It is a beautiful day here at this old house! The iris are at their peak all around town. I did my reading and studying outside, relishing the blue sky and warm air. One can almost imagine how Eden looked and smelled on a day like this and it is easy to be full of gratitude.
I have been working my way through Teresa Jordan’s collection of blog posts, now in a book entitled “The Year of Living Virtuously: Weekends Off: A Meditation on the Search for Meaning in an Ordinary Life.” I want to quote a paragraph from her reflection on envy:
When misfortune strikes us, the tendency is to say, “Why me?” When good fortune strikes others, the tendency is to say, “Why them?” Envy brings out the worst in us. As is true for its cousin, jealousy, its color is green, the shade, I have always imagined, of bronchial phlegm. It is the “hidden emotion,” the one we least want to cop to. It hides behind the flatterer’s tongue and lashes out in the backhanded compliment. It eats us up: classical literature and mythology portray it as hissing snakes, burning coals, and a poison that invades the body. “Of the seven sins, only envy is no fun at all,” notes Joseph Epstein, who addressed the issue for the New York Public Library and Oxford University Press. Lust, greed, sloth and gluttony have their delights, pride can feel good, and anger at least scratches an itch. Only envy offers no reward. It doesn’t even have to focus on a rival to ruin our day.
Can I get an Amen?
Gratitude IN all things, not necessarily FOR all things, is the only sure remedy against envy’s corrosive work in our souls. There will always be people who have more than we do and people who have less. Dorothy Sayers, also quoted in the chapter, wrote that “Envy is the great leveler: if it cannot level things up, it will level them down.” That is why the Desert Fathers and Mothers, those desert dwellers of the 4th century, were so strong in their admonishment to attend to your own life and sins first before casting aspersions on someone else’s. Any time we are caught up in comparisons, we are in danger of ending up envious.
Teresa Jordan does point out that some kinds of envy can have a motivating or clarifying aspect to it. If we want what someone else has and then use that desire to motivate ourselves to work towards it, be it a material possession or a life-style attribute, that can be a good thing. However, when we desire something we don’t have, it can also discourage us, leading to depression and sadness. Basically, the safest approach is to live each moment in gratitude, thanking God for the beauty and life we find ourselves in.
One of my new “mantras” that works in all kinds of situations, including ones where I am in danger of being envious is the hymn I learned in childhood, “I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb” written by Henrietta L. von Hayn, 1724-1782:
1. I am Jesus’ little lamb,
Ever glad at heart I am;
For my Shepherd gently guides me,
Knows my need, and well provides me,
Loves me every day the same,
Even calls me by my name.
2. Day by day, at home, away,
Jesus is my Staff and Stay.
When I hunger, Jesus feeds me,
Into pleasant pastures leads me;
When I thirst, He bids me go
Where the quiet waters flow.
3. Who so happy as I am,
Even now the Shepherd’s lamb?
And when my short life is ended,
By His angel host attended,
He shall fold me to His breast,
There within His arms to rest.
With Jesus as my Good Shepherd (see Psalm 23), I have what I need and isn’t that enough?