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

March 1, 2014 by  
Filed under Capital Sins, Envy, Patti Armstrong, Sin

In our previous post on envy, we looked at what envy is and how it manifests in our lives. Today, we will examine the difference between envy and jealousy and talk about getting some prayer and perspective on this issue.

Jealousy and Envy

There is a difference between jealousy and envy. They are often used in the same way, but are two different things. Jealousy is the feeling that someone has something that rightfully belongs to us. Thus, a person might feel jealous that a sibling seems to be getting favored treatment. In sports, there might be jealousy that a fellow teammate viewed as an equal or lesser, is being given more playing time. With jealousy, on some level, the person feels something was taken from him. If an attractive person is flirting with our partner, we are apt to feel jealous because our partner belongs to us.

Envy, on the other hand, is when a person has a desire for something that someone else has. Not in a shared-goal sort of way but in an angry way–they have what we want so we feel angry inside.  There is a feeling of ill will at the success or good fortune of another. Envy tempts us to bitterness.  In the end, it is a sin with no earthly reward. For instance, a person that steals has sinned, but his incentive to do so is the goods he has taken. A person lies in an attempt to benefit in some way. With envy, there is no reward. Don’t misunderstand me and think that some sins are okay because a reward is involved. My point is that there is even greater incentive to ward against such sin because, all the way around, we come up empty. With jealousy, there is the perceived feeling that something is being taken from us.  With envy, we got nothin’ and knew it all along.

To me, envy is the granddaddy of them all to overcome. Loving God, going to Mass, not taking His name in vain, not killing, stealing or lying or committing adultery…. these involve choices. But envy….it has a mind of its own. Envy pops up in a place where we hurt or feel insecure in some way. We don’t want to feel bad about ourselves. We want to succeed. So watching another’s success in an area where we are falling short seems to cut us to some degree. If our pain is deep the cut is equally as deep. In reality, it’s probably not so much that we don’t want others to succeed. We just don’t want them to succeed while we fail. We don’t want their child to be the honor student with the scholarship while ours is arrested for breaking and entering.  If our child was doing well, then it would not hurt us to hear about the success of their child. Instead, we might be kindred spirits and celebrate together. But without our own reason to celebrate, it’s harder to be happy for others.

Prayer and Perspective

It’s not our fault if the pain comes and we are tempted to envy. It is our fault if we wallow in it. In reality, there is great incentive to overcome it because in doing so, we overcome the pain it causes us. But how can we overcome something we did not cause and do not want? It’s a matter of prayer and perspective.

It’s good to keep in mind that God has our lives in His hands. Who are we to argue with our lot in life? We must realize that doing so is a lack of faith and us telling God that we know better. And we also can only know what is happening on the outside of most people’s lives and in the present. How often do we look at a family that seems to have it all only to later learn of some tragedy that befalls them? Or, they are dealing with something very painful that they keep hidden from the world. Stop looking at the things we want in their lives because a life does not just come with good stuff, but crosses too. Do we also wish for their crosses?  We should never want to trade lives with anyone, for their crosses would not be suited for us any more than the rest of their lives.

Sure, someone may have gotten the promotion we wanted, but stop and think a moment. Could offering up this disappointment lead to the salvation of someone in your family or even your own? God knows what we need and don’t need. Adjust your perspective and pray through your weaknesses. Those pangs of jealousy and envy spring from your own pain, so offer up the whole thing and force yourself to pray for the very people causing your pain. Of course, it’s not an easy thing to do: “They already have what I want and I’m supposed to give them my prayers too?” Well, it’s a great idea.

You’ll ultimately relieve your own pain through the grace of God and in the end, your generous spirit will come back to you because God cannot be outdone in generosity.


Art: My Jealousy, 1889, Margaret Dicksee, PD-US; Reichenthal ( Upper Austria ). Saint Bartholomew parish church – Pulpit ( 1911 ) by Ludwig Linzinger: Personifications of the seven deadly sins – envy, 29 September 2013, own work, Wolfgang Sauber, CC; Invidia (mosaic, Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière), 22 March 2010, own work, Rartat, PD-Worldwide; all 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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  • Therese

    At Eucharistic Adoration yesterday I asked God to heal me of my envy of a particular person – and this article showed up in my e-mail this morning. Wow.

    • LizEst

      Wow indeed! God bless you Therese!

  • judeen

    I guess I never think of these 2 sins… I guess I lump them into hate catagory… for does not jelousy come with hate? yes our falure are our falures.. we did not get this or that… well there is truth in it.. life is not fare… this was taught us when we were young.. some people doors open for them easy.. others stuggle.. it is the lot that God gave us… and through time I have learned that in the struggles we learn and earn virtues and graces…

  • Camila

    Thanks Patti, great article!

