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Envy: The No Win Sin (Part I of II)

February 15, 2014 by  
Filed under Capital Sins, Envy, Patti Armstrong, Sin

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?

Envidia_Envy_Eyes_dont_lie_2(4254867826)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?

InbidiaHaurrak001What 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 I 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 (cf Mark 4:24).


In part II, we will examine the difference between envy and jealousy and talk about getting some prayer and perspective on this issue.

Art: Pecados Capitales Foto: Envidia [Envy]: Eyes don't lie Modelo: Agnell Guerra Iluminación: Ernesto Gómez Fotografía: Gabriel Delgado, 5 January 2010, CC; Envy and anger between children, 16 September 2013, Jérôme – Môsieur J., CC; both Wikimedia Commons.

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About Patti Maguire Armstrong

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. Her newest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families, a collection of stories to inspire family love, and Dear God, I Don't Get It and the sequel, Dear God, You Can't Be Serious, children's fiction that feeds the soul through a fun and exciting story. Patti's Blog Facebook. Twitter.

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  • Camila

    Great post, Patti.

    I have found that deliberate acts of humility have been very helpful to overcome envy.

    A priest once told me in confession to thank God for all the things God has blessed me with, this is a good exercise when envy starts creeping it’s ugly head. He admonished me saying “what, do you think God is limited some how that there isn’t enough grace to go around for all of you?!”

    • LizEst

      Yes, the words of the Lord from his parable “Are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:15b) have also rung out to me! God bless you, Camila…and Patti as well. Great post, Patti!

      • Camila

        Liz, great quote! …do you remember St. Peter also?

        “When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him (referring to St. John who would not be crucified)?” Jesus said to him, “What if I want him to remain until I come? What concern is it of yours? You follow me.” (John 21:21-22)….. to be crucified!

        I love St. Peter so much!
        St. Peter, pray for us!

        Or what God said to Job?

        “Gird up your loins now, like a man;
        I will question you, and you tell me answers!
        Where were you when I founded the earth?
        Tell me, if you have understanding!” (Job 38:3-4)

        Poor Job, after all the suffering – seeing so many be prosperous and joyous and he – who was holy and good – was given a bitter cup to drink! To have to answer God!….. Yikes!

        I think Job is one of my favorite books in the Bible!

  • RobinJeanne

    Ouch!!! those are some tough questions. I know I never wish bad for those who have been blessed though I may wish to have what they have… sad for me (self pitty) but truly happy for them. But like the questions you pose… if some one was alway bragging about their kid and mine were always messing up and then theirs messed up…. sadly I think I would say(think) hmm, now she knows how it feels…. oh wow you have reveal something in me I didn’t know I needed to work on…. thank you :/

  • hssuzanne

    I wish I could piously say I am better than I am at this topic. But then I would be lying and breaking another commandment. Everyone needs work on this- good reflection & looking forward to part II.

  • Mary L

    What a lesson! I think I need to go to confession. In our first world culture we have access to SO many opportunities that it’s easy to disguise or deny envy. Your post just made me see an area that I have been envious w/o realizing it.

    Though I can’t always ‘make’ myself be happy for someone else, I CAN always choose to pray for another person regardless of my feelings at the time. And often time spent in prayer softens or transforms my feelings.

    And I’m entirely serious about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The sacramental grace is often just what I need to finally let go, or forgive, or to be strong or to love.

  • Sue

    Love this topic. I often pray for those I don’t like because I know I should. I often pray for myself when I feel envious so as to love as Jesus loves. I need to always remember to pray for those I am envious of as well! What a world we would have if we could all be genuinely happy for each others’ successes in their own right and not compare ourselves to others. I think that’s where envy sets in…the comparison. I try to remind myself that we all have our own paths and God doesn’t make mistakes…can bring the best out of the worst…He truly wants the best for each and every one of us…the good and the bad of our lives can be gifts if we can only see them that way! The good and the bad can help us to become all that God wants us to be if we can only stop saying why me and instead say what do you want me to learn, Lord…how do you want me to draw closer to you…how can this help me to become all that you want me to be…

  • Awesome! Looking forward to part two!

  • Camille Mittermeier

    ARGH! That is hard! To not enjoy the secret smirk when the self-righteous fall… seriously, that is asking a lot. Not that asking a lot is a bad thing. When the high and mighty are taken down a peg I do find it reassuring to know they are stuck in the same boat as me as it often gives me a chance to connect that their previous “I’m better than thou” had not allowed. Till today I have never once considered it as envy because it was always so obvious to everyone (but the person) that they were not who they presented themselves as – I never wanted the facade they thought they lived. There’s a LOT to ponder in this post. Thank you for opening my eyes and I look forward to the next part.

  • Willie Simpson

    Your attitude is great; difficult/impossible hard spiritual living. It seems you would need to pray for grace—a–lot. 🙂

  • Worldly successes and wealth of others does not bother me since I do not need it. Providentially, all my life I have genuinely been very content with the little I have. A great Grace from God for which I thank Him daily. However, to those who are mean and evil to others, those who plan destruction or the downfall and ruin of others, when they fail in their endeavours, I cannot help feeling like the Psalmists who pray for the evil to fall and fail. Would that be called sin??? Liz, what is your take on this one from me???

    • LizEst

      Mary-If the thought comes to you to pray for evil for those who plan destruction or the downfall and ruin of others, it’s a temptation and just a thought.

      But, if you indulge that, then that is when you sin. When the Lord allows you to see what is bad in someone, he is making a gift to you to participate in his cross, to pray for that person and ask for their conversion, ask that their eyes might be open to see what they are doing and stop. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ Rather, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good” (Romans 12:19-20, 21).

  • Claire A

    I second that “ouch”. I heard once that when it is really hard to love your neighbour then ask God to love them through you – this made sense to me. My reaction to others “success” in marriage and family etc is to feel even sorrier for myself – not necessarily to envy them. Which is probably just as bad as it hurts me spiritually.

  • Mrshopey

    These stirrings of envy were more prevalent when I used FB. They didn’t bother me as much before, or I don’t remember them as strong. I also wasn’t being updated 24/7 with what people were up to either. I wonder if the social networks make it worse or if it was just me?

  • evninibomus

    This hit home with me today. I do not envy material goods. I just never have and that is a gift from God to me. But I am a 57 year old widow. When I see couples together, sharing conversation, happiness, I am so envious. I’ve been praying and asking God for help with this. I know that it was His plan for my husband’s early death at 52, I say that I accept it, but it is so hard. At Mass, I ask my guardian angel to take my loneliness, my grief, my bitterness, my tears, my anxiety and my fear of the future and put it on the altar as my sacrifice back to Him. I will now follow your advice and begin to pray for those couples that i see every day and asking God to give me His grace not to be tempted to envy. Thanks!

  • Deacon Dick

    These are important questions we need to ask ourselves when we examine our conscience. When we say that we don’t need to go to confession because we haven’t sinned, we haven’t asked ourselves these questions; Have I been envious of others success? or, Have I used my gifts to make others envious of myself?

    • LizEst

      Great observations! Thank you, Deacon Dick…and God bless you.

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