Identify the creeping lies that jealousy feeds on, and reject them
Q: How can I deal with feelings of jealousy that keep cropping up in my heart?
A: Jealousy is closely related to the sin of envy, which St. Thomas Aquinas described as sorrow over another’s good. When we speak of jealousy, we are usually referring to the resentment we feel toward another person when they are blessed, or to our inordinate desire to have their blessing as our own.
Sociologists have noticed an interesting tendency to unhappiness in those who engage heavily in social media. One theory suggests that the more preoccupied we become with the good things happening in other people’s lives, the more dissatisfied we become when those same things aren’t happening in our own life. Thus, the discontent may be a sign of jealousy.
We need to be very careful about jealousy. It can damage friendship, destroy personal happiness and lead nations to war. As Christians and disciples, Jesus wants us to keep our focus on him and not to be distracted by the superficial concerns that give rise to jealousy.
Jealousy feeds on lies that creep into our thoughts. These lies need to be identified and rejected.
Lie: My identity is based on what I do, what I own, or other people’s perception of me.
Truth: Our deepest and truest identity comes from the fact we are loved by God. When we believe that our identity and self-worth come from superficial things like possessions or the perceptions of others, then we enter into an endless competition to see who has the best and the most. That competition gives rise to jealousy and robs a person of peace and happiness. It can tempt us to suspicion, slander and calumny in an effort to make ourselves better at another person’s expense. When we know the truth that our deepest and truest identity comes from being loved by God, then we can seek that love for ourselves and for others without jealousy.
Lie: Satisfying my desires will make me happy.
Truth: This is the myth of hedonism, and when we believe this lie we become a slave to our passions. The truth is that our hearts are made for God alone and they will always remain restless until they rest in God, as St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions. When we try to fill our deepest hungers with anything other than God, we always become dissatisfied and unhappy. In such a state, another person’s authentic happiness can irritate and anger us — especially when their happiness springs from a life that is deeply rooted in Christ Jesus. Rather than feeling jealousy in such a moment, we should recognize this as a grace of the Holy Spirit inviting and encouraging us to seek that same relationship with God that has brought another person fulfillment and lasting happiness. Although it seems to be a contradiction in our current culture, we actually become more profoundly happy when we sacrifice our own desires out of love for God and neighbor than when we seek to satisfy our own desires.
After dismissing these destructive lies, there are some additional truths of which we need to be conscious. These truths will allow us to be proactive in resisting any temptations to jealousy.
The greatest of these truths is that each of us is blessed by God in a unique and personal way. We need to be conscious of these blessings and remember them constantly. That is why St. Paul exhorted the Christians of the early church to thank the Lord for all things. (see 1 Thessalonians 5:18) It is only when we are conscious and aware of God’s manifold blessings to us that we can have the virtue of gratitude, which is always a remedy for jealousy. Our blessings may be different from the person next to us, but they are a sign of God’s love and goodness nonetheless. When we focus on how blessed we are, we are naturally moved to praise and thank the Lord for his wondrous love. Jealousy has no place in a heart that is thankful.
One last word of encouragement for those who struggle with jealousy: We never fully know another person’s life. What we see on the surface may look great … but what is happening under the surface may be truly tragic. No one is perfect and no one’s life is without distress. As Christian disciples, Jesus asks us to pray that all people know and respond to the love of God so as to become brothers and sisters in the communion of the church, which is his mystical body. So when you see someone else’s blessing or good fortune, pray that it leads them to deeper communion with God and neighbor. That is what will allow us to rejoice in another’s good and not be jealous about it, as charity urges us to do.
Read the Spanish version of this column.
Northwest Catholic - June 2018