Monday, June 10, 2019

Envy is such a common sin and also a total waste of time.

There are many who do not appreciate nor know of a truth that can save them a lot of trouble in life - that of all the sins that we can commit in life, probably the one which is the most stupid and an utter waste of time is the sin of envy. Envy has a peculiar attribute that no other sin has, and it is this – no one benefits or stands to benefit from it. Every other sin will benefit the one committing it in some way; even it is a perceived and shadowy benefit. Every other sin is attractive to the sinner because it purports to make us happy, even if for a fraction of a moment in time.  A person committing theft does so because the possession of the item stolen gives him or her some form of pleasure.  An adulterer believes that his or her affair will give a certain thrill and delight and hence happiness.  Cheating in a test or an exam benefits the cheater when the results show that he or she has passed.  Even the heinous act of murder gives the one who murders at least a perverted form of satisfaction that the one whose life had ended is somehow no longer in the world. But envy has absolutely no benefit at all - not to the one who is envying another, and not the one who is being envied, because most of the time, that person is oblivious to the fact that someone is looking on with green eyes.

Yet, this sin is so common, and people succumb to it so easily.  That is because we live our lives with so much inferiorities and there is always going to be the tendency in us to nurture some form of jealousy over the perceived success and joys of others.  It gives way to what the younger generation calls FOMO or the Fear of Missing Out.  As well, the advent of social media with its incessant postings of what others are eating, enjoying and where they are in the world creates a certain disdain for our own pedestrian, unspectacular and pallid lives.  It encourages us to make comparisons.  We want to somehow believe that these posted photographs and videos of others being so happy and delighted are how they are in reality, 24/7, and it gives us the false notion that this is the hallmark of happiness.  We ignore the larger reality that for the most part, those photos are often very posed, styled, or even enhanced by technology. It’s not that this is fake news, but rather many people want to believe this is real, giving in to a very distorted sense of realty. 

Of course, one can choose to just opt out of the world of social media. Then these pictures of staged happiness won’t bombard one incessantly.  But that may not mean that one has overcome envy.  It could just be that one has prevented oneself from not being envious. We also need to realize that envy isn’t only present in the world of social media.  The workplace itself can be the place where envy exists, where one’s fellow colleague at work gets the plumper project, the best-worker award, or the pat on the back from the boss for good work done.  And at home, envy is often the reason why there exists sibling rivalry, where one’s sibling is perceived to be more loved and doted upon by mum and dad. To be sure, envy can happen in so many places.

What is the Christian response to this contagion or blight that affects our call to holiness and sanctification?  While I am not purporting to give a panacea that renders envy absolutely powerless, it is something that I have encouraged people to do when facing this nemesis that plagues us at our core.  It is to learn how to admire.  A hallmark of spiritual maturity is easily seen in people who have the capacity to admire – whether it is beauty, skills, talent, intelligence, success or plain youth, without the need to possess and have it.

The Latin root of the word ‘admire’ is admirari, which means to be astonished and to regard with wonder toward someone or something.  To admire without any need to possess or to outdo others must be one of the most logical things that we should learn in life, and sadly, I believe that this skill isn’t taught, and if it is, it isn’t taught well.  Admiring beauty, goodness and truth outside of ourselves without the need to hold it ourselves, or near to our hearts insulates us against the desire to covet.  To be able to say “truly, that is delightful to behold with my eyes” and to leave it at that prevents us from being jealous that it isn’t ours, and that it is ok if it is someone else’s.  We need to learn to say to another “your talent and skill is something praiseworthy and laudable” without having to add the word “but” at the end.  The hard truth is that the human heart doesn’t seem to be wired this way.  Instead, our hearts have the desire to control what it beholds, leaving us unable to admire with joy.

It always strikes me as both poignant and sad whenever I read the gospel passage of the rich man (sometimes with the added piece of information that he is also young) who goes up to Jesus and asks what he needs to do to possess eternal life. He strikes me as a person who is so used to the notion of ownership and possession, control and being on top.  Jesus wants him to receive, and not possess, and in order to do that, he had to dispossess himself of all that had been possessing him.  But he couldn’t.  It was too painful, or he was not ready yet.  He was way too invested to be divested.

The next time we find yourself envying others, be it for their talents, beauty, intellect, success, achievements or advancement in their fields, stop a while and ask yourself what is preventing you from just admiring and praising God for them?  You would be training yourself to pick up the necessary skill of not possessing, and more importantly, you would also be training yourself to not sin stupidly.  

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