The Wearin’ O’ the Green: Envy

Envy is ugly. And selfish.

I should know.

Last week a simple social media post written by a lovely, young Christian woman sent me into a pit of envy for the better part of an afternoon.

If wasn’t her post, of course, which I assume was meant to be innocuous and helpful. It was me. My pride. My discouragement. My envy that lay at fault.

Green with envy.

Green with envy.

I’ll refrain from reposting what she shared – though my envious self made sure to screen capture it so I could mull over the ways in which it got under my skin. In sum, it was a simple shot of a basket of books, an open daily planner, and a mug of coffee. Sounds pretty harmless, doesn’t it? A day later, my over-reaction stupefied me.

Yet at the time, it drove me BANANAS! This simple post embodied everything I currently lack in my home and my life: order, beauty, simplicity, quiet, piety. The accompanying description enumerated an additional list of ways (in my mind), I didn’t measure up. My schedule includes no time for structured prayer or study, no housekeeping agenda or workout routine. Nor an upcoming opportunity for a retreat.

When I got to the end of the post, the simple question meant to engage followers tempted me to spew every one of the ways in which I resented this woman’s plan for the day (and my polar opposite non-plan) into the empty, waiting combox. I longed to belabor how her Pollyanna routine, so saccharine and perfect, sickened me.

Thankfully, I’m not completely daft. I knew what I experienced was an unreasonable flash of envy and that it was grounded in vice rather than virtue. I knew better than to fire off a snippy comment that I’d later regret or that might hurt her.

Instead I stewed.

Let the envy flow through you.

I lost hours – precious hours I should’ve been serving my family or others or actually writing – to an Instagram feed. I scoured all her photos, the post – again and again – dwelling on the details that irritated me. Everything looked perfect – from her straight, white teeth to her figure, exercise routine, husband, baby, and home decor. I searched for something, anything, by which I could summarily dismiss her superiority. Some flaw or deficiency by which I could write off her and her perfect little routine.

The photos rankled like a bristly clothing tag on the back of my neck. Did she have a photographer follow her everywhere? Or was she THAT good at selfies? Is that what her home actually looks like?

I could tell myself that she took thirty selfies to get an acceptable one. That behind the camera there’s a heaped-up mess worthy of a “Hoarders” special event. Of course she’d want to put her best foot forward,  especially if it’s her “brand.” I could chalk it up to sudden onset of social media envy.

A litany of excuses for my inferiority followed: She has fewer children. She has more money. A nicer home. And on, and on.

I could appreciate a more self-confident, less self-deprecating style than I prefer without resorting to envy. I could just un-follow and be done with it. Coudn’t I?

Why couldn’t I assume that all she purports is reality and be satisfied? Why should I hope for someone seeking to inspire others to look more like a screw-up to appease my failings?

Why did it bother me so much?

It’s not been a huge struggle in my life, but envy crops up from time to time. More often than not, I’m the one in our home offering the reminder to avoid comparisons. I’ve experienced peace by shunning comparisons about writing, living, and, I thought, every facet of life. There’s a billion non-comparison memes. I should be concerned about me, not others, right? I’d beaten envy.

Boy, was I wrong, as evidenced by the green-eyed monster that reared its ugly head.

Green-Eyed Monster Berenstain Bears book

Perhaps a re-read is in order.

What exactly is envy?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church* defines it as such:

2553 “Envy is sadness at the sight of another’s goods and the immoderate desire to have them for oneself. It is a capital sin.”

How about this passage? No glossing over the hideous nature of envy here:

2538 The tenth commandment requires that envy be banished from the human heart. When the prophet Nathan wanted to spur King David to repentance, he told him the story about the poor man who had only one ewe lamb that he treated like his own daughter and the rich man who, despite the great number of his flocks, envied the poor man and ended by stealing his lamb.323 Envy can lead to the worst crimes.324 “Through the devil’s envy death entered the world”:325

We fight one another, and envy arms us against one another. . . . If everyone strives to unsettle the Body of Christ, where shall we end up? We are engaged in making Christ’s Body a corpse. . . . We declare ourselves members of one and the same organism, yet we devour one another like beasts.326

Let’s pile on, shall we?

2539 Envy is a capital sin. It refers to the sadness at the sight of another’s goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself, even unjustly. When it wishes grave harm to a neighbor it is a mortal sin:

St. Augustine saw envy as “the diabolical sin.”327

“From envy are born hatred, calumny, joy at a neighbor’s misfortune, and sadness at his prosperity” (St. Gregory the Great).

