It was naptime in the church basement kindergarten, and I was lying on my little mat looking through the spokes of my wheelchair at the dimly lit figures of Julie and Luke. She was the gregarious girl that I played with a lot, and he was the blue-eyed boy that I had a crush on. Julie always placed her mat near his. I listened to them whispering together and heard Julie say that she was going to marry Luke when they grew up. And I remember responding silently and firmly to myself, “No, he’s going to marry me.”
Was that my first experience of jealousy?
I don’t remember wanting what Julie had as much as being confident that I had something that she didn’t. Crippled though I was, for some unknown reason I thought that I was better and somehow more desirable than she was. Pride reared its ugly head at a very early age. Or maybe I was experiencing some kind of subconscious bravado to protect me from the suffering pain that is envy?
Some may say that I have great cause to be envious of others. Most adults can walk. I can’t. Most adults can feed themselves. I can’t. Most adults experience some kind of romantic relationship. I never have. And yet, I’ve never thought of myself as envious because I’ve never wanted to be anyone other than me. Yes, as a grown woman I have wanted what my classmates and friends have, but not if it meant being them. My mother always told my older sister that if she wished she had some part of another person’s life, then she would have to take the whole of that person’s life. You can’t single out one success and want it for yourself without living the particular life in which that success was gained. You have to take the whole package, live that person’s entire life, both the good and the bad. My mother never taught this lesson to me directly because she never had occasion to: I’ve been very good at keeping my envies to myself. Her wisdom has been in the background, however, giving me perspective.
But I’m human. I’ve suffered from self-pity.
Years worth of frustrating agony and wishful fantasy, pining for a life that isn’t mine, nearly destroyed my talents and ruined the way to my own successes. Opening up to faith and the fullness of reality helped save me. (More on that in a future book.) And, thankfully, my default seems to be an innate love for life that safeguards against wallowing and eventually steers me back away from envy toward gratitude.
So I have never thought of myself as a jealous person. This Lent, however, as I seriously reflect upon sin and examine my conscience through past and present actions, I’m suddenly seeing moments of envy in my life. Like, my reaction to Julie’s closeness to Luke; my petulance when my sister received a Ronald McDonald train set for her birthday; the kind of shock that I felt when my best friend won our school’s writing contest or my apprehension every time a third girl would enter into our friendship. This closer look at myself as a child reveals some ugliness that I’m not proud to share publicly. But sharing them I am, because sin, even in its least serious expressions, is self-defeating, detrimental to the sublimely divine life that God created me to live now and forever.
Recognizing failure is the first step to realizing success.
And the only success that I truly want is to become the person that God created me to be.
God didn’t create me to compare myself to others.
Someone once wrote that comparison can lead either to the sin of pride or to the sin of envy. We look at others and compare ourselves to them, compare our lives to theirs, and either conclude that we are better off and, so perhaps, superior in some way (pride) or conclude that we are worse off and, so perhaps, unfairly deprived (envy).
Neither is good.
As a grown woman, I can tell you clearly when and of whom I am envious these days. But I’m not going to. This is my blog where I seek to bare my soul in honesty — but it’s not a confessional. I will share this very common envy, however, something that I’m quite sure every writer experiences: I’m jealous of the success that some authors have. I admit it. And I’m not beating my chest very roughly about it, because I know that it’s rather natural. (Definitely not supernatural.) Common and understandable though this envy may be, it’s still potentially destructive. Although my instinctive pouting of envy can truly switch to a smile of gladness for the other person’s success, the voice of jealousy still gnaws at my mind with its self-defeating words: “Why should he get that interview and not me? My book is better than that book, I’m the one who should be enjoying that success.” Oh, the false pride, the self-centeredness! Oh, the wayward human sinfulness that leads a soul into stinking pits of self-destruction.
I could focus so much on someone else’s path that I neglect my own (again) and end up wasting the particular beauty and unique power of the way that is laid out for me by God.
Like pride, envy makes me less than I am — not more.
Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner! Help me to continually return my wandering feet to this path of holiness, this path that You have created for me. Teach me humility in Your kind and gentle ways, so that I won’t want what other people have but, rather, truly want and be grateful for what You have given to me. Help me to truly love my neighbor, to desire her success without thinking of my own. Amen.
© 2021 Christina Chase
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.