On Friday a blog writer I admire posted a picture of her desk on Instagram: an unremarkable white arrangement with a pretty table lamp and well stocked supplies of stationary, all parked up against a couple of sun filled windows looking out over trees. Her coffee cup was perched by her laptop and something about the light in the room suggested peaceful mornings working undisturbed to the quiet sound of bird song and the tapping of keys. The caption under the picture said that she had just completed the first 5000 words of her new book.
I was green with envy and paralysed with fear. I haven’t written since (not until today). This is what someone else success can do to us when we’re taken unaware.
Nothing makes my heart sink more than someone else writing well, completing their word count on time, winning a book contract. I begin to ruminate darkly upon my lack of success and dismal writing habits. I will probably never write again …
Jealousy is an emotional response to fears that surround a perceived loss of status or security and envy is a feeling of discontent regarding someone else’s success. Neither of these things are very pretty and will always fail to bring out the best in us, always result in a loss of connection with others. It is very draining to live in a world where you are under attack when good things happen to other people and your own blessings start to dim.
But this is not just a piece about the sin of envy.
Like so much of what I write the piece will eventually lead to thanksgiving. This is a piece on living more fully in the truth of who I am and how much God loves me, in a bid to protect myself and others from the harmful affects of envy. There is a quality in God’s love that is worth stopping to examine because it has such a huge impact on small day to day inconveniences like feeling I am not good enough or being distracted from a path I previously felt I was called to. The quality of love I refer to is very distinctive and we sometimes think of it in terms of his intentions for us, his plan for our life, or as a calling that existed since the beginning of time. In essence it is God saying “It is good” and it bestows on us as individuals immense value. If it is true we can live completely secure with a sure sense of our own place in the world, without recourse to be jealous of anyone else.
We should not be surprised that God always warned against envy. There in those ancient commandments spoken to Moses, shared by the first followers of God, forebears of our very own beautiful gospel, are warnings against the sin of covetousness. They come like a postscript at the end of a more obvious lists of sins, adultery, murder and theft and sometimes seems out of place there. The tenth commandment tells us we should not covet what another person has and we should not be surprised because there in the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had already encountered the results of allowing their eyes to wander from what God had given to them onto what he had clearly not.
God placed them in a garden that was pleasing to the eye, a place full of plants with fruit that promise to provide them with everything they needed. He had given them each other and invested in them a measure of himself that he named “likeness”. Between the two of them he had placed a degree of companionship that flowed from his own recognition of the need they had to never be alone. The garden was well watered with rivers that promised to flow forever and within the bounds of that place, those two original individuals were free to wander and free to work, free to eat and free to love. But they were not satisfied because they had noticed something outside of this divine remit, a tree that was not theirs, a fruit that they could not eat. The more they thought upon it, the more their eye was drawn to it, they were preoccupied by its presence, so near and yet so far. It is as if the original sin was their inability to live in what had been given to them. Fuelled by a nagging thought that maybe God had lied and something better lay outside of their share of that Eden life, they took their destinies into their own hands. Believing that the gift God had given them was not enough they took something that was never meant for them, an ultimate distraction that led to death.
Giving thanks is not a soft practice. When I give thanks I acknowledge something that is true about myself and the world I inhabit. I acknowledge this is the place that God gave to me and all this provision comes from his hand. I agree with him that it is good. To say “thank you”, is the biggest and best “yes” that I can give to God and every small gratitude pulls me closer into the purposes he has for me.
So I log out of Instagram and turn off the RSS feed. I sit down at my desk. The pale wood veneer is peeling off the front edge and exposing the chipboard beneath, my chair is hard. The computer is very slow and the internet a little troublesome again. I’m sharing this small space with a rather ugly printer and a messy pile of papers that require attention but for now I’ll enjoy the quietness of the house and the pale light of a dull February day. There are daffodils on the mantlepiece and I think I will write again.