with equal parts compassion & hilarity

Envy when we don’t know what we want

Picture of flock of geese, picture of words

An illustration of geese makes me slow my haphazard flipping. On the next page, the italicized words are what make me park:

“May I love those less fortunate than I am, As well as those who have had great success. Free me from the burden of envy.”

Scott Erickson, illustrator, paired with Justin McRoberts, writer, to create Prayer: Forty Days of Practice. I read the book intermittently and today I pulled it off the shelf for inspiration because I desperately needed inspiration after 45 minutes of staring at a blank Word document. 

It’s the mention of envy that makes me roll my eyes because I know that familiar sick and twisted burden of envy well. Most recently, my envy was tangible at the exciting news shared by dear friends. Breaking eye contact, my tear ducts filled instantly. All I heard was that they have it and I do not.

My friends were looking for excitement from me. They wanted genuine joy and I couldn’t give it so I offered up fake joy. It was second rate, but it had to be good enough because it was the best I could present. I stood there breathing in dust, projecting fake joy, wondering about the particulars of their good news, and turning over frustration in my mind, “Don’t they know how badly I want that?” 

Those who carry the manipulative burden of envy aren’t fun to be around; they don’t play well with others which is annoying because that’s what I went to college for. A degree in communication studies taught me how to play well with others. It would seem that learning to play well with others is a lifelong endeavor. So, I am here feeling envious and what strikes me the most is that I do not even know if I want what they have.

Lately, when I dig deeper into that envy I find that I’m not only envious of those things that others have. I’m also envious of the people who know what they want. They know that they want X and therefore they know which direction to expel forward motion in. They’re certain and they know it in their guts. They know, they decide, and then they go. Yeah, I want that too. I don’t want the floundering and circling I have been doing. It requires just as much energy and gets me nowhere close to the framed up stability I’m looking for. 

And that’s the thing about envy. It doesn’t care what I sincerely do or do not desire; envy just wants to consume and fill and instigate. Envy wears disguises to hide from me, the body he’s inhabiting. He looks like my goals or dreams or frustration and helps me forget that I love my loved ones or that I love strangers I’ve never met.

Then, envy makes me feel guilty about forgetting that I love my loved ones or strangers I’ve no reason not to love. It makes my compassion quiet and withdrawn because my shame and embarrassment get loud. I know envy to be a thief that breeds cold bitterness, sharp disappointment, and confusion in my body. That is why the italicized words made me park.

“May I love those less fortunate than I am, As well as those who have had great success. Free me from the burden of envy.”

I’m still giving fake joy which I hate because it isn’t honest. I wish my honesty to be the offering of sincere joy and gladness for those who are less fortunate than me and for those who have great success. So I pray free me from the burden of envy. I wish for God to explicitly show or tell me what to aim for. I wonder if He would simply tell me to aim for Him which I admit that I find nearly wholly unhelpful. Yet, I contend that may be the answer to any and every question. But practically, as it relates to this situation, isn’t there a different answer or perhaps an extended answer? My short answer is that I don’t know. My long answer is the same—ha! 

I suppose then it becomes a matter of trust. For instance, I could never have predicted the first six months of 2020 even in my most vivid, wildest writer dreams. I know that I can’t predict the next six months of 2020 either. In turn, I also cannot predict the next few years of my life or what my daily routine will look like in 10 years. I cannot know; that is certain. When faced with decisions, this thought process comes out like this: “I can’t know so therefore I can’t make a decision.” 

I am frozen in that paralysis which is far from beautiful. But, as I’m mining hard for beauty perhaps the beauty is in the making of a decision in the very midst of uncertainty. To make a decision boldly with trust in the Lord whose faithfulness rings loud from the artifacts of history might be beautiful. How do I make decisions?

Emily P. Freeman talks about the next right thing. What is my next right thing, now, not 10 years from now? What is my next right thing as it relates to X? So much pressure is off now. I can rest in the truth that it’s not a forever decision, but simply a good decision for right now. 

Right now, I can choose to decide to be happy in this moment for my dear friends because they have X even if I do not have X. I can choose to love them because I really do and because they’re valuable in the eyes of the Lord. Right now, I can choose to return to my desk where I write and pray and work things out to dig into my confusing feelings. Right now, I can choose to trust God, the very same one who keeps my going in and my coming out. I can choose to trust Him for what I know that I want and for what I don’t know that I want even as I’m actively working out my envy.

“May I love those less fortunate than I am, As well as those who have had great success. Free me from the burden of envy.”

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