Published January 1, 2004
I am sitting in my husband’s chair near the fireplace with our fuzzy cat on my lap. She is purring blissfully, while I am sipping tea and trying to decide which of my moral failings to tackle in my resolutions for 2004.
Surveying the seven deadly sins, I realize I have plenty of work to do. The sins include pride, anger, sloth, lust, gluttony and greed, plus one that is the leader of the pack in my life. It is the green-eyed monster known as envy.
It all started in third grade when I held the dubious honor of being the second fattest girl in class. How I envied the fragile Barbie beauties with bouncy hair and waists the circumference of bread plates.
Worse yet, my older cousin Paulie was going to beauty school and regularly needed someone to practice on. Unfortunately, Paulie wasn’t exactly Vidal Sassoon, as the photo albums will attest. Yes, that’s me, with the mound of fuzzy hair that is inches too short and the look on her face that suggests great longing.
Fueled by my envy of gorgeous movie stars, my desire to be beautiful stalked me into adulthood. On many past New Year’s days, my younger self vowed to lose weight and become truly svelte. She was going to eat large helpings of vitamin-enriched veggies and stay clear of the candy dish.
That resolution usually fizzled out by Valentine’s Day, when my younger self realized that life without sweets was dire indeed.
Eliminating envy, I suspect, will be much tougher than banishing a chocolate addiction. Whenever I stand in line at the grocery store, I marvel at the perfect skin tones and firm jaw lines of the magazine models, who seem like adult versions of the Barbie girls from my youth. And, yes, I admit it, I envy their cool good looks and youthfulness.
I also suffer from travel envy. When I learned that my brother-in-law had journeyed to the Bahamas, my first thought was, “Oh, how I wish I could go there!” Truth to tell, I am a big coward when it comes to traveling and have to be mildly sedated to set foot on a plane, but I still feel the green-eyed monster sinking his claws into my heart whenever anyone shows off glossies from their latest journey.
Envy is such a deadly sin that it is forbidden by two of the Ten Commandments, along with other serious transgressions like stealing and killing. One commandment forbids coveting your neighbor’s material possessions, including his donkey.
Well, there’s little danger that I will covet someone’s donkey, but I do get all dewy eyed when I hear about people who live on farms with clusters of chickens moseying in the yard, and perhaps a pig or two.
Every so often, I am convinced that my husband and I must sell everything and go “live off the land.” It’s only when I imagine myself plowing the lower forty and chasing chickens for Sunday dinner that I nip that fantasy in the bud.
Just reading the newspapers can be an occasion of sin if you struggle with envy. So many articles feature that fantasy couple the Joneses, the ones with taut abdomens who smile up at you from the color pages, bedecked in expensive clothing and showing off their new hot tubs.
Meanwhile, I’m schlepping around in old jeans and wondering if I should use a throw rug to conceal the hole in the kitchen linoleum.
The other commandment that deals with envy forbids coveting your neighbor’s spouse. Truth to tell, I don’t struggle with that one. I am very happy with my husband and consider it a minor miracle that I ever found a man so closely attuned to my eccentric heart.
Not only that, but he apparently still finds me attractive when I’m wandering around the house in my pink pig slippers.
Examples abound, however, of the moral wreckage that results from coveting other people’s mates. A glance through the magazines reveals how often celebrities reap positive media coverage when they jump from bed to bed, proudly displaying their partners du jour.
And what about men who hit their fifties and think they can fend off aging by finding a younger wife? Hello?
Fortunately, there is an antidote to the deadly sin of envy. When we find our selves dwelling on what we lack (fill in the blanks: storybook looks, elegant home, trophy spouse), it helps to turn our attention to what we have.
Let’s put faith at the top of the list, and don’t forget the marvels of the natural world, which we all “own” together. I am especially fond of pear trees, which not only produce fruit but also get decked out with fancy blossoms in the spring and gorgeous colors in the fall.
If you take ten minutes to start listing all the ways God has graced you—and be sure to include the people who love you, despite the extra pounds—you may find the 10 minutes turning into hours. My prayer for 2004 is that our hearts will be so filled with gratitude that there will be no room for the green-eyed monster. Happy New Year!
Lorraine V. Murray’s column “Grace Notes” appears bi-weekly in the Faith and Values section of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A parishioner at St. Thomas More Church, she is the author of two books, “Grace Notes” (Catholic Book Publishing/Resurrection Press) and “Why Me? Why Now?” (Ave Maria Press). You may contact her at: email@example.com.