests having them over all the time for dinner and such. I get the feeling that the wife is “warning” the priest about me as though I am some sort of threat. My husband says I am ultra feminine. I just read another article about how feminine women are often hated by other women. I have a few women friends who have secure personalities, but I have always been left out of groups of women. Growing up I was bullied by other girls in school. So what do I do about this if I am on the receiving end of this jealousy? Do I confront the wife? Confront the priests?

  5. HI RB, Sounds like a blessing/curse thing that has dogged you your whole life. You are obviously attractive which is something others envy. It’s unfortunate but with blessings comes the temptation of weak personalities to be not like you for no other reason is that they envy you. It’s their sin. I was popular with both guys and girls in high school and beyond. I enjoyed people and was fun loving. It meant that often I had unwanted male attention beyond friendship. It also meant that sometimes, I met females that immediately did not like me. I used to let that bother me. I knew I had done nothing to them but I always wanted to be friends with everyone.

    One thing is that she offers you an opportunity if you pray for her. The measure with which you measure will be measured back to you. She presents you also with the promise of underserved mercy. God will keep his promises and he’s always far more generous than we are.

    As for the priest situation, pray the litany of humility. It hurts so much to be wrongly accused. It happens far more than we realize. Offer it up and pray for them and for her. Put it in God’s hands. It is a great humility to think people think badly of you based on lies. This woman is insecure, jealous and envious. IN her mind, she might actually believe what she is saying. She may be going to the priest as if this is a problem in her life that you are causing. As with so many saints—look up St Gerard—time often reveals the truth.

    Approaching your priests with your suspicions would only make you look bad and in the wrong. If the opportunity every arises, you could ask the priest if anything is wrong, if something bothers him…but even then, it’s a hard thing to handle. I will pray for you.

    • Thank you. You have given some very good advice! Sometimes I think I just need someone to point a thing out to me. Thank you for your prayers. God Bless!

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