Overcoming the Seven Deadly Sins: Envy
Samuel Beckett, the famed Irish novelist and author of Waiting for Godot, married his long-time companion Suzanne in 1961. As his fame continued to grow, she was consumed with jealousy and their marriage weakened.
One day in 1969 she answered their ringing phone, spoke to the person on the other end, and hung up. Turning a pallid face to her husband, she mumbled, “Quel catastrophe. . .” (What a catastraphe) She’d just been told that the Swedish Academy had awarded Samuel the Nobel Prize for literature.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”—Romans 12:15
If we’re honest, it’s harder to rejoice with those who rejoice than it is to weep with those who weep. There’s just something that makes us resent the successes of others. Seeing someone else’s triumph can instantly turn the best of us into a Cain, ready to strike down our perceived competitors.
Aristotle define envy as “the pain caused by the good fortune of others.” Since early times, the church has included envy as one of the seven deadly sins. It’s a crippling disease and the outworking of a narcissistic pride that begrudges the joy of another’s success.
Here are four suggestions to help curb the envy monster:
1. Recognize it
We’re not quick to call out envy by its name. When someone else receives recognition for something, we immediately start mentally tearing them down.
The first thing we need to do is be honest enough to name our jealousy. On some level, it’s probably impossible for us not never feel envious. And although we can’t stop the bird of envy from flying overhead, we definitely need to recognize it trying to build a nest in our heart.
2. Do the opposite
St. Ignatius often suggested the practice of Agere Contra (to act against). This is the habit of not just recognizing and admitting a sinful behavior, but actively doing its opposite. In Ignatius’ economy, we bankrupt the enemy when we invest in opposing principles.
Once you recognize envy, go out of your way to do the opposite of your inclination. Write them an encouraging note. Compliment them. Publicly applaud them.
In the end, this isn’t just about being happy for others; it’s about rooting out the part of us that scowls at other’s joy. You do this by doing it’s opposite—especially when you don’t feel like it.
3. Chase your potential
I recently got to know a popular Christian-culture internet celebrity. As the relationship progressed, I saw this person’s strength lie more in personal marketing than it did in thought creation. Without attribution, they “borrowed” the ideas (and sometimes content) of others and shared poorly considered, feel-good nonsense—AND PEOPLE ATE IT UP. This individual sat on a giant throne of RTs and “likes.”
It made me crazy. I slaved and wrestled with content. I struggled to honest and transparent as I watched this person build a fiefdom out of hijacked and paper-thin ideas. But then it hit me . . . I was chasing success—and on some level I had achieved it. I have a pretty well-read blog that has enabled me to build some amazing relationships. There are many greater writers than I who would undoubtedly be jealous of my success, too.
I have sat at my keyboard, opened my heart, and bled out. This is who I am . . . I’d do it with three readers or 300,000,000. For every post of mine that does moderately well, there is going to be a stupid Gangnam-style Christian post blowing me out of the water. That’s not my concern. My chief concern is to get better and better at what I love doing. If I’m not chasing success, then the success of others needs not concern me.
4. Cultivate contentment and thankfulness
This is so trite that I almost didn’t include it, but the fact that it’s a cliche doesn’t make it less true. Envy is simply a case of counting someone else’s blessings instead of counting your own. The more mindful and thankful you are for your own gifts, the less you’ll have a mind for someone else’s.
Envy’s a dangerous trap, and the more we indulge it, the more it becomes a part of our character—the more it consumes.
Have some thoughts on the topic of envy? I’d love for you to share them!