Saturday, March 1, 2014

on envy, and contentment


Sadie takes Orso just the way he is.

I was sitting with my aunt's church group the other day and talk turned to a certain church member, Lauren, whose life was apparently perfect. It seems she has four grown daughters, all of whom have successful, well-paying careers, and more than that, they all "married well"; i.e., they married husbands who also have successful, well-paying careers. Lauren herself is a well-off retiree and so the upshot of it is that she and her husband are leading very comfortable lives, regularly posting pictures on Facebook of the family on holiday, eating at expensive restaurants, and wearing expensive things.

"Wow, great huh?" my aunt said. "Lauren and her husband don't have to worry about anything; her daughters are doing so well". There was a chorus of agreement. And then, she added what was clearly in everyone else's mind: "You can't help but envy
them".

I was silent the entire time, but at that, I felt I simply had to speak up. It wasn't just that I'd heard that kind of senseless dross before, but I felt so bad for my cousin (my aunt's daughter), who was also there, and flashed me a stricken, exasperated look. Because obviously, if you envy someone else's life, you're clearly dissatisfied with your own; and if you think someone's else's children are successful and have married well, you clearly think your own aren't, and haven't.

"Why do you say these things?" I said. "Success isn't defined by wealth. And you don't know what their private lives are like, or what's going to happen to any of them in the future. Why can't you just be happy with what you have?" Now my cousin isn't a highfalutin career woman, but a full-time mom with two wonderfully decent teenage sons. But heck, when was the last time you heard someone going, "Gee, she's a full-time stay-at-home mom raising kids -- you can't help but envy her"?

Needless to say, the conversation swiftly went off on a pointless tangent, with my aunt going, "I didn't say Constance didn't marry well" and me going, "But you just said you envied Lauren's daughters' marrying well", and my aunt retorting, "Well, they did -- they're doing great; they lead such comfortable lives", and me replying, "Which means you don't think you're doing great!"

Of course, I don't think my aunt had really given much thought to what she was saying. And many of us are guilty of much the same thing, looking longingly at someone else's whatever, and at the very least thinking, "If only...". But these feelings of discontentment often have insidious effects, and only keep growing if left unchecked.

Ever since I was a kid, I've been witness to this sort of thing -- people envying other people; parents envying other parents; moms comparing their daughters and making their kids feel bad about themselves. Never mind that my aunt is actually living quite comfortably, has several gorgeous grandchildren, and a daughter who's happily married (which in this day and age of divorce and rampant philandering, is an achievement in and of itself). The fact that she's not raking in big bucks and coupled with a millionaire husband somehow seems to make her life, at best, lacklustre, and at worst, a failure.

As a stay-at-home mom who's not raking in big bucks myself, I can imagine what my cousin is feeling. But while my aunt -- contented-Christian-who-ought-not-to-covet though she is -- is not entirely happy with her lot, I hope my cousin has not let it affect her. For surely being made to feel a failure, or like you've fallen short, is one of the worse things to go through life with. I hope she knows that being a fulltime mom makes her just as valuable, and as much a success, as Mrs Lawyer or Mrs Director at the office.

"Thou shalt not covet" is one of the ten commandments -- clearly, envy has been a problem since time immemorial. In fact, the commandment in full reads thus: "You shall not covet your neighbour's house. You shall not covet your neighbour's wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour". God was obviously trying to cover all the bases -- knowing people, He had to! Today, it could just as soon read, "You shall not covet your neighbour's car, your neighbour's job, your neighbour's straight-A kid -- indeed, your neighbour's life".

I think God knew that envy and covetousness would not only breed misery in one's own life, but in the lives of those one is close to as well. Nowhere does envy cause more grief I think than in one's own family, among one's own children. Almost every child starts off with an innate desire to be pleasing to his or her parents, to make his or her parents proud. But of course every child is gifted differently, and unfortunately, not always to his or her parents' tastes. Dissatisfied, discontented parents quickly make their children feel inadequate and unacceptable, and is simply a recipe for disaster. "Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?" it says in Proverbs.

The perfect scenario of course is where parents, already confident in themselves, transfer that confidence to their children. These are the parents who are supportive, who celebrate their children's unique strengths and abilities, and truly love who they naturally are -- whatever stage of life they're at. Expressing envious dissatisfaction -- whether to an eight-year-old or a forty-eight-year-old -- only wounds and tears down, and does no one any good. "Never underestimate the power of jealousy and the power of envy to destroy. Never underestimate that" Oliver Stone (of all people) once said.

The key I think is to simply stop comparing oneself to other people! And to start focusing on, and truly appreciating, all the blessings and positive things in one's own life. I strive to be very careful of my words around my own kids, steering clear of such phrases as "If only you..." or "Why can't you be more like...". I am so conscious of the fact that enviously comparing -- whether children, or belongings, or entire lives -- essentially implies that I wish my own were different. I think going through life like that only leads to despair.