  • Lisa

    I appreciate this article very much. You offer helpful insights to dig even deeper. My husband has always helped me shift my perspective by reminding me that we only see a small window of others’ lives. We never have the complete picture if their trials and joys, their journeys. What seems a certain way to me may be experienced differently by them. It is hard to fight the “misery loves company” attitude….but how right you are that we should try.

    It all comes down to gratitude and seeing our blessings…not in a shallow way, but truly naming them each day. Sometimes, the list goes on and on for the very basic modern life conveniences….and I wonder how I could ever find reason to complain. But, sadly, I do. I have grown accustomed to an expression, when others greet me with, “How are you today?” Something like, “God woke me up this morning, so the rest is all downhill.” Not that I do not struggle, or sin, or have daily issues (do not get me started😉)—in fact, I am dealing with some of heavy things at present—but the fact that God has given me the awesome gift of another day brings me to my knees.

    My biggest struggle with jealousy and perhaps even envy at times, is toward my sibling, whom I love very much. This cross has challenged me and humbled me time and again…it points to pride, my dominant sin. The other area I struggle with is being around families with many children. We have a small family, and I wish we would have chosen differently in the way we approached our family life over the years. do is working through this with me….but it is a hard place to be.

    Thanks, Patti….God Bless You.

    • Patti Maguire Armstrong

      I will say a pray for you and your struggles. Often, in deepening the practice of our faith, we become keenly aware of our previous bad choices. Then, we have all sorts of things to feel bad about. God wants us to repent but not to go through life beating ourselves up. What a challenge to forgive ourselves AND not to harbor ill will at those who did not make our same mistakes. Those that benefit by following God’s will become temptations of jealousy and envy.

      Here is something that occurred to me recently that might help. To feel resentment at those who followed God’s will and benefited or to enjoy the downfall of another, gives you and the devil something in common. We must desire to want what God wants. If we catch ourselves doing the opposite and don’t immediately strive to turn it around, then we give the devil a foothold into our lives. Remember, the feeling of jealousy or envy is not a sin, but we are to fight against them. In that way, God blesses us. Force yourself to pray for those that cause your negative feelings and offer up your emotional pain.

      • Lisa

        Thank you so much for your prayers and words of encouragement. I really do try to trust in God’s merciful Love. That is another ongoing struggle as well. Staying connected to articles like this one and esp this amazing grace-filled website is a daily help. I feel as though the Holy Spirit opened this door — RC Spiritual Direction. It has been like a beacon of light in a darkened world. Thanks to you all–what a great team!

  • Lisa

    Edit to read “GOD is working” in last sentence….sorry for typo.

    • LizEst

      Hi Lisa–when you find you have an error in what you type, just hit the “edit” button under what you’ve written. It will show your entire post again. Then, you can go in to edit or fix what you’ve written. When you’ve done that, be sure sure to hit the “Save Edit” button underneath. That will save your edit and you don’t have to repost again. You can do this as often as you like. God bless you, Lisa…and Happy March!

      • Lisa

        Thank you, Liz. I have attempted doing as you suggested, but no changes are going through. I can delete, but not re type what I need to correct. ???? Seems like a glitch of some sort.

        • LizEst

          Thanks for sharing, Lisa. I suspect the system might be having an internal problem. We are working on it. God bless you…and Happy Lord’s Day!

  • Diane

    Interesting article! I have work to do….

  • Mary L

    Last week’s Part I of this discussion on envy brought awareness of an envy that was a complete surprise. I truly thought envy was not an issue for me. In fact, in the realm of sin, it wasn’t even on my radar. What a gift! I took it to Reconciliation and Father suggested I spend some time in front of the Eucharist at Adoration.

    After the grace of the Sacrament and time at Holy Hour, I was able to call the friend of whom I was envious–just to see how she was doing–and enjoy a pleasant “un-envious” conversation AND though I still would like to have what she has, I was able to share her joy rather than avoid or change the topic of conversation!

  • Lyann

    I just remembered of a situation which i went through when my organization was conducting a 360 degrees feedback and realized how i envied my colleague who is also my best friend.
    I cried about it not knowing why i was crying and then sat in prayer and analyzed with the Lord. The Lords loving embrace filled me with His love and I also reconciled with the Lord during the Sacrament of Reconciliation. After that all that pain was gone. The next day i could communicate to her as if nothing had happen – there was lot of peace!!!

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