Popular international speaker Leah Darrow is visiting a gathering of women in a house in Arcadia in outer Sydney’s north west. I’ve been invited by a friend but I’ve also been commissioned to write an article on Leah.
The former New York model chats over lunch while her husband Rick watches their first child, one-year-old Agnes, play with my younger children in the sunny backyard.
The couple, who are in their 30s and visiting from the US, are expecting their second child. Rick is telling me about the website that Leah will be launching soon, that will extend her work of travelling worldwide to speak about true love, beauty, happiness, and Catholic faith.
“2015 will be a good year for us,” Rick says.
Looking back I think it might have started there, while standing in the sunlit garden. Had something dark slipped in? A thought that such adventure, travel, professional success, had never come to me?
I move inside and introduce myself to Leah, watches as she takes her place in the centre of a purple sofa. Framed by the red curtains behind, she looks picture-perfect. I sit close by, on a lower seat, and take photos as she addresses the room. Everyone is rapt, nodding, asking questions.
Leah is charming, warm, gracious, generous. She is asked for the story of her fame and her conversion, and she gives it. She answers all our questions, and after the session, with a taxi approaching to take the young family to their next appointment, she lingers to talk to the children who have shyly approached her.
I turn off my recorder, put away my camera. Offer my thanks. I’ve had a lovely luncheon with friends and met an inspiring lady and her beautiful family. But I’m unsettled and leave quickly.
Later, washing up in the kitchen after the children are in bed my husband asks me for details about the meeting with Leah and my unsettled feelings finally explode into full-blown envy. Through tears I confess to my husband that I feel so resentful and I’m reminded of the elder brother in Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son.
I’m jealous of the convert who got to have all the fun, all the money, all the excitement and adventure that irresponsibility could afford her, and who now gets to enjoy devoting herself to God with a popularity partly resulting the poor choices she made in the past.
What a horrible, sickening feeling envy is! I can see why envy, or jealousy, is one of the deadly (or cardinal) sins. If we let this thing fester it can lead to a host of other sins.
At it’s core I knew that I wasn’t really so jealous of this lady’s lifestyle, popularity, talents, opportunities, or her physical beauty. It was definitely spiritual envy, the worst kind of all. She seemed better spiritually gifted than me, and that seemed unfair, since all I’ve done pretty much done my university days has been to try to pray and be a better Catholic.
Jennifer Fulwiler, atheist-turned-Catholic blogger and author of the memoir Something Other Than God once wrote a note to her cradle-Catholic blog readers. She implored them not to envy her for her passionate faith.
She said that her joy in her faith since her conversion and reception into the Church would never cancel out the painful regret she would carry with her for the rest of her life over the time when she didn’t know Jesus, when she was even contemptuous of Jesus and his Church.
When we envy someone it’s good to remember that we’re only focussing on some aspect of that person’s life. We can never know what they are suffering or have suffered. Their burden might be heavier than our own. Comparing ourselves with others never, ever, goes well.
I know that whenever I’m envious of someone I’m buying into the huge assumption that I know everything about that person and what he or she has gone through and their attitude about everything. I’m also guilty of great ingratitude for the countless and un-earned gifts and graces I’ve received in my own life. My pride grows, charity wans, and besides, it just feels terrible!
As soon as I’d voiced these yucky feelings to my husband, and he pointed out that all they were doing was hurting me, they lost their power over me. If you feel a fit of envy coming on I’m afraid I can’t hire him out but I can recommend to you St Elizabeth of Portugal. She is both the patron saint for people tempted to jealousy, and for the victims of jealousy.
The excellent Catholic website, spiritualdirection.com, has a comprehensive article on envy and jealousy, the difference between them, the damage they cause, and it suggests a way to deal with them.
To summarise, author Patti Maguire Armstrong makes the following main points.
1. We envy someone when their success makes our own failure feel bigger. “But Jesus told us to love our neighbour as ourselves. If we cannot love those whose success is greater than ours, then we are not loving them as ourselves. And if we rejoice in their failure, again, that is not love but sin.”
2. The best way to counter envious feelings towards someone is to pray for them and also to pray for ourselves, for help to stop being envious.
3. Jealousy and envy are different. “Jealousy is the feeling that someone has something that rightfully belongs to us. In sports, there might be jealousy that a fellow teammate viewed as an equal or lesser, is being given more playing time. With jealousy, on some level, the person feels something was taken from him. If an attractive person is flirting with our partner, we are apt to feel jealous because our partner belongs to us.
“Envy, on the other hand, is when a person has a desire for something that someone else has. Not in a shared-goal sort of way but in an angry way–they have what we want so we feel angry inside.”
4. Envy is a fierce temptation which pops up out of nowhere and can make us bitter. “It pops up in a place where we feel hurt or insecure in some way….it is not our fault if the pain comes and we are tempted to envy. It is our fault if we wallow in it.”
5. We lack faith in God and are contemptuous of his gifts when we envy others, and we can’t know what hardships God allows them to suffer anyway.
6. Our pain is relieved and we grow in generosity when we pray for the people we envy. (I would add, also when we write a nice article about them!)
Point number four gives me some comfort. While I did have a big fit of jealousy and envy that night after meeting Leah Darrow I certainly didn’t wallow in it for more than a minute or two. I sincerely liked her and wished her well and wanted to write an article that did her and her work justice.
How do you overcome feelings of envy or jealousy?