Which reminds me of a devotion I read not too long ago. It was entitled Start enjoying you. "...Scripture says that we have the mind of Christ. We can think. speak and learn to behave as Jesus did, and He certainly did not ever compare Himself with anyone or desire to be anything other than what His Father had made Him to be. He lived to do the Father's will, not to compete with others and compare Himself with them.

"I encourage you to be content with who you are. That does not mean that you cannot make progress and continually improve, but when you allow other people to become a law, you are continually disappointed. God will never help you be someone else. Remember that being "different" is good; it is not a bad thing. Celebrate your uniqueness and rejoice in the future God has planned for you. Be confident and start enjoying you!" (extracted from The Confident Woman Devotional, by Joyce Meyer).

Here's to celebrating our own unique selves, lives and successes! Have a blessed, contented weekend everyone!

P.S. Ophelia found her mommy -- without layaway! More about that soon :)

14 comments:

Libby said...

A hearty amen to this post. I'm thankful to say that my parents didn't do this to me, but I'm not proud to say that I haven't done this to myself off and on. May God have mercy on us all and help us to be content with whatever path He has created for us. xoxo

Birdie said...

I admit to envy. I have an aunt who has never had to work a day in her life but not only that, she looks down her nose at people that don't have as much money as she and her family. I have to pray a lot to keep the envy and anger in check.

AntiquityTravelers said...

I can remember someone saying to me that your desire to spend on more lavish things expands as you gain more income thus never seemingly having enough. Having enough therefore, is a state of mind. Unless (of course) you truly do not have enough to put food on your table. It is something we talk to our kids about often .... asking do you really 'need' this, or that. Asking them to think it through and what they would use the item for. Often I find they think about it, and put it back on the shelf.

KnittedFox said...

What a wonderful post. I agree with you~ striving for contentment is key. *^_^*

My Garden Diaries said...

This was the most beautiful post I have read all week! Good for you for speaking up and sharing your thoughts at that moment. I too think it is so important to watch my language and how I word things around my beans. One of my favorite lessons from my mom was to never compare. And there were 6 of us. She treated us all fairly but as individuals and her goals for us were simple...education, happiness and if we decided to take on a life partner that that partner be a kind person. So I say to you bravo for getting the big picture. You are a good person friend and your kids are lucky to have you! Nicole xoxo

Kay G. said...

What a beautiful, beautiful post. Thank you again for such a well written piece.
I have wealthy relatives but I notice that most of their time is taken up in making more and more money. I wish they could read your blog!
Have a wonderful week ahead.

Magic Love Crow said...

I agree, celebrate being different! Celebrate being you! I don't like jealously, or envy! I love being me ;o) I'm happy you spoke up! So happy Ophelia found a new mommy ;o)

Plowing Through Life (Martha) said...

Wonderful and beautiful post! Contentment does not come from material items; it comes from within. And just because people post about their luxuries on Facebook, or any other social media, doesn't mean they're happy. You never know what goes on behind closed doors. Be content with the simple joys in life, and you will always be satisfied. True happiness is a state of mind; it can't be bought.

Jane Chérie said...

So true! I have seen this behavior from many. Your story reminds me somehow of this lovely video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fRPpSYr220 It's about four old ladies who brag about their children being rich and successful. Except for one who said her son is not all that but he comes to pick her up to spend time with him and the family whereas the older children are too busy and successful to spend time with their mother :)

The Dainty Dolls House said...

Super doll!! I think a lot do this. My Mom did a lot with my sisters and I. And I grew up thinking nothing I did was good enough...so it can be damaging to the people around. We have to be grateful for what we have & work hard for the things we'd like. What others have is what they have...they are on a different path to us...and we need to keep our eyes on our own path, because only God knows what great things are in store for us. Families are very guilty of doing this. I don't care what my girls do with their lives as long as they are happy, safe and doing what they love because they love it and not for someone else or money. Life is too short to envy what others have. We have to do what makes us happy :)) xx

Rowena @ rolala loves said...

YES! Oh how much happier would we all be if we were just happy and content with our own lives. Instead of wasting time envying or comparing ourselves to others, we should be trying to live our best lives. Yay about Ophelia :) Have a splendid week dear friend!

Rowena @ rolala loves

Julia Fain said...

hmm. so very very true. John Piper talks about this consistently. In fact I'd argue that adversity does much for our faith (though it is still very hard)

Lady Lilith said...

Very well said. Thank you so much for sharing. Your dolls really know how to express themselves.

Farida JT said...

Beautifully written!

Envy is all over us because this is our human nature. I admit, I still get envious at times but I do not allow such negative feeling to overpower me. And it takes a lot of courage to not feel this with the help from our Lord, of course. Similarly, I am reminded of the virtue, contentment which makes a godly woman even more beautiful.

Happy weekend! :)

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