So, what’s to be done about it?

2554 The baptized person combats envy through good-will, humility, and abandonment to the providence of God.

2540 Envy represents a form of sadness and therefore a refusal of charity; the baptized person should struggle against it by exercising good will. Envy often comes from pride; the baptized person should train himself to live in humility:

Would you like to see God glorified by you? Then rejoice in your brother’s progress and you will immediately give glory to God. Because his servant could conquer envy by rejoicing in the merits of others, God will be praised.329 

And, of course, there’s time. A day later I looked at the post and shrugged. It’s a mood. It comes, it goes. Sometimes all I need is a reminder that patience is required in different seasons of life.

At any rate, it became clear what I should be doing for Lent. I’d long forgotten to say the daily decade of the Rosary or to get to Friday afternoon Stations of the Cross. For the first time, this year, I hadn’t really given up anything, which was a mistake. I downloaded this little book, and I will work at transforming envy into good-will.

I’ll fix my eyes more firmly on the cross this Lent. Death, after all, is the great equalizer. The green of envy pales as its pettiness is glimpsed through an eternal lens.

* (numbers and notes preserved for convenience)

How do you overcome envy? Do you find social media tempts you to envy more frequently?

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12 thoughts on “The Wearin’ O’ the Green: Envy

  1. I’m sorry to say that your blog had me laughing! I know envy is no laughing matter. But I am sometimes envious of you. You seem to have it all together, while my life is held together with duct tape. You are an awesome mom to a wonderful, happy family. You bake. I “bake” and that’s only on a rare occasion. You seem to have your priorities straight. You read entire books faster than I read a chapter. You update your blog and promote your book on a regular basis. You write wonderful, helpful, articulate reviews of the books you’ve read. You give awesome critiques….I could go on. But where would that get me? I should be checking out St. Cyprian’s book, too!

    • That is too funny, and I guess an example of how deceptive appearances can be. I feel like my life’s in a shambles most days, and we’re hanging on by the grace of God (which I guess we all our, but you get my drift).

  2. Maybe we are too hard on ourselves. You may see things that you would like for yourself. So, instead of feeling negative feelings about it and beating yourself up about it, you can work toward that goal. The author of the post is not a better woman in God’s sight and God’s love is all that matters. She just figured out how to do what you want to do before you. Go for it! You can do it too!

  3. I totally love this post as I can completely relate! (And I really appreciate you adding it to the 40 Days of Seeking Him link up this week.)

    Envy is insidious and I’m convinced that the internet and social media helps it take hold more than it would have in the past. Well, maybe not, as I recall having pangs of envy seeing the ‘perfect’ life my husband’s cousin seemed to be living. It’s hard to remind ourselves that the picture we see is just the outside veneer of someone’s life. We have no idea what else is going on in their life which we’d never want to experience.

  4. How your post resonated! Many people think *I* have it all together… oh, really???

    I daydream about the life of authors who don’t have to look forward to a day off from the “real job” to do the job they love. I wonder what it would be like to have pizza for dinner as a rare treat instead of “Mom’s got a deadline and the dishes from two nights ago are taking over the kitchen!” I envy a routine that appears to be “Get up. Make coffee. Write!” And yet, who really lives like that? And where would they be able to find the true feelings and words that truly speak to readers?

    I’ve learned to make peace with my life as writer and all of its “flaws” because that’s where the stories and the truth in my stories come from.

    Thanks for this post!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Amy! You’re absolutely right about embracing those REAL experiences as a writer – and really, it makes us better people, too, – able to relate and empathize.

  5. Oh, I have so been there, done that. Got no wisdom for you but plenty of commiseration. Tuesday I spent half a day hiding and stewing and feeling inferior at the presence of a certain stage mom who appears to have it much more together than I do. I’ll offer a MemorareUP for you too.

  6. Pingback: 40 Days of Seeking Him Lent 2016 Week 5 | Day By Day in Our World

  7. I found the quotes from the Catechism to be very helpful. I do try to combat envy with goodwill, with love, but I have so often fallen prey to its influences – to the detriment of my family’s peace and happiness. It is something that truly is for me a too frequent struggle.

    Thanks for sharing, because I found encouragement and help here.

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