Post 193

Even If Your Grass Is Greener:
Three Considerations to Help You Avoid Envy

When I garden these days, I pretend it’s the middle of summer. So I tend to the flowers the same way as before — weeding, watering and snapping off spent blooms. The marigolds make a satisfying ‘pop’ sound when you do it.

I clear away the fallen leaves. Begone.

Between you and me, my garden doesn’t seem to know the time of year, and I’m not planning to show any plants the calendar — that’d spoil the game. So the strawberries are still going strong and the snapdragons and sweet peas are happy. The four o’clock flower thinks it’s a tree and the salva is purple and handsome.

I’m particularly impressed with the marigolds. I never used to think much of them, and I would give them a pass when I’d see them at the garden stores, but now I see why they’re popular. They’ve looked nice all summer but they sure look great in the autumn — so lush and colour-coordinated with the rest of the scenery. And so many varieties!

I posted some more photos on my gallery a few days ago, so if you like flowers then be my guest.

Sometimes I’m torn between blogging and gardening. Both are fun.

But as much as I like blogging, do not think that I’m glad to find an instance of a priest writing rubbish, just for the sake of having some beastly piece to dissect. I’d far prefer it if all priests were wise. Then I’d give you links to their insights and their good advice. I’d quote them in blue and be proud and pleased to show them to you.

And do not imagine that I attack articles because I know the authors from before. In almost all cases, I know nothing of the reputations of the writers that I challenge, and they are strangers to me. It makes no difference to me, in the consideration of someone’s article or other writing, whether the person is a priest or a highly-respected author. Let each person’s work be judged in and of itself, not in the context of the number of Facebook followers the person has or the book that he wrote in 2003.

And in this vein, please also know that I do not challenge people out of malice or envy. I challenge because they’ve said or done something wrong.

This post is about envy, and about how to deal with it.

For starters, it is not a sin to feel envy, but it is a sin to continue with it. You have to overcome that temptation, whether you do it by direct confrontation or by calmly dismissing such thoughts from your mind.

(In the same way, it is not a sin to feel lust or wrongful pride — notions come into our heads without our consent. The issue is always our reaction to these unwelcome thoughts and feelings. For an analogy, the soldier is not judged as unworthy because he’s under attack. On the contrary, he’ll prove what he’s made of by undergoing this battle.)

You have to conquer any feelings of envy, because if you do not, then you will soon begin to resent the person whom you envy. You begin by envying Bruno’s new car, and soon you will find you resent Bruno himself. This resentment will grow into dislike and then hatred, if you do not stop yourself. The hatred will begin as thoughts and then will move into gestures and speech and actions.

But it is easy to conquer envy.

Let’s begin with a peek at the Ten Commandments. God tells us not to covet what our neighbour has.

This is different from wanting something similar to what our neighbour has. If you see that your neighbour has an impressive set of Christmas lights, for instance, you might decide that you’d like to get the same thing. That’s okay (but maybe choose a different colour). If your neighbour shows you her nifty new wipe-erase calendar kit, complete with markers and special-ish brush, you might want the same thing. That’s okay too. This is all pretty normal. We get ideas and tips from each other.

That’s different from wanting to have something at the expense of your neighbour, which is where the problem comes in.

And that’s why the commandment says that you should not covet your neighbour’s wife. You see, there’s only the one wife. If John sees Andrew’s wife Agnes, he’d better keep his thoughts on the leaves on his lawn. Agnes really doesn’t need to chit chat right now with bachelor John.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

— Exodus 20:17

Look at all these things: they are objects which are not mass-produced. If you want your neighbour’s ox, you want his ox, and that would mean that he would be oxless. (Spellchecker acts like that’s not a word.)

It is not a problem if seeing what your neighbour has encourages you to go ahead and try to get the same kind of thing for yourself. To return to John, if he see’s Andrew’s wife and starts to think that it would be nice to settle down himself, and if he starts to think that maybe he should give Jane a call, then there’s no harm in that. And besides, we know that Jane’s a nice girl.

If I see that you have a good ox, then there’s nothing wrong with me adding it to my list and remembering to pick one up the next time I’m at Costco.

(That’s why they have wide parking stalls and extra-big carts. Them’s ox carts.)

The real problem comes when I want to have something so that you don’t have it. For instance, if you have a pretty engagement ring, it’s okay for me to hope that someday I get one that sparkles just as brightly. However, if you have a pretty engagement ring and I wish it were mine instead of yours, then that’s no good. I would be, in a way, wishing you harm.

And that’s where so many people go wrong. They wish that other people didn’t have nice things or abilities. They want other people to stay down in the dust while they rise to the heights of wealth or fame or pleasure.

Their thoughts are despicable, actually.

They can’t handle the successes (and possessions) of others. The root of envy is pride.

You find this problem everywhere, but you see this too often with those in positions of power.

Haven’t you noticed that some managers and leaders actually prefer to surround themselves with those who are lackluster and unmotivated? You notice a pattern. They are threatened by those who have skill and direction. They so badly want to dominate that they compromise their own mission. They make it a mission impossible, having chosen the weaker people for the jobs.

