Starting on March 25 at 7 pm St. Aidan’s will host a Lenten Study entitled “Sinning Like a Christian.” While the title might suggest a ‘how to’ guide, I assure that it is not. This four week study will carry the participants through the last half of our spiritual sojourn with an emphasis on how we can become more aware of our own ability to succumb to the temptations that surround us all each day. The title is deliberately chosen because of the book with the same title that we will use to guide our conversation. In this quick read author William Willimon explores the ‘Seven Deadly Sins.’ While this may sound very ominous, I assure you it is not. I have found that reading the book has disarmed me enough to see and acknowledge how I, at times, am drawn into behaviour that is less than what God would expect of me. That sort of exploration is allowing for a deeper experience of Lent for me and I hope it might be so for those of you who can join us for the study, or even read the book.
A couple of days ago, I was reading Willimon’s thoughts on Envy. What makes this book so useful is Willimon’s willingness to be vulnerable himself and write about the ways he sees himself being drawn into the sin of envy. Reading the chapter that evening I was able to see in my own behavior the same temptations to envy. What is particularly helpful is the author’s ability to focus on the limiting nature of sin and how it restricts our ability to be fully alive in God’s love. In reading about envy and how I can be envious, I was taken by the notion that envy is the one sin whose perpetrator is also the greatest victim. Willimon writes;
When we Envy someone, we tend to magnify that person’s good fortune while at the same time minimizing our own. The sun seems to shine more brightly upon them than us. They appear to live a charmed life. We, on the other hand, must be the victims of lousy luck. In Envy, there is a kind of diminishment of ourselves, which is one of the things that makes this sin so sad.
This is so very true. Envy is self destructive more than it is anything else. Willimon pays attention to this, asserting that it makes it among the worst of ‘The Seven.’ I could not agree more. We should be wary of all things that draw us from the love of God – Envy is chief among them. We all live our own realities and God journeys beside us in them. God is no less present to me in my life setting that God is to someone whose lot in life is much harder or much easier for that matter. Envy causes us to compare ourselves. The darkness speaks to us and tells us that we should compare where we are today to the next person – often family, or people we know and are close to or work with, or to those who share our values or vocations. But it is a destructive and worthless exercise. It results in envy and when we make those comparisons we victimize ourselves. In Anam Cara, John O’Donohue puts it this way:
“No one else has access to the world you carry around within yourself; you are its custodian and entrance. No one else can see the world the way you see it. No one else can feel your life the way you feel it. Thus it is impossible to ever compare two people because each stands on such different ground. When you compare yourself to others, you are inviting envy into your consciousness; it can be a dangerous and destructive guest.”
My experience is my own. Your experience is your own. It is impossible for us to compare – so why do we? Try as we may, no one can every access the very depths of our own experience. It is deeply personal and it is singularly unique. The only ‘person’ who can appreciate and access my world is God. With that in mind, our own journeys need to be treated with enough respect to not reduce them by comparing them to another’s journey. Not to mention how silly it is to think that we could ever understand or access the world that another is living in. The whole exercise becomes envy and it is indeed a very destructive force.
This sort of reflection I find useful in Lent. I am liberated to confess my envy and seek to be forgiven for it and healed from the wounds inflicted by it. As I pray for the victim of my envy, I do so knowing that the person hurt by my envy is very close to home. I look forward to reading the rest of Sinning Like a Christian and an engaging conversation with folks about it – hopefully you might be able to join in this Lenten conversation with us.
To join our group – email me at firstname.lastname@example.org