The Lord is my Shepherd: I Shall Not Envy

good shepherd, jesus, sheep

I have prayed the 23rd Psalm quite often. It is one of my favorite Psalms because it hearkens to Jesus’ own description of Himself as the Good Shepherd. It is beautiful because of its poetic language, but also because it truly represents the life cycle of the faithful in Christ. It is a prayer of praise and trust. It is also the antidote to envy.

“The Lord is my shepherd.” How often do we rely on the Lord to shepherd us through our days? Do we keep this image in mind during the good and bad times? Do we allow the Lord to shepherd us as soon as we wake up in the morning? If we do, we have no reason ever to become resentful because someone else has what we wish we had. The Shepherd will provide us with whatever we need, whatever is truly best for us.

I have found in my own life that setting the tone for the day is an act of the will. Before I set foot out of bed, I look upon the image of Christ crucified which hangs above our bed. I thank Him, I praise Him, and I call upon Him to shepherd me through the day.

The Lord Provides What We Need

“I shall not want.” Too easily, in this age of material excess, we develop desires for things unnecessary to us, believing that they would somehow make us happy if we had them. Often, for example, I’ve heard people who spoil their children with excessive comforts use the excuse, “I want my kids to have everything I didn’t have.” They are usually not talking about educational or employment opportunities, but rather giving a pretext for some extravagance (or several) to which polite people just give an awkward smile.

The people I know who say these things grew up well. All their material needs were met, so I laugh when I hear them say that. I think that if their own parents heard them, they would feel hurt and unappreciated. I appreciate everything my parents did for us growing up. We had very little in comparison to today, but we had everything: an amazing amount of love, encouragement and support, a strong faith, and each other.

The point here is that the focus on always acquiring or craving more, rather than rejoicing in what we have been given, is the matrix in which envy develops, bringing sadness with it. When we fail to acknowledge the good God has done for us, we dishonor Him in a very absentminded way. Lord, forgive us for all the times we fail to acknowledge Your goodness to us.

The Ever-Present Temptation to Envy

Envy seems ubiquitous, and it is helped by social media, which is a great catalyst for envy and anger. It allows people to share snapshots of exciting life events which are then shared with the world. Often these shared items incite envy in those who imagine that they have less than exciting lives. In some cases it foments a deep sense of resentment and dissatisfaction in some people. The reality is that everyone’s life can be monotonous, joyful, exciting, sad and stressful. It seems that some folks imagine everyone’s life to be a never-ending party, always joyful and devoid of unpleasant things. That is not real life.

There is a commercial on TV with a character named Mr. Obvious. He pops in on people as they are browsing their social media pages and bemoaning the fact that other folks are having fun, romance and vacations. Mr. Obvious gives them the cause of their unhappiness. The commercial ends with those same people now enjoying what they envied and posting their own pictures to social media. The message is an insidious one, but one that the masses can relate to.

I think Mr. Obvious is a type of Satan. C.S. Lewis could have used Mr. Obvious in his novel The Screwtape Letters. Satan uses people’s envy against them. A priest once told me that the only sin that never brings pleasure is envy. Envy is a virus of the soul. It is insidious and parasitical. It is self-destructive and the precursor for despair. The enemy loves envy, the stepchild of pride.

Acknowledge The Lord As Your Shepherd

What I learned as an adult is that rejoicing in another person’s successes or sharing in their grief is a sacred gift. Not everyone has that gift. If you do not already possess that gift, it is not too late to develop it. When we share in another person’s successes or grief, we witness to them Jesus’ love. I have learned that virtually everything we do in this life, or how we experience it, is an act of the will. Sure, emotions rise up in us, but if we are mature and somewhat stable, we can become masters of our emotions and not the other way around.

Many people, when they hear of someone’s good fortune, may think, “Why not me?” They forget all the blessings and graces they have received and become envious. Acknowledging that and making an act of the will to reject those negative thoughts is the beginning of spiritual maturity. It is also a sign that the Holy Spirit is living and active in your life.

