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.