I learned at my mother’s knee that certain attitudes and thoughts do not serve us well in life. Her tutelage only re-enforced what I already knew, that it’s wrong to lie, steal, cheat and carry tales about our neighbors. But I still have a vanity that requires me to put on make-up every day. Greed rears its ugly head when I’m looking, bucket in hand, at a lush field full of ripe strawberries, and sloth regularly overtakes me when I’m confronted with the prospect of scrubbing yet another dirty toilet. The Titan of all my struggles, though, is envy. There have been rough times that really put that brutal monster to the test and it’s always a struggle. When envy rears her ugly head the sun is nearly blocked out.
Not liking this thing about myself I set out several years ago to find some kind of coping mechanism. I did some research and learned that the literal meaning of the word philosophy – phylo sophia in the Greek (love of wisdom). Working the idea over for quite a while, I wondered if wisdom would do. Here was something I could fall back on when envy peeked at me from behind the bumper of my girlfriend’s new car. Trouble was, until the philosophical rubber actually hit the road that wisdom had a hard time showing herself. Here’s why.
My battle with the envy probably started when I was five years old. I adored (and envied) two girls in my kindergarten class who were taking ballet. They had the dainty shoes, the rainbow colored tutus, and the lessons. Our family was unable to provide things like ballet classes for me, but even at that tender age my envy was intense. In fact, over the course of my school years I had ample opportunity to let envy rule. Other girls seemed smarter and prettier than me. I didn’t have beautiful clothes or braces, and I constantly endured the criticism inspired by my very naturally curly hair. Envy, like anger and hate, feeds itself on our insecurities and there was always lots of food for it in my life. But I tried.
This wisdom I began to struggle for would take years to bloom and it was some time before I could finally put it into one concise sentence. One incident, above all others, brought it to the forefront of my understanding, and I shake my head when I think of it.
We have a local Greek restaurant that employs young woman as wait staff. They’re all young and attractive in their tight t-shirts and short skirts. I had heard about one waitress who really wowed them. One afternoon she waited on the table where I lunched with a friend. Everything they said seemed to be true. She had a pretty face, a gorgeous figure, and charm. She was quick and efficient, and probably had several men after her. No doubt she was also brainy and attending some college to study medicine or the law. She probably had rich parents who owned property on our local lake—okay—maybe my thoughts were a little over the top as she served dessert. Anyway, several weeks later, I was picking up a pizza in the same restaurant. There she was again, the ideal woman. But before I could think another thing, I saw her grab a fellow worker’s hand and pull her quickly down beside her behind the counter.
“Get my purse,” she gasped.
Her friend grabbed the purse from under the cash register and shoved it towards her. My waitress then dug frantically through the purse until she found her atomizer and fought for every breath as she began to use it. She was in the throws of a severe asthma attack. What a shock! This lovely young girl had a problem after all, and a big one, too. I was in a tailspin. How foolish of me to assign to her the responsibility of being ideal. Whatever it was about her imagined life that I envied, my guess is, at that moment, she would have traded all of it for a set of fully functioning lungs. Fortunately she was able to continue waiting tables a short while later, but I was deeply affected by the event. God had opened my eyes wide, letting me see the frailness of someone I’d envied. From that day forward I was able to state my succinct philosophy; never envy anyone his or her life.
Looking back, the thing that had been blooming in me came to full flower with that event. It comes to my aid and shakes me by the hair whenever I’m tempted to envy another person. It will always be a struggle but that single observation and the remembrance of the event were the hammer and tongs that forged my philosophy into a solid coping tool. The sun is not blocked out so easily now. There will never be a time when I will be beyond envy. Old habits die hard and the attending emotions of self-doubt, anger and fear, make it hard to drive out the monster. But I am now, more than ever, aware of the futility of envying others.
You see, we’re all in this earthly boat together. You know that. And all the physical, intellectual, and material comforts in the world won’t protect us from the pitfalls of life. I’m learning not to envy, and I see that my own life truly has been blessed with friends and a supportive family that keeps my life good. Now, when I see the beady eyes of that monster envy heading my way, I remember that day. I know that, unwitting though she was, it’s by the grace of a stricken young waitress and a loving God that I have a fighting chance at fending it off.
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