Sunday, August 3, 2014
If someone says they want what I have, have I been bragging? By our actions, are we sometimes bragging? Is that a bad thing? Do we take delight in the envy of others? Do we seek to display what we have, so that others might want the same? And what if what we display is our relationship with God?
Jeff Cavins was speaking at the Steubenville Defending The Faith Conference on the subject of Envy --- an anger that others have possessions that we wish they did not have, or the desire to prevent others from having more goods than we do. The topic seemed initially boring to me: I could care less and do not begrudge you for what you have (envy), and I don’t want for myself what you have (jealousy); mom and dad taught me to work for what I want. And I don’t envy that you’ve attained things that I might someday want --- if I want them, I’ll work for them. The only thing I desire is that all things that you have, I pray you use them well. But what of my things and the way I obtained them? How do I properly project the goodness of the things I have or want, and the goodness of the manner in which I achieved them --- without inciting envy (sin) in others?
I recall the woman in the used book store I used to visit. She responded to something I said by saying: “Well, you’ve got a good pension, and you have money in the bank. You’ve got it easy.” And her words bothered me. I didn’t think of it at the time, but her words were words of envy. What did I say or do to bring that to the surface? Was it already there, strongly rooted within her, and I just saw it? Or did I say or do something to stoke it? Did I brag about what I have, what I worked for, what God has blessed me with?
In what I write on this blog, am I sometimes bragging about God’s goodness to me? By my words, am I inciting envy? I write these words as a journal of sorts for myself, to be re-read from time to time for my own benefit and growth. For the most part, that others read it is incidental to my purpose, yet I am not unaware during my writings of others’ presence. Sometimes I even pose a question or two to readers. I am concerned they understand my thinking on a subject. I do this because I think that in my meditations I have gleaned some spiritual insights, some blessings, that I willingly share --- even as I willingly share the best of the books I read. The purpose is so that they might benefit you also.
In truth, I want you to see what I see --- I think it is a good insight if I bother to record it. Yet in describing good things for you --- some of which perhaps I possess --- I need to be better aware, I think, of how I present those things. While showing them as good things, I must consider how someone who does not possess those things will receive my words.
I have many blessings in my life, and yes I wish others to feel as blessed as I do. But note clearly that I speak of spiritual blessings. The woman in the book store envied my material blessings, but recall how I have written that surveys show that people in the poorest African nations are happier (a spiritual happiness) than the “rich” people in America. Spiritual happiness has little to do with material things. Once our basic, BASIC, needs are met, we may more easily focus on our spiritual growth and so I do wish all had some degree of material success and security --- but not too much.
And as regards to my giving away of my money, my generosity, which seems to bother some, this is just my weak imitation of the Franciscan ethic. Some criticize me as too generous, tipping too much or not worrying about saving enough, but I think I have all I shall need. I recall the words of Jesus: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Mt 20:15) I now always trust God will provide for me, in all things. And even as I give to those who have less than I, or can better use resources I have, I know I will survive --- and perhaps be very happy --- with less.
I pray the words I write here, if anything, incite you to reflect on how blessed you already are, and incite you to seek even greater spiritual blessings. And if this drive for holiness comes about in you, then together we can better reflect on the words and actions of Jesus, and the basic reason for which God came to earth: to tell us and show us, how to love.
I hope I am not bragging here how good God has been to me. I hope I am showing you some paths to holiness, and ways to walk those paths. Sometimes that may mean joining me on the path I have chosen; at others it may mean questioning me or challenging my perceptions --- I am far from perfect in knowing the will of God, and I welcome insights I have not seen. But, I pray, I hope, nothing I write here incites you to say with envy: “Well, that’s easy for you to do …”
No life of walking in the path of the Spirit of God is easy, but it is the path to happiness, eternal happiness, beginning even now.