Many years ago I struggled through a harder ministry, doing my best just to survive. Ministry always has its challenges, but this church was hard, and I was giving it all I had but still felt like I was failing. A new pastor started at a church down the road. That church was healthy and welcoming of new leadership. He began serving there, and all the news was wonderful: he was wonderful, the church was wonderful, and everything was going wonderfully. I saw all of this and thought, “Why can’t it be like that for me?” Even more than longing for his situation, I was resentful of his success. “Look at him getting all the awards for skating down Easy Street,” I thought, “while I’m digging away like a slave in the trenches and no one cares.”
The one commandment in the ten commandments that most of us ignore is “Thou shalt not covet.” Exodus 20:17 says, “Do not desire your neighbor’s house. Do not desire and try to take your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox, donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor” (CEB). A whole post could be written on the troubling part of including wives and servants as a part of a man’s possessions; the Hebrew law represents the unjust and evil social system of the ancient world. Don’t lose, though, the point of the commandment; there’s something unhealthy in the envy for what another has. Right up there with Thou Shalt Not Kill and Thou Shalt Not Steal is this command to not covet what another has.
In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda describes Luke this way: “This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away…to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was.” His criticism of Luke was he wasn’t present in the moment; Luke was always thinking about the future. He always wanted to be somewhere else. It’s hard to be in the moment. We want to think about when things will be better or different, or we want to peer down the road to what might be next. Coveting and envy work the same way; we step out of ourselves and wish for what another has. Envy tells us, “Right now what you have isn’t enough; if only you were more like that other person.” Envy ignores the splendor of all we have at the moment and tells us we must rob another’s life to be satisfied.
All we have is what we have right now. The past’s memories are with us, but the past is over. We don’t know what the future will give us. I have what I have right now, and I am what I am right now. Life doesn’t start once I get a little more money or lose a little more weight or have a little better situation. Life doesn’t start once I magically trade in what I have now for another’s life. The good life doesn’t begin once I get what another has. All of this is wasteful thinking, thinking that wastes the present for something I don’t know will ever come.
The Rule of St. Benedict tells us “Harbor neither hatred nor jealousy of anyone, and do nothing out of envy.” When we are envious we usually don’t see the whole picture. We take an incomplete picture of another’s life and assume that’s what we need. That pastor of whom I was so jealous, he was fired a couple years later. When the story played itself out the grass really wasn’t any greener on his side of the fence. So what good did I do for myself being jealous? The only life we have is the one each of us is given. We waste that one beautiful gift when we spend it on envy.
"In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." - Rule of St. Benedict