Why Do We Feel Damaged When Others Are Blessed?
In the words of one faith leader, “There is no need to want someone else’s blessing. We each have our own.”
My 6-year-old Lucy was being a benevolent big sister, helping 3-year-old Emmy open her first birthday present. When Lucy saw beyond the teal wrapping paper with white polka dots to the gift's contents, however, her generosity became bitter envy.
“What?” she said incredulously, eyes glaring at me and my wife as she noticed a doll from a popular children’s movie. “I want an Elsa doll!”
If you have kids, or if you were once young, or if you’re human, you’re familiar with this scene. One child is content and kind until she sees another child with something she doesn't have—even though the former child has many toys of her own and sufficient grounds to be happy with what she has.
Adults see this clearly as childish myopia, yet if we’re honest we know this kind of clouded vision doesn’t end with childhood. Feelings of jealousy and envy toward our blessed fellow man are part of our lives until the very end.
Why Do We Feel Damaged When Somebody Else Is Blessed?
The commandment, “Thou shalt not covet … any thing that is thy neighbour’s” may be the last of the 10 commandments, but it’s been one of the first and chief struggles of my life. (Perhaps that’s why I notice it so easily in my kids.) Other schoolmates were more physically and socially gifted; other missionaries had a greater abundance of the gift of tongues; others have been told “You’re hired” for coveted jobs I’ve interviewed for; and today, others have bigger homes, more money, more freedom.
I’m truly one of the weakest creatures of God’s creation, and I’ve spent much of my life envious of others endowed with more. I’ve repeatedly failed to be them, forgetting that there’s a divine, unique me.
Fortunately, failures bring us nearer to truth by a process of elimination. My inability to be what others are brings me closer to learning who I am and what I can offer the world.
I’m drawn to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s question, “Why do we feel damaged when somebody else is blessed?” This, he said, is a “fundamental question that we ought to work through in our life before it’s over.”
I’m over 30 and I still struggle to answer Elder Holland’s inquiry. Fortunately, God has blessed me with a variety of helpers along my life’s path—including a wife, three daughters, parents, siblings, in-laws, colleagues at work, and great books—that have taught me not only more about who I am but also to be comfortable with the me that is God’s creation.
We Each Have Our Own Blessing
Scripture and the words of religious leaders outside of Mormonism have also been cherished companions on my life journey.
To wit, I take great comfort from the Book of Mormon's Alma. Even as a spiritual leader, he confesses to being slightly off center in his wish to preach repentance to the entire world. He recognizes sin in his desire to do it all and comes to the humbling conclusion that he isn’t the only resource God has to accomplish His divine project. “I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me,” Alma says (Alma 29:3).
Another spiritual giant, Paul, compares the Church to a body and reminds us that “the body is not one member, but many” (1 Corinthians 12:14). And the Doctrine and Covenants teaches the liberating doctrine that “to every man [and woman] is given a gift by the Spirit of God” (D&C 46:11; emphasis added).
And Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth and a favorite author, shares this insight:
“Peace comes when we see our reflection in the face of God and let go of the desire to be someone else. … There is no need to want someone else’s blessing. We each have our own” (Not in God’s Name, 139).
Moving Forward with Contentment
I’ve spent too much of my life thrashing about in attempts to be what other people are and to have what they have, all the while not trusting God’s promise that I have something special to offer and forgetting His teaching that I need to be content with that offering.
Indeed, neither the size nor the visibility of our contribution matters. His is a kingdom of strange arithmetic, where He leaves 99 to find a lost one, puts the last first, elevates servants to the throne, and is moved to His very core by the faith of the simple, the weak, the overlooked, and the ignored.
Of course, these truths are nice sounding but their applied reality is heavy lifting. Most essential, therefore, is that we engage in the long obedience of constantly seeking, praying, and reaching to discover our place in God’s plan—all the while trusting that His love for us is independent of our accomplishments, ever rooted in the reality that we are and always will be His divine creation.
In the hopeful words of one writer, “Somewhere in the world, there’s a gap shaped just like you. Once you find it, you’ll slide right in.” And so I move forward, still struggling at times with childish envy and fear of earthly and heavenly neglect, but ever reaching to be the me God wants me to be.
Samuel B. Hislop is a communication professional, originally from Logan, Utah. He writes often, reads widely, and plays frequently with his three precious daughters.