I don’t envy Melinda Gates or Justin Bieber, but …


Bill and Melinda Gates during their visit to t...

Somehow, for me it's easy NOT to envy Bill and Melinda Gates. Harder NOT to envy a relative who's made good. (Image via Wikipedia)

Have you ever tried to sort through who you envy and why?

I spent my high school years with people who now sing in the Met, write scripts for Broadway, have multiple patents, have made sports broadcast history, forecast weather for the Academy Awards, are names you know from television, helped create names you know from television. And I don’t envy them. I know how they got to where they are; how I got to where I am; and am proud of us all for what we’ve done with who we are.

The people I work with …
It has never bothered me to be invited over at the end of a late night at work for Chinese take-out with the gang on what turns out to be a museum-quality antique dining room set. The people I work with are the people I work with. I don’t expect to live their lives.

But when a relative buys a house in a neighborhood where I’d love to live … has dinner with someone I’d love to meet … travels to places I’d love to see … is asked to volunteer at a level where I’d like to serve … that feels different. It shouldn’t, but it does. I feel like I should have managed to accomplish that life. I should have achieved that measure of success. I feel … in short … envy. Which is, as we all know, not just unhealthy but a sin.

My relatives …
And I don’t know why I find it easy to envy a relative when it’s so easy not to envy people who are unrelated.

I don’t envy Justin Bieber, for example. I think it’s crazy that we pay entertainers millions of dollars a year, but that’s a different subject. I don’t want to be Justin Bieber; I don’t want his fans or his premature adolescent memoirs or even his money.

Famous people
I don’t envie Andie McDowell, who’s closer to my age, lives not too far away, and seems to spend an awful lot of working hours shilling cosmetics. Or Jerry Jenkins, more to the point, who’s published more than 175 books and is one of the most popular Christian writers on the planet.

I feel pretty confident that it’s not envy of Bill and Melinda Gates that makes me cranky every time I have to purchase and learn a new edition of Windows, along with more memory to run it and new Microsoft software to run on it and months of patches to fix the various bugs. It’s technology fatigue. When CNTRL-ALT-DEL has been the catastrophic shutdown sequence for Windows, there’s only one reason for it to become the log-in sequence on the next edition: to make users crazy. Still, as long as they’re using the money to do so much good, I can live with the fact that the company he founded is making me nuts.

So where’s the line between “So what” and “I envy”? For me, it seems to be that I only envy people who have something I want … and that imagine I could have had … if only …

“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30)

What are your envy triggers? How do you shut them off? 

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About Carlene Byron

Writer, editor, publicist, communications project manager ... I've written technology and infrastructure; I used to edit New England Church Life and The New England Christian and I've freelanced to publications ranging from Commonweal to Christianity Today. I'm now living in my hometown in Maine and am speaking about global perspectives on suicide prevention.
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4 Responses to I don’t envy Melinda Gates or Justin Bieber, but …

  1. Lianne says:

    Way to strike a nerve, Carlene! During Lent I’ve spent a lot of time ruminating on this very topic and I’ve been surprised by the unravelling of who I envy and why. I’ve been intrigued, not to mention disturbed, by what the process has revealed about the lingering darkness in my soul.

  2. Heidi Smid says:

    Such an important subject, one that’s so hard for me to think about. I struggled with envy last summer, when a family that I just adore (all the daughters, too!) seemed to become very enamoured with a mutual friend. I was so envious of their relationship with each other, and watched myself pulling away from BOTH families! I pushed myself not to withdraw, and prayed like crazy, confessing and asking for grace. In the end, I saw that I had declared those precious daughters as my own in some ways (and they would refer to me as a second mom) and when I felt my position in their life was threatened, it pushed me over the edge into envy (or is it jealousy when it’s relational?). I was able to release it over time by reminding myself that ANY relationship I have is God’s gift to me; my relationships are not about exalting me, but about exalting Jesus. “He must increase; I must decrease.” One of several very humbling experiences in relationships that God has brought me through in recent years!

  3. “Lingering darkness” … Ah, if I could only see it as so passive! Or even so small! And relationships are big-time envy space, so true. Why are we so prone to claim other people as “Mine!”

  4. Cecy says:

    Envy triggers, lingering darkness – or worse – and jealousy and estrangement… It’s a struggle to admit, another struggle to overcome.

    But who wants to rot their bones? Not me!

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