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Overcoming Envy

June 29, AD 2012 10 Comments

There are “tidy” sins we mothers contend with — sloth that keeps us from cleaning the play room for the millionth time, impatience and the occasional swear word. Then there are the sins that fester, wound our hearts and disrupt the peace at home. In my first few months of mothering, I didn’t even recognize my sin as sin. After all, I was the one who sleep-deprived, sore from childbirth, bored, lonely and heroically staying at home to tend to our little one. Every time my husband walked out the door, took a shower by himself, rolled over when I got up at night and ate a hot meal using a knife and fork at the same time, I secretly and self-righteously nursed a bit of…what? When I finally realized that envy was destroying what should have been the first joyful days with our precious baby boy, I very nearly despaired. My husband held me while I cried in his arms one night. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop keeping score. Even though my husband worked a night shift, slept precious little and bent over backwards to care for me and our child, I still resented his apparent freedom.

When a friend, mother of a one-year-old, told me how she too had struggled with resentment and envy, I bit my lip and dug my toes into the carpet to keep from crying again. The relief of knowing that I was not the only patient in this ward of the One, Holy and Catholic hospital for sinners was tremendous. I vowed to be more honest with other mothers because sharing our weakness gives us strength. What follows is a list of little epiphanies God has given me along the way, primarily through the wisdom of Fr. Jacques Philippe (I cannot recommend Interior Freedom highly enough), that I hope will be a source of encouragement:

1. The only suffering you have to endure is the one of the present moment.

Mixed in with my envy was a tremendous fear that everything would stay as it was forever. My husband and I are in our early twenties, and likely have many child-bearing years ahead of us, but only God knows. Only God knows if we will be blessed with more children. Only God knows if the next child will be colicky or pure sweetness. Only God knows if I will be a stay-at-home mom or will return to a career. My only task is to meet and love Him in the present moment: “For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which [God] has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them.”
When you are concerned only with the here and now, the crosses of mothering don’t seem so burdensome, and the joys are magnified. When you meet God now, He frees you from the burden of yourself and offers the sweet and light burden of His love.

2. Take away envy, and what’s mine is yours.

In marriage, we are called to be one; to give all of our self to the other without reserve. There is no mine and yours – every success of my husband’s is mine, every suffering of mine is his, every joy and sorrow of this life is ours. In the words of St. Augustine: “If you love unity, whoever in it has anything has it also for you. Take away envy, and what I have is yours; let me take away envy, and what you have is mine.”

3. Recognize the battle.

I went to reconciliation a few months after having my son, and confessed to my jealousy. The priest gently suggested that even if I was the one working while my husband stayed home with the baby, I would still be envious. He was so right. The problem wasn’t with my husband or our situation at all. My dissatisfaction came from my fear of the cross of mothering, a fear that my identity would be swallowed up, fear of the sufferings that might be: “What really hurts us is not so much suffering itself as the fear of suffering…The worst kind of suffering is not that which we experience; it is represented suffering that grips the imagination and makes us adopt false attitudes.”

4. Choose to love.

In order to combat envy and resentment, I have to stop and ask myself what really is at stake. What will I lose by choosing to love and serve in this moment without any expectation of reward? Absolutely nothing. On the other hand, the suffering of being turned in on one’s own wants is truly terrible. Indeed, some theologians consider total self-absorption the lot of the damned and self-giving love the joy of the Saints.

5. Be honest.

The devil loves secrecy and pride. The Holy Spirit works through openness and vulnerability. It took me awhile to admit to the envy that was gnawing away at our peace. I feared that my husband would take my struggle as some sort of criticism of him or that he would love me less for failing. In actuality, my husband wanted to help me carry my cross and was willing to talk through my fear and anxiety 100 times a day if that’s what it took for me to keep calm and carry on.

6. Find your identity.

Mothers need to be reminded that who we are isn’t what we do. You aren’t just the woman who rocks a baby at 3 am, or the person who juggles a career and family, or the homeschooler who values academic rigor – who you are is a child of God. Whether you become the paragon of generosity or battle envy and resentment for the rest of your life, who you are in Christ is unchanging: “Human beings are more than the sum of the good they can accomplish. They are children of God, whether they do good or cannot yet manage to do anything. Our Father in heaven does not love us because of the good we do. He loves us for ourselves.”

7. Nothing is fair in love.

It’s not fair that you suffered through 22 hours of labor to bring a child into the world. It isn’t fair that all your husband could do was hold your hand and pray for your pain to end quickly. It’s not fair that you can calm your baby in 3 seconds after your husband rocked, shushed and jostled the arch-backed hellion for 2 hours. God didn’t call you to a life neatly split down the middle. He called you to be Christ to your spouse and to your children — to empty yourself; to be the gift. Give up your expectations of fair sharing and pour yourself out.

8. Look what God has done.

I thought my husband couldn’t be any more amazing, and then he became a father. He makes sacrifice look easy, lives to make our son laugh and always, always makes time to spend with his wife. I am in awe of the man he is and is becoming. It dawned on me that although it may be excruciatingly slow progress, God is working the same transformation in me. Where I might have passive aggressively slammed doors in the middle of the night a few months ago, now I can get up with half a smile and a smidgen of patience. Be patient with yourself, because the God who loves you is infinitely patient. Celebrate the little victories, because nothing done out of love is little in God’s eyes.

