The death of envy
Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life
Envy is confining, a place where lack is overwhelming, where possibilities are narrow, and where means are restricted. A place where resources are inadequate and opportunities meant for just a few. "Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?" asks the writer of Proverbs (27:4). And indeed, who can stand before it?Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
I am probably not alone in confessing that I have had to deal with envy a great deal. The birth of my little sister was a threat to my unique state in the family; later, classmates always seemed to do better than I; other people seemed happier, healthier, more successful, stronger than I.
This fixation on the luck and happiness of others faded away in proportion as my interest grew in getting to know God and His spiritual creation. Envy gave way to a larger view. I had glimpses of unlimited being, of beauty, talents, opportunities given to all of us without measure. I left the confinement of envy and entered the realm of generosity and peace.
The perfect antidote to envy is the knowledge of being loved by Love, God. In a world without God, everything is limited, but this is not the true story of humanity. There is more to life than eyes can see and ears hear - and this "more" is a supreme, limitless, intelligent, wonderful Being, God, the dear Father, as Christ Jesus called Him, the dear Father-Mother, as Mary Baker Eddy described Him in her primary work, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures."
This Being is surrounding us and giving us life - and we know that God exists because we exist. There is no other explanation. We are children of God, the supreme Principle of the universe, spiritual images, ideas, concepts - more than souls with a body - entirely good and spiritual.
Though envy had left my thought, the moment I started to get to know my spiritual self and feel its breadth, it tried to return. An opportunity was given to my best friend that I felt was meant to be given to me. I wanted this job opportunity, but I also love this friend very much. Friendship means a lot to me, and I will do anything to keep up a friendship. So how to reconcile my need with the friendship?
I thought about this dilemma, and I asked to be freed from this coveting and yearning. And the answer came clearly with the Tenth Commandment: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's" (Ex. 20:17).
How could I do this? How could I see that the fullness of life and joy is as much mine as it is my friend's? Again, that answer came clearly with a commandment, this time with the first one: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Ex. 20:3).
Keeping the First Commandment enables us to keep the Tenth. It makes sense to have the First as the first. It tells me to acknowledge the unity and supremacy of good, to see unlimited possibilities of eternity and Spirit, the joy of divine Life. Here nothing is tight. Could I accept that? Of course. And it felt easy to let go. The mental thorns fell off, and the velvet of pure goodness filled my thinking. It felt so good to be free from envy. Indeed: "Envy is the atmosphere of hell." (Mary Baker Eddy, "Message to The Mother Church for 1902," pg. 3).
My friend asked me recently whether she could opt out and give the opportunity to me. "I honestly do not know, at this point," I answered. There is definitely enough space and opportunity for all. She and I have a strong faith, though we express it in different ways and use different terms for it. But we both love to be led, and we both feel safe in trusting our lives to a force, unseen but active, invisible but powerful.
As it turned out, the position was offered to her, and she turned it down. I don't know yet whether it will be offered to me, but that isn't what's important. What's important is that we both feel completely at peace.
In the face of colorful, divine supply of boundless, beautiful good, embracing everyone, envy is small, very small and ugly and pinched, only large enough for us to notice it and to walk away from it, ultimately seeing it as nothing.