Beckett: Singleness – Dealing with Envy

In my last blog post about singleness, I wrote on the issue of being single and lonely in a couples’ world. Now, I’m going to write on an issue that perhaps many of us perpetually single folks deal with: envy.

If you’re perpetually single like I am, it is easy to get envious of people’s relationships. If you’re anything like me, when you see Facebook statuses of people getting into a relationship or engaged, we’re immediately filled with sadness. We even get jealous of couples who are happily married. We wonder, “Why them and not me? Why do I have to be lonely all the time? Why can’t anyone love me?” And we envy their reciprocal love. It’s even worse when we see someone we’ve been attracted to get into a relationship!

It should be made irrevocably clear that envy is not a good thing. I hope you didn’t have to hear that from me to know that. Envy, in our case, is a violation of the 10th commandment.

If you’re anything like me, it’s not easy moving from a state of envy to a state of peace. So, how do we do that? Let’s begin with a proverb.

Proverbs 14:30, A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.

There are many passages on envy in the Bible to choose from, so why did I pick this one? Because the image of envy this proverb portrays is not pretty. Many of the other available passages on envy can be a bit abstract, but the use of the image of bones rotting makes it more concrete.

The word “rot” is exactly as it sounds. The ESV translation of the Hebrew word, רקב (raqav), is accurate—it is a verb depicting decay. Obviously, envy doesn’t cause our bones to literally decay. That shouldn’t be surprising since Hebraic proverbs—being in the literary genre of poetry—are hardly literal. So, what might this mean?

This proverb is a classic juxtaposition. Tranquil heart is to be contrasted with envy, give with make, and life to the flesh with bones rot. Obviously, the state of envy is condemned and the state of tranquility is the desirable outcome, especially in our case. In this proverb, a tranquil heart is compared with life and envy is compared with decay. Since this is not literal, what might it mean metaphorically?

Let’s consider the effect tranquility and envy have on the soul. What does it look like to be at peace? For tranquility, we might also use the word content—being at peace with oneself. To use myself as an example, I am at peace—or content—with my economic status.

I’m middle class. I’m definitely not rich and I’m definitely not poor either.

I have no desire to own a large house. What would I do with the space? That’s too much to take care of. Not to mention the costs!

I have no desire to own a sports car. If you’re important, people will wait.

I’m thankful to God that I’m able to afford everything I need to live. That’s all I need. So, I am in a constant state of peace with my economic situation because a) I’m not in need, and b) I have no desire for wealth. Because of my contentment, I am full of life in this regard. I can live life happily.

Contrast this tranquility with the poor who have trouble making end’s meet. Contrast this also with the middle class who are unsatisfied with their lack of wealth. They keep using cheap methods to get rich quick (notice the irony?). They desire a wealthy lifestyle they will likely never have their entire lives, and instead of being at peace they are in constant inner turmoil.

What does envy look like? This is where the proverb’s image is helpful. To use wealth as an example again, consider a person who is envious of rich people. They want their money, their expensive lifestyle, and their expensive toys. Instead of being appreciative of what they have and learning to be content in their situation, their soul begins to rot. Instead of finding value in who they are—especially as whom God created them to be in Christ—they are attempting to find value in what they are lacking. Thus, their souls begin to decay in worthlessness and meaninglessness.

Now, let’s consider our envy over relationships. We deeply desire to be loved. This desire is not wrong in and of itself, but then it goes wrong when we become envious of the love we see that other people have. We want that reciprocal love, we want that romantic lifestyle, and we want those lovey-dovey, cheesy love lines to use with someone. Instead of being appreciative of our current vocation as singles, our souls begin to rot. Instead of finding value in our singleness—and there is value—we are attempting to find value in what we are lacking. Our souls, too, begin to decay in worthlessness and meaninglessness. We wonder, “Why them and not me?” And we conclude that it’s because we have no worth and thus our life is meaningless.

Perhaps I’m just describing myself now. Maybe some of you can relate.

In our desire for love, we begin to envy what we do not have. So, how do we move from a state of envy to a state of peace? The proverb is not helpful in this regard. It states the problem but does not offer a solution. Allow me, then, to offer what we ought to do:

First and foremost, we need to repent. As I said earlier, our envy is a violation of the 10th commandment. Whether we are covetous of a particular person or simply the love the two have for each other, the sin is the same.

Second—and this is related to the first—we need to pray. I believe it is right for us to ask God for the desire that is in our heart to find a godly husband or wife, but along with this asking we need to yield to God’s will. We need to pray according to His will and not our own, and we also need to pray that God teach us to be patient with His will. Most of all, we need to pray that God give us peace in our vocation of singleness—that He humble us and teach us to be content with what He has given us rather than envious of what we are lacking. These are all things only the Holy Spirit can grant us as He works in us in time.

So, when we look at other people’s relationships, how do we deal with our lacking?

Instead of being envious of what the couple has, we should rejoice in what the couple has.

This is something I’ve been working on for several years now, and let me stress again that it is only something the Holy Spirit can grant. When I see friends get into a relationship or get engaged or get married, instead of being envious of what they have, I rejoice in what they have found—rather, what God has given them. There are times when I do this well, and there are times when I fail and find myself being envious again. Thus, I find myself going to God in prayer repenting of my sin and asking for continued patience and asking for my desire according to His will. I’m still waiting for that godly woman who is not intimidated by my pastoral calling to come along, but the Holy Spirit is continually teaching me to be patient and to trust God.

You and I both know it is not easy to find love, and neither is it easy to maintain it. We need to remember that finding love is not easy for anyone. So, when someone does find it, let us rejoice on their behalf. God has blessed them! Let us rejoice with our brothers and sisters who have been blessed by God! That is not something to be envious of; it is joy that we should be sharing with them! By rejoicing in their blessings, we will find that we are full of life because the lives of the people we care about have been blessed. We are able to live life happily in our singleness as we rejoice in the blessings of our friends who are in a committed relationship.

There are other ways in which we can live out our vocation as singles, which I discuss in my previously mentioned article at the beginning. For now, let us perpetually come to God in prayer to forgive us our sin of envy, to pray according to His will, to give us peace in the vocation of singleness He has given us, and to teach us how to rejoice with our brothers and sisters who find love.

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