Moving from Envy to Gratitude

For the past couple of months, the pastor has been talking about developing virtue, juxtaposing the development of virtue with the seven deadly sins. This past Sunday (November 6), he spoke on envy.

Envy is rampant within American consumerist culture, so rampant that I really don’t think I am aware the degree to which envy works within me. There is always something bigger and better out there…a better job, new clothes, new cars, new computers, new cell phones, new gadgets, etc. For me, I know how easy it is to think and believe, “If I only had ‘X’, my life would be so much happier and better.”

At its heart, envy is a grabbing and grasping for that which is not rightfully one’s own. Envy makes me believe that what someone else has, I am entitled to also. It is a heart that says, “God has withheld something from me to which I deserve.” Envy makes the heart believe that one is autonomous as it refuses to see the deep connections of all of life, which ultimately leads to a life of extreme loneliness. If I am a person who is consumed by envy, I will see people not for who they are, but what they can give to me or what I can take from them.

As I listened to the sermon, my mind also thought back to Dr. Norman Wirzba’s discussion of gratitude within Food & Faith, specifically his discussion on the importance of saying grace. Dr. Wirzba writes,

At the heart of a grace-saying act there is the expression of thanksgiving. Though easily reducible to the quick word “thanks,” thanksgiving is a deep and expansive gesture that has the effect of taking people beyond themselves, leading them into the rich mystery of the world (p. 192).

Saying grace, offering thanksgiving, for the food that we eat firmly roots us in the created world and the interdependency of creation. A heart of envy believes that the world is for my taking however I damn well feel (pardon the language); whereas, a heart of gratitude recognizes that there is far more to life than just me and I am connected to all, first and foremost to the Trinity, and secondly to all of creation.

One of Dr. Wirzba’s major points throughout the book is the fact that well-informed eating enables us to recognize that all of created life is connected. In today’s culture, I am easily tempted to believe that I alone am responsible for my life. When I walked into the local Stater Bros. grocery store, I quickly picked up what I needed for dinner tonight (a whole chicken and various root vegetables) without giving any thought to the countless others who were involved in the process – the farmers, the migrant workers who might have picked the vegetables, the people who slaughtered and cleaned the chicken, the complex system involved in getting the food to the store. And this does not even begin to involve those who work at the grocery store, or those who built my house and oven so I could cook. Because God knows, I could not do all of this by myself.

And so in stopping to reflect on the interdependency of all of creation, I realize that if it were not for the gifts, talents, and money of others, Claire and I would not be eating tonight. Tonight as we offer up grace for the meal, hopefully my heart moves a little more away from envy to delight and gratitude.

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