So how does one go about developing this gift of the Holy Spirit? First and foremost, you must acknowledge that the Lord is your shepherd and there is nothing you shall want. That doesn’t mean you will not want things in the sense of wishing for them; “want” here means “lack, be in need of.” It means that the Lord will provide for you what you need, not necessarily what you desire.

We ask Him in the Pater Noster, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We ask in faith that our needs be met and invariably, even in the harshest circumstances, they are met. We must also be conscious of our thoughts and feelings. Most people do not pay close attention to their interior life. That is the battleground of the soul. Be vigilant in being aware of your interior life and consecrate it to the Holy Spirit.

Next, we need to train our brains to veer to the positive, not the negative, because human thoughts most often tend to the negative. Many people feel envy whose byproduct is sadness. It is a natural human emotion. Being aware of it is the first step to overcoming it. Making an act of the will to personally experience joy in someone’s good fortune will bring you inner peace. Give thanks to God for them and then say a big thank you to God for all the good things He has provided for you and your family.

Everyone experiences tribulation in this life. That is just the way it is. It is like that for everyone, in spite of what social media postings might suggest. If we pray constantly that simple prayer, “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want,” we will experience abundance in both feast and famine and put envy to flight. Amen.

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9 thoughts on “The Lord is my Shepherd: I Shall Not Envy”

  1. Thank you for this article! This sin is often overlooked and I think many people are embarrassed to talk about it. I struggle with it and am often ashamed after reflecting on the people/lifestyles I seem to envy. I have so many blessings: seven children, a faithful husband, we are financially stable and have a lovely home and gardens. Yet when I analyze the feelings that arise in me, I seem to be envious of women that are childless and beautiful, support themselves and have a very outgoing personality (the opposite of mine). Suddenly, I feel sadness overwhelm me, like I am just some lowly housewife who could never do anything on her own, etc., etc. It’s a terribly vicious cycle and I always feel mad at myself for envying these worldly things (would the envy be better if they were spiritual things???) I am going to try your short Psalm 23 prayer to actively fight the thoughts when they arise. Thank you!

    1. Thank you Michelle for sharing your struggle! I am the same way. I think the evil one knows our insecurities and preys on them. In our fallen human nature, we always want what we perceive we don’t have, whereas Our Good Shepherd provides what we need, and tells us clearly that we shall not want. Please pray for me and I’ll pray for you too! I find bringing it to the confessional as well really helps. God bless!

    2. Hi Michelle. Thank you for sharing your struggles. Good news is that you are perfectly normal. Everyone and I mean everyone have those same feelings. You are on the right track. You have identified those feelings and by doing so, you have stripped them of power. Angela’s advice is on the mark, bring it to confession. By the way, its ok to have feelings. Own them. Embrace them, then let the negative ones go. Just give them to Jesus. Spiritual envy can be good if it helps bring you higher. Everyone has their own special talents. I’m very outgoing. I love attention, that’s me. Our Lady was like you, quiet, a housewife and prayerful. Owning who YOU are and realizing that your husband, family, children and friends love the YOU that you are is all that matters once you love you. Have a wonderful week. You ladies are in my prayers.

  2. Thank you so much Angela for your comment and for sharing your struggles with envy. I am praying for you. Keep in mind that rejecting envy is an act of the will. Be aware of your interior life and if you slip back into it, just pray the Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want. The peace of the Lord will wash over you and calm your thoughts. God bless you

    1. Thank you so much! I really appreciate that you are praying for me! Your article has helped me strive to be holier with Our Good Shepherd’s help!

  3. Fantastic article. Very helpful. I have the tendency to ruminate on what I don’t have. It creates so much unease and insecurity spiritually when I do this. The idea of thanking Our Good Shepherd everyday, and rejoicing with others’ joys, is a wonderful antidote. Thank you!

  4. This article is tremendously helpful to me. I have struggled with envy and I am going to try your advice and ponder psalm 23. Thank you!

    1. Thank you for your comment Joanne. I am so happy you are going to meditate on the 23 Psalm. I started out writing about God’s guidance and his methods of correction, the rod and staff. Some how as I was writing the essay became about envy. I’m not sure how. I would love to hear of any of your thoughts and meditations if you care to share them. God bless you. You are in my prayers.

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