I’m not like that. I always try to get the best people for any project that I want to complete. I am so pleased when I can find talented people to make a contribution. I do not envy them in the least. Why would I? I view their abilities as a heaven-sent gift. If they are ready to stand with me on such-and-such project, that’s wonderful.

Similarly, I do not envy the successes of those around me. Why would I? If my neighbour has green grass, then that’s a good thing. It will make the neighbourhood look better, and it’s my neighbourhood too. I want green grass as well, but mine does not have to be the greenest on the block.

If you keep your front yard looking cared-for and neat, I’m happy for you.

I really am.

So that’s the first method or consideration.

Consideration One: Remember the person is in the same group as you

If you have a blog and you sometimes use it to defend the Church from unfair and malicious attacks, that’s good. We’re on the same side. I don’t begrudge you a single subscriber. I don’t wish that all of your readers would choose me instead of you. We’re doing the same thing, and the more the merrier, as Jesus (sort of) said.

(And speaking of subscribers, I should mention that the subscriber-version of doesn’t work quite as well as the site itself. EfficientOne told me that he doesn’t have as much control over the appearance of that. I bring this up because I noticed that the chart in post 191 didn’t come through quite right for you).

When I see a pretty gemstone ring, I’m glad there is such a thing. I don’t wish it were mine instead of yours.

So the first consideration or method here is this: whenever you come across someone who is achieving his or her best, find a way to cheer for them.

Does Erika live on your street? Then her well-kept front yard is part of your block. Does Candice live in your city? Then her home-made pizza is the accomplishment of a fellow citizen. Does Laird live in your country? Then his Polish skills show that even a Nova Scotian boy can learn to say ‘Ja.’ We Canadians are multi-talented, as it turns out.

But geography isn’t the only way —

Perhaps the gifted person went to the same university or high school that you did. In that case, I can be happy for Christa who got that degree. I can be happy for Chris whose perennially-boastful mother tells me he lives in a lovely brownstone in Boston. That’s nice; I hope he got a good deal. Chris and Christa and I – well, we share the same roots. And look, we’ve done pretty well, as a whole, as a group.

You see?

I don’t have to be the most distinguished of them all. I can ‘borrow’ the talents of others and say, look at us! Look what we’ve done.

I can be proud of Lisa’s Ph.D. in engineering, as I always have been. Such a thing is not easy, but look at what a determined person can do! I can be proud of Jim’s know-how with cars — a self-taught mechanic; look at that. (He’ll find the part within the part.) I can be glad that Arlee makes beautiful and delicious cakes — we’re sort of related, you know.

And even if I’m not impressed with anything else about him, I can be proud of Bolt’s speed. It doesn’t matter that I was sitting down when he did it. I can still be pleased. After all, he’s human like me. Turns out, people can be fast. Take that, four legs!

The point is, you’re always going to have something in common with the one that you’re watching, and so I say, don’t waste your time on envy or jealousy. Instead, go under that banner — their accomplishments can be a positive reflection on your group as a whole.

Do whatever mental gymnastics you have to do in order to annihilate any feelings of competitiveness or envy. Make the stretch that you have to, in order to include so-and-so’s gifts as a reflection of the group that you call yours.

After all, at the end of the day, the gifts that they have are a reflection of the gifts that God distributes. They are a reflection of his traits and his generosity. It is his light that shines forth in the worthy accomplishments of others. They would not have been able to do what they did without him. And even with useful or beautiful man-made objects, these things would not be in our midst without the providence of God.

This approach is very much in keeping with what the Catholic Church teaches. As Catholics, we have learned that the merits earned by Christ and the saints benefit all of us. We’re all in this together. We can rejoice at the sanctity of this or that person because they’re collecting ‘points’ for everyone on this team. The body of Christ extends far and so wide, not only through space but also through time. It encompasses not only those alive right this minute, but those who have already died. They’re not here, but they’re still in our group: ‘the communion of saints.’

Knowing this, we can be happy to discover the good deeds of others, and knowing this, we’re rightly displeased when people go down the wrong path, zigging and zagging and writing complete trash.

The best way to avoid envy is to remember that we’re on the same team. Even an Olympic athlete who competes with another can empathize with his rival. After all, both know what it’s like to give up hours of normal life to work out at the gym, while home-town detractors look for their weaknesses. Standing together in the Olympic arena, they both know how it feels to anticipate, to worry, to have nightmares about illness and loss.

And here I remember a theme recurrent in Chesterton’s stuff. He says that a believer can have more in common with an atheist than a lukewarm Christian. The believer is hot and the atheist is cold, but they might both be quite a bit ahead of the lukewarm believer who is jaded and bored.

The devout Catholic, Evan MacIan, says to Turnbull, the atheist:

All duellists should behave like gentlemen to each other. But we, by the queerness of our position, are something much more than either duellists or gentlemen. We are, in the oddest and most exact sense of the term, brothers — in arms.

— The Ball and the Cross, “Some Old Curiosities” (Chapter III)

And later in the story:

“Well, I never thought much of God,” said the Editor of The Atheist, losing all patience. “And I think less now. Never mind what God meant. Kindly enlighten my pagan darkness as to what the devil you mean.”

