If there were a museum of the Seven Deadly Sins, the wing for Envy would be empty most days. That is due (in part) to the displays lining its walls, dull compared to those of Greed or Lust, bland in contrast to the tasty exhibits in the Hall of Gluttony. But the main cause of Envy’s unpopularity is the way it makes you feel. As a sin, it runs a swift course down a spiral of loneliness. Envy slays itself with its own arrows, an old proverb says. When we look at its displays, we see ourselves.
Human beings possess an innate ability to make social comparisons—a useful tool for a species wired to live in community. But self-centered perspectives may lead to unhealthy experiences of envy. We know this about ourselves, and more importantly, God knows it too—which is why the tenth commandment warns us not to covet what belongs to our neighbor. Or to our spouse or friend, coworker or family member.
Their house, or car, or promotion, or opportunities are wonderful things to notice and celebrate, but the moment they become a problem to us, our problem with envy begins. The thing about envy is that it not only ruins your relationships, it spoils how you feel about yourself and even about the original object of your envy. Anne Lamott once said, “The secret envy inside me is maybe the worst thing about my life.”
If you visit this museum, spend some time alone with envy. Notice how it makes you feel. Then look for Jesus, who is waiting for you nearby, so you can pray. Then go together to visit the Museum of Grace across the street.
What secret envy have I harbored or harbor still?
God of Grace, help me to remember that I am your child, loved and chosen, and to remember that my neighbors are also. Amen.