There is a propensity in our fallen state to look at the lives of the people around us and compare our lot to theirs. This struggle with comparison can become greater in periods of suffering. In doing so, we are led into a new form of suffering and must battle the deadly sin of envy. I have been reflecting on this propensity towards envy in the face of suffering in light of my own family’s suffering at present.
My nearly 6-year-old daughter—whose has an innocence and inability to reason through redemptive suffering at her tender age—cried out to me this morning, “Why aren’t other kids’ daddies sick?” “Why is my daddy the only one who is sick?” I have had similar thoughts myself and fight mightily to conquer them. They are the same thoughts I’ve had after experiencing four miscarriages when my daughter asked, “Why do other families have so many kids? Why can those mommies have babies and not you?” I will admit the questions cut me pretty deep. My daughter’s honesty about her struggles is a mirror to my own. We adults can work hard to suppress such thoughts, but in reality, we need to confront them or they will eat away at our spirits. The only way to attain victory over envy is by accepting God’s will.
Envy creates an incomplete picture
It is difficult for my daughter to understand that we do not know how other people are suffering around us until they tell us. When my husband became ill, most people were surprised to hear it because he hid it very well. Only those of us who live with him really see how much he suffers on certain days. The same is true of everyone we meet, even our closest friends. Unless someone chooses to tell us what they are battling, we remain in the dark. Many of us put up facades, partially as a survival mechanism and partially because we battle the sin of pride. We do not want to appear weak. Americans especially are prone to an unhealthy belief that weakness is a great evil. We Catholics should know better given the teaching Christ gave us in the Beatitudes. Weakness is strength when we give our pain and weakness over to Him.
When we stand in the middle of a raging sea during a time of suffering, it can be easy to take our eyes off of Christ and start comparing our lives to others. I have found myself doing it at times. This is another level of spiritual warfare and it can be difficult to battle when we are exhausted and emotionally drained after periods of physical or psychological suffering. It is important that we realize this danger and prepare for it. This envy can come not only by looking at others, but in looking to the past as well. I told my husband this morning that I wanted my life back. He pointed out that this is how God is calling us to live now. The past is done.
Acceptance in the face of suffering destroys envy
The single biggest cause of envy during suffering is our lack of acceptance. We still want control. We want God to do it our way. What we miss by fighting against the situation—even impossible situations—is the opportunity to grow in holiness. We cannot possibly mature in the spiritual life if we look suffering in the face and stomp our feet like a toddler. This is tempting. I’ve done it. Suffering is redemptive for Christians because of Christ crucified and risen from the dead. It is a tool God uses to help us grow spiritually. He prunes away the dead parts of us. Suffering forces us to move outside of ourselves so that we can love God and others on a deeper level of being.
To accept one’s destiny really means to accept oneself and to be true to oneself. This idea took the form of the amor fati in pagan skepticism, the “love” of one’s own fate, born of defiance. Its Christian form is the assent given to the way that is outlined for us by our own nature, because of our confidence that everything rests upon Divine Providence.
Romano Guardini, Learning the Virtues that Lead You to God, 30.
Whether we like it or not, God is using my husband’s illness, my miscarriages, and all previous sufferings, to help my husband, daughter, and me grow into our truest selves. The same is true for all of us.
Each one of us has a different journey
Envy arises from a fear that God does not love us as much as others. It is the false idea that the more gifts God bestows on other people, the more He loves those people. It should be apparent that this is a Fallen human notion of love. This is prosperity gospel nonsense. In our weakness, we can be tempted to think that God is sitting on His throne in Heaven spinning a wheel of fortune and those of us who seem to suffer more than others at any given time landed on the torture space.
Suffering was not a part of God’s original plan for us. Instead, in light of the Fall, God uses suffering for our good. He wants us to be saints and some of us may need more trial under fire than others. We cannot compare our path to the path of our neighbor. This is even true of spouses. While we walk with our spouse towards Heaven, there are aspects of the journey that will differ. My husband is seriously ill at present, while I am not. That could of course change at any moment. God is asking each one of us to embrace and accept the journey he has laid out for each one of us. What will make me a saint may not be the same for you. We must overcome comparisons and fix our eyes back on Christ.
To have a destiny means to suffer; the more capable of suffering one is, the greater is the element of destiny in his life. What vistas of thought does this open to us! What a climax does the concept attain! The Son of God steps into history to atone for our sin and to lead us to new possibilities. He does this prepared for all that would happen to Him, without reservation, without evasion, without resorting to resistance or craft. Men, who have really no power over Him to whom is given “all power in Heaven and on earth,” inflict a bitter destiny upon Him. But this is the form of His Father’s will for Him. This will is His own will; to accomplish it is the “food” of His life.
Christ shows us how to embrace our own destiny. Like Him, we are called to do the will of the Father. That means accepting periods of intense suffering and trial. The meaning of our lives is to become like Christ, to be conformed to the Blessed Trinity. When we accept God’s will for each one of us, we are able to move forward, mature, and grow in love. Envy can be a difficult battle to wage, especially when we are already weakened by suffering, but in reality, the battle helps us to grow in love. If we turn to God in love and accept His will for our lives, then He will give us the strength to conquer envy so that we can grow spiritually. In those moments, we must also remember to call on Our Heavenly Mother’s care and to ask St. Michael to defend us in battle.