“The hour will soon be gone. In a moment it will be gone,” said the madman. “It is now, now, now, that I must nail your blaspheming body to the earth — now, now that I must avenge our Lady on her vile slanderer. Now or never. For the dreadful thought is in my mind.”

“And what thought,” asked Turnbull, with frantic composure, “occupies what you call your mind?”

“I must kill you now,” said the fanatic, “because …”

“Well, because,” said Turnbull, patiently.

“Because I have begun to like you.”

Turnbull’s face had a sudden spasm in the sunlight, a change so instantaneous that it left no trace behind it; and his features seemed still carved into a cold stare. But when he spoke again he seemed like a man who was placidly pretending to misunderstand something that he understood perfectly well.

“Your affection expresses itself in an abrupt form,” he began, but MacIan broke the brittle and frivolous speech to pieces with a violent voice.

— The Ball and the Cross, “A Discussion at Dawn” (Chapter IV)

When Salma Hayek was quoted as saying that Pope Francis was the best pope ever, a lot of people posted comments online, agreeing or disagreeing. Someone disagreed, saying that St. Peter was the best pope, for instance. I didn’t read all the comments, but I noticed that at least one party-pooper (Christian, I think) said that the topic was not worth pursuing.


Well, now I know with whom to disagree. (Do you like that sentence, Fr. Rutler?)

I disagree with the person who wants to bulldoze the topic. Too often we are bullied into silence by those who frown upon enthusiasm and sincerity and child-like curiosity. They make it seem as if it is highly uncool to have a voice and to wonder aloud. They remain mute and contribute nothing to the discussion, other than to say that the topic is wrong.

I think it’s okay to wonder which pope was better than the others, and therefore, I think it’s okay to write about it, and to post comments.

But anyway, to return to my own topic, a person can be in direct conflict with another and yet find grounds to sympathize. As hard as it is, a defeated athlete can be a good sport, congratulating his rival at the end of the day. (And on the other side, a victorious athlete must not scoff at those who didn’t do as well.)

And speaking of competition, I like the story of how Hall and Oates met. They belonged to different bands and met each other at a band competition of sorts, when they both ran into the same service elevator (an emergency meant everyone had to leave). They discovered that they had so much in common with each other, and their friendship began.

The point is that you need to go beyond the specific object or accomplishment that causes you to have envy. Instead of resenting the person because of their possessions (material or non-material) take that person as part of your own group and be glad for their success.

Consideration Two: What harm does it do to you?

But if this is too difficult, then realize, at minimum, that another person’s enjoyment of something should not detract from your own enjoyment of life. If I enjoy my garden, that does not stop you from enjoying yours. Even if you cannot be happy for me, as a fellow resident of mountain standard time, or as a fellow gardener, or as a fellow lover of pretty stuff, then you can still be entirely happy with your enjoyment of your own garden or your own photographs of nature.

Why should anyone begrudge the gifts of anyone else?

There is enough to go around.

God has no shortage of gifts that he can bestow. He knows how to multiply. He knows how to add.

In his omnipotence, benevolence, generosity and mercy, he gives his gifts to both those who are good and those who are bad. It does not mean that he has forgotten the thoughts and deeds of those who have evil intentions, but it is a sign of his patience with them and his invitation to those gone astray to mend their ways.

(If they do not repent, God’s forbearance will be taken into consideration — as yet another debit — so it all works out in the end.)

But God’s generous and almost-indiscriminating providence for others does not diminish his providence for me, or for you.

That’s good news. He’s not a shoe store that will run out of your size. If there’s a gift that he wants to give you, you’ll get it. Nothing will get in his way. Nobody can diminish your prize.

So put aside envy. Put aside jealousy. Banish such thoughts far from your mind. Another root of envy is distrust in God’s providence.

Consideration Three: God is looking out for you

God is good.

He knows what you like, and he knows what you dislike. He knows your pet peeves and he knows your fears. He knows your preferences and all of your desires. He knows how to give you the things that you want and he knows — even better than you — what would really hit the spot. He knows you through and through. And trust me, there is nothing about you which is too trivial, too silly or too human for him to understand.

His ‘business’ is people; his ‘business’ is you.

God knows what you want and he doesn’t laugh at it. He just wants you to trust, and he wants you to be patient.

Yes, this can be incredibly hard. I know it. However, I say to myself (or LoyalOne reminds me) that God’s timing is perfect. I say to myself (or WiseOne reminds me) that God is good. He always has a plan, even when all seems lost.

So don’t be distressed, and don’t look from side to side at what those around you are (apparently) enjoying or (apparently) achieving.

(Things are too often not how they appear.)

Pay no attention to them or to the lie that your time won’t come — that God won’t deliver.

God will.

He always does; he never fails. He knows all about the race and he knows all about the finish. Indeed, he is the God of last-minute reversals.

He hasn’t forgotten about you. He knows you entirely, and you are precious to him. He wants you to trust that he will provide; he will come through.

He wants you to be at peace.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

— Matthew 7:11