The Chilling Effect of Envy

photo by Tony Ross

The last thing I wanted to write about on the anniversary of my husband’s death was the subject of “envy.” Thinking about it took me back, and I didn’t want to go back. I lived through it once and learned from it once; now I wanted to leave it. More than that, I wanted to escape from those memories — leave them on one side of a chasm and leap to freedom on the other. However, in this life there is no “envy free” zone to jump to.

I never considered myself to be a particularly envious person. I had what I had and was pretty much satisfied with it. Like everyone else, I could do some things pretty well and stank at others. When I was young, I figured it was the luck of the draw. As I got older and was busy raising children, I hadn’t the time to take more than a cursory peek at other people’s accomplishments and possessions. When you have to wash urine-soaked bedding every day, you don’t covet someone else’s designer duvets.

I don’t know whether widowhood brought my human failings into sharper relief, or if I became a more envious person after my husband’s passing. Probably, it was a bit of both, but however it happened, I began to envy with a vengeance. I envied friends who showed me photographs of their happy anniversary trips; couples who strolled through Home Depot; spouses who sat together, shoulders touching, at church. I have no idea whether my Grinch-like attitude was obvious to others, but it was freezing me out. Every time I envied, I felt the darkness descending, cold and isolating. What was happening?

After a while, the answer came to me: envy occurred when I thought (even for a split second) that God loved others more than me. Whether I angrily positioned myself at the center of the universe and demanded answers, or miserably sunk into deep resentment, the effect was the same: I became a frozen, dormant being, unable to enter into the joy of the people surrounding me. Yet, didn’t scripture urge me to “rejoice always”? Wasn’t I supposed to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep”? The sin of envy kept me from interacting with others while it sent my spirit to sleep. The only cure for that kind of sleep was to wake up, and the only way to do that was to move away from envy toward the ultimate source of warmth and light.

After a while, I stopped wondering whether God loved others more than me. For all I knew, He might, but He loved me so much that the question became irrelevant, even when situations looked unfair. The critical choice I had to make each time envy reared its head, was whether or not to trust His love. In the end, trusting Him has made all the difference.