Embracing humility in a world of envy

If you asked me in high school or college to describe myself, I probably would have started with all the things that I felt I was not: I’m not good at sports; I can’t play any musical instruments; and my singing is subpar. My hair is, well, where do I start? My body is curvy in all the wrong places. I struggle with basic arithmetic. I’ve never had a boyfriend so I must not be pretty, or funny, or… You get the point. It was as if I needed to confess my faults so that people could decide upfront whether or not they wanted to be my friend. I constantly worried that if people discovered the “real” me later on in our friendship, they would think that I lied by omission.

Beginning my self-description with a substantial list of faults meant that I rarely made it to the “positive” attributes that I had: I was nice, cute, fun to be around and every other mediocre adjective. I struggled to see my depth, but luckily for me, my parents were great at making me feel loved, and they always told me that I was smart and beautiful and could achieve anything as long as I worked hard. And when I went to Mass as a youth, the parish priest strongly emphasized our belovedness. I knew that I was loved by God, and I was created intentionally and purposefully. I was made “very good” (Gen 1:31).

But knowing these things was different from believing them to be true.

It was easy to be jealous of famous women and also safer, since a lot of their enviable qualities seemed unattainable without the help of a glam squad, photoshop and a management team; plus it was highly unlikely that I would ever come across them in my day-to-day life. What was most difficult was when I started to look at my friends with envy. These were my friends who loved me and whom I loved in return. Friends who encouraged me, affirmed me and sought my friendship not for what I could do for them, but simply for my presence. These were now friends whose God-given talents made me rage with envy on the inside because I didn’t have them. When someone else did or had what I wanted, I turned to God and questioned His generosity. Why can’t I play guitar and sing? If I did, I could worship You better. Why can’t I be more outgoing? If I was, I could evangelize better. Why can’t I be more attractive? If I was, I’d be married and preparing my spouse and kids for the glory of Heaven.

“Envy is a capital sin. It refers to the sadness at the sight of another’s goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself, even unjustly. When it wishes grave harm to a neighbor it is a mortal sin: Envy represents a form of sadness and therefore a refusal of charity; the baptized person should struggle against it by exercising good will. Envy often comes from pride; the baptized person should train himself to live in humility.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church 2539-2540

My heart was so prideful that it was quick to skew my desires as necessary for the Kingdom and blame God for being unfair. Being so hyper-focused on what God was doing in the lives of others made me blind to the blessings that He was bestowing on me. All I saw was what I wanted, instead of what I had. It took the writing of an 18th century bishop and Doctor of the Church to remove the scales from my eyes, so that I could see clearly. St. Alphonsus Marie Liguori wrote in “Uniformity with God’s Will”:

Let us thank God for what, in his pure goodness, he has given us, and let us be content, too, with the manner in which he has given it to us. Who knows? Perhaps if God had given us greater talent, better health, a more personable appearance, we might have lost our souls!

Whoa! Here I was questioning God, not even realizing that He was saving me from myself! Maybe all of those things that I wanted, and at times thought I deserved, would have caused me to act out of pride and to turn away from God. And it wasn’t as if God wasn’t blessing me with spiritual and even material gifts; it was that I was rejecting them for what I thought would be something better.

Envy and pride were hindering growth in my relationship with God and my friends, and it was also affecting my daily disposition. I knew that I had to change, or else I would suffer in my “woe is me” attitude. After reading through “Uniformity with God’s Will,” I began to pray for the cardinal virtue of humility, a sort of poverty of spirit that seeks to put God and others first, not to the detriment of self, but for the edification of all. Praying for and practicing humility meant thanking God for the good that happened to others, instead of thinking, “Why not me?” It meant taking a mental and spiritual inventory of all that I had and rejoicing in it, rather than asking for more. It meant knowing my heart and desires and entrusting them into the Lord’s hands, through our Lady, rather than hoarding them with no place to go. Embracing the virtue of humility was not easy, but as time went on, the joy of others became my own joy, and I was authentically happier because of it.

With the continuing rise of social media, the inaccurate view of women as competitors and the self-centered nature of society, it is easy to be envious of others, but it is also dangerous. The Catechism of the Catholic Church emphasizes the importance of banishing envy from the human heart.

When I looked at my sisters in Christ with envy in my heart, I was not able to love them, and in a way, I objectified them by only seeing their gifts and talents and not their hearts. I was ashamed that I ever felt so suspicious of God’s goodness, because I knew that He loved me and them all the same and that He dispensed gifts “according to the grace given us” (Rom 12:6). But since God is a giver who keeps on giving, I found peace in the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Envy and Pride breed sorrow, mistrust and a lack of charity, while Humility covers the soul with an abundance of peace, gratitude and love.

So what do you do when you find yourself envying someone else?

— Embrace who you are and what you have. God knows what He is doing in you and through you. You are not meant to be another person or have their exact talents, gifts or materials because the world would miss out on who you are as a unique individual. “Know that the LORD is God, he made us, we belong to him, we are his people, the flock he shepherds” (Ps 100:3).

— Start a gratitude journal. Every day, write one or more things for which you are grateful to God. When days are tough and it’s hard to be thankful, ask God to open your eyes to see your blessings. “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes 5:18).

— Pray for the virtue of humility and the discipline to practice it. Read Romans 12:9-21, and find concrete ways that you can be a bearer of mutual love through the service of others. “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves” (Phil 2:3).

— Take a break from social media and watching television. No one ever posts the worst of themselves, only the best, so it can be easy to think that everyone else’s life is happier or more exciting than your own, which can easily lead to envious thoughts. Life is more than watching other people live. Get outside, and enjoy your life! “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the LORD—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope” (Jer 29:11).

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