The thing about motherhood is that it requires a sudden and instantaneous death to self. Perhaps in your single years you worked at the soup kitchen or volunteered for the parish – you looked and felt pretty holy, but it wasn’t the same. In the life before babies, you could put your feet up at the end of the day, and now there is no end. This calling is 24/7. Some days are so filled with emotion, frustration and exhaustion that virtue feels impossible.
Dear mama, know that God is working in you and be at peace. You may not be able to see beyond the blood, sweat and tears of this dying to yourself, but He can and His vision is glorious.
This is what I shall keep in mind and so regain some hope: Surely God’s mercies are not over, his deeds of faithful love not exhausted; every morning they are renewed; great is his faithfulness! (Lamentations 3: 21-23)


C.S. Lewis; The Screwtape Letters.
Raniero Cantalamessa, Contemplating the Trinity, (Ijamsville: The Word Among Us Press, 2007).

Jacques Philippe, Interior Freedom, (New York: Scepter Publishers, Inc., 2007).

Filed in: Columnists, Married Life • Tags: ,

About the Author:

Elizabeth Hoxie is a 2010 graduate of St. Vincent College where she studied Catholic Theology and biology. She is a freelance health and nutrition by trade and amateur theologian when both children nap simultaneously. She lives with her family at Beale, AFB in sunny California where her husband serves in the United States Air Force.

  • Perinatal Loss Nurse

    On June 8 when Mrs Mazarra posted about the struggles of early motherhood, I responded about the magnitude of change that has to occur in a young woman to get you from the girl you used to be to the selfless (perhaps unenvious) woman God plans for you to be. Much of what I said that day fits here too.

    You took the first difficult step which was to recognize traits in yourself that you wanted to purge…that takes a lot of courage and strength. Envy and pride can tempt us around every corner and it has a thousand faces. Overcoming envy is hard and teaching your children to do so is also hard…I have tried to instill in them that it is a great thing to really be happy for a friends success.

    You are on a great tangent…if you keep striving in the direction you are going, you will do well.

  • This is really great stuff Elizabeth. I too died that “sudden instaneous death to self” and struggled not to keep score for the first few years of our marriage. There are still days I have to remind myself that the job my husband “gets to escape to everyday” is actually a very selfless act on his part. He’s usually not just hanging out enjoying a cup of coffee with friends (which I actually can do on occassion here at home). Now with the prospect of going back to work and him being home more often on our horizon, I find myself feeling jealous of his situation again. That’s just the temptation to covet that I struggle with I guess. Thanks for sharing. Well written.

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  • “The thing about motherhood is that it requires a sudden and instantaneous death to self”
    this line reminded me of the blog I had written on similar lines.Thankyou Elizabeth for your honesty.I too am a new mother with the exact same problems!God bless you 🙂
    the post I wrote is here,

  • Perinatal Loss Nurse

    I have experienced that part of the death-to-self is sudden and instantaneous…other parts of it take YEARS. By the time you get really good at it, you don’t know any different.

    There is a very strange time when (after thousands and thousands of sacrifices) your children forget that you did ANY of it for them. It is then that you will be happier if you did it as unto the Lord, not only for your child.

  • Elizabeth

    Thank you, ladies. It is good to know other mothers experience the same cross.
    Perinatal Loss Nurse,
    I was talking with my mom about that the other day. The funny thing is that she’s forgotten all the sacrifices she made, but has very graphic memories of her mistakes. You are right…we should make the sacrifices for God and give Him the failures too.

  • Perinatal Loss Nurse

    Young moms like you guys who understand higher Truths and have your priorities set up properly (or are striving to get there) are out there mixing it up with age-peers who might be struggling terribly. Like I alluded to in my other post, we have a generation of bridezillas who became expectant-momzillas who are now trying to learn the selflessness of motherhood with no theory to base it on. I really really fear for them.

    When I worked in a NICU, I remember a mom who had twins and when they were big & well enough for us to start transiting from nurse-care to mom-care, she couldn’t change a single diaper without us praising her. I seriously feared for her well being at 2am with 2 crying babies, a sleepy spouse and no cheering section.

    Please ladies, keep your eyes peeled for them and be ready to mentor and give a ready explanation for your hope…they will really need you.

  • Ann

    I’m an older mother raising young kids but unfortunately I am still envious and still keeping score. I realize that my husband works just as hard as I do and sacrifices just as much as I do. Where I think the sting comes is that he doesn’t and can’t understand what I go through since he’s never done it (been home with the kids for long, homeschooled, clean, and not talked to another adult for days, etc.) whereas I have some familiarity with what he does since I had a career for 10 years before I married. Of course, I didn’t have the stress of providing for a whole family or having to come home and play with kids after a long day. But still, I had some experience with the challenges of the working world. I try to explain to my husband my challenges but he is completely clueless about why it is hard. When he tells me his challenges at work I can show some empathy since I know what’s it’s like to have neurotic co-workers or not to get the promotion, etc. But I guess just need to accept that he will never sympathize or empathize and I should just offer it up. If I can do that I can stop my envy.

  • In response to Ann, I think a part of stay-at-homes moms frustrations often comes from an expectation of empathy from our husbands. But let’s face it, if it’s empathy we want we should just call another woman. Certain emotions just do not come easily, or at all to some men. That’s part of our feminine genius, not their masculine strength. Yes, we can hope and pray for that day when they’ll just get it, but it’s not likely, even if they do stay with the kids and handle everything for awhile. Men just don’t place themselves well into others’ positions. God bless them I guess.

  • Elizabeth Hoxie

    I think there will always be areas in our marriages where we talk past each other. It is a terribly painful consequence of the Fall. I am praying for you and ask for your prayers too!
    Perhaps it also is because men generally aren’t looking for sympathy? My husband talks to me about his job because I want to hear what’s going on in that part of his life, but he never complains. Ever. It’s what he has to do to take care of his family, so he does the job even though the hours are ridiculous and the pay is terrible.