In our previous post on envy, we looked at what envy is and how it manifests in our lives. Today, we will examine the difference between envy and jealousy and talk about getting some prayer and perspective on this issue.

Jealousy and Envy

There is a difference between jealousy and envy. They are often used in the same way, but are two different things. Jealousy is the feeling that someone has something that rightfully belongs to us. Thus, a person might feel jealous that a sibling seems to be getting favored treatment. 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.  There is a feeling of ill will at the success or good fortune of another. Envy tempts us to bitterness.  In the end, it is a sin with no earthly reward. For instance, a person that steals has sinned, but his incentive to do so is the goods he has taken. A person lies in an attempt to benefit in some way. With envy, there is no reward. Don’t misunderstand me and think that some sins are okay because a reward is involved. My point is that there is even greater incentive to ward against such sin because, all the way around, we come up empty. With jealousy, there is the perceived feeling that something is being taken from us.  With envy, we got nothin’ and knew it all along.

To me, envy is the granddaddy of them all to overcome. Loving God, going to Mass, not taking His name in vain, not killing, stealing or lying or committing adultery…. these involve choices. But envy….it has a mind of its own. Envy pops up in a place where we hurt or feel insecure in some way. We don’t want to feel bad about ourselves. We want to succeed. So watching another’s success in an area where we are falling short seems to cut us to some degree. If our pain is deep the cut is equally as deep. In reality, it’s probably not so much that we don’t want others to succeed. We just don’t want them to succeed while we fail. We don’t want their child to be the honor student with the scholarship while ours is arrested for breaking and entering.  If our child was doing well, then it would not hurt us to hear about the success of their child. Instead, we might be kindred spirits and celebrate together. But without our own reason to celebrate, it’s harder to be happy for others.

Prayer and Perspective

It’s not our fault if the pain comes and we are tempted to envy. It is our fault if we wallow in it. In reality, there is great incentive to overcome it because in doing so, we overcome the pain it causes us. But how can we overcome something we did not cause and do not want? It’s a matter of prayer and perspective.

It’s good to keep in mind that God has our lives in His hands. Who are we to argue with our lot in life? We must realize that doing so is a lack of faith and us telling God that we know better. And we also can only know what is happening on the outside of most people’s lives and in the present. How often do we look at a family that seems to have it all only to later learn of some tragedy that befalls them? Or, they are dealing with something very painful that they keep hidden from the world. Stop looking at the things we want in their lives because a life does not just come with good stuff, but crosses too. Do we also wish for their crosses?  We should never want to trade lives with anyone, for their crosses would not be suited for us any more than the rest of their lives.

Sure, someone may have gotten the promotion we wanted, but stop and think a moment. Could offering up this disappointment lead to the salvation of someone in your family or even your own? God knows what we need and don’t need. Adjust your perspective and pray through your weaknesses. Those pangs of jealousy and envy spring from your own pain, so offer up the whole thing and force yourself to pray for the very people causing your pain. Of course, it’s not an easy thing to do: “They already have what I want and I’m supposed to give them my prayers too?” Well, it’s a great idea.

You’ll ultimately relieve your own pain through the grace of God and in the end, your generous spirit will come back to you because God cannot be outdone in generosity.


Art: My Jealousy, 1889, Margaret Dicksee, PD-US; Reichenthal ( Upper Austria ). Saint Bartholomew parish church – Pulpit ( 1911 ) by Ludwig Linzinger: Personifications of the seven deadly sins – envy, 29 September 2013, own work, Wolfgang Sauber, CC; Invidia (mosaic, Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière), 22 March 2010, own work, Rartat, PD-Worldwide; all Wikimedia Commons.

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