If you’re meditating on Psalm 38 with me this week, notice how well it fits someone struggling with envy: “thy arrows have sunk into me” (vs 2); “my wounds grow foul and fester” (vs 5); “Lord, all my longing is known to thee” (vs 9).
Week 3: Psalm 38 — “From the sin of envy, O Lord, deliver me…”
At what point does longing cross over to envy?
We want things that others have, that we do not. Envy lies in the void between her having and my lacking. If she did not have it, I would not mind. But now that she does — I feel lesser, somehow. I am losing out. I am diminished.
Envy eats away at the soul. It erupts in gossip. In harm-wishing. In rejoicing over another’s misfortune. And it harms us to the core. Someone once said that nurturing envy is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
Chaucer wrote that envy is the worst of sins: “for in truth, all other sins are at times directed against one special virtue alone. But envy takes sorrow in all the blessings of his neighbor” (“Parson’s Tale,” 488-489).
In verse 10 of Psalm 38, the psalmist moans that “the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.” That reminds me of how the envious are purged in Dante’s Purgatorio, where they weep through eyes sewn shut with iron thread. They cannot envy because they cannot see, and they must rely on one another, something incompatible with envy. They must learn to love.
To prepare for an examination of conscience, read about envy in the biblical stories of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4) or King Saul and David (1 Samuel 18). Then read James 3:13-18 to learn more about the fruits of envy and its antidote. Offer up your own tendency to envy as you pray with Psalm 38:
“From the sin of envy, O Lord, deliver me…”
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Read my post on praying with the Penitential Psalms for Lent here.