Brothers and sisters:
Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another;
for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
The commandments, You shall not commit adultery;
you shall not kill;
you shall not steal;
you shall not covet,
and whatever other commandment there may be,
are summed up in this saying, namely,
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Love does no evil to the neighbor;
hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.
I’d been dreading the call. That old, familiar temptation entered my heart as she picked up the phone – the temptation toward gloom, toward making this about me, and my pain, and my struggles – instead of rejoicing in her happy news. “It’s a girl” she told me, breathlessly. I could hear the distress in her voice, carefully choosing her words like a doctor dressing a sensitive wound. I took a deep breath, pushing aside so many thoughts of what name I’d have chosen and how I would decorate the nursery, and tried to just listen and be present to my friend.
If the sin of envy means sadness at another’s good fortune, I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve succumbed to it many times: envy at those who become pregnant easily, envy at infertile friends whose prayers have been “answered by God” when mine have not, envy at mothers of all ages who openly discuss their children and grandchildren as their life’s greatest accomplishment, envy at the single mom who “didn’t deserve” to have a baby.
If you struggle with envy within the cross of infertility, know that you are not alone.
Sometimes envy, and a misguided attempt to deal with the pain of infertility (and I don’t mean to downplay the pain involved and the essential need to find healthy ways to deal with it, nor do I mean to imply that the experience of grief automatically implies we are envious), leads me to avoid others in their happy occasions, or to search out their shortcomings, or to ruminate on their potential future burdens. Yuck. It’s embarrassing to acknowledge, but it’s true. (The sacrament of Confession is such a powerful source of strength and grace in this struggle – I need it often).
As the conversation with my friend continued, though, something miraculously different occurred: as my friend shared openly and honestly about her life, it allowed me to honestly share mine, and my idealized image of her life broke down and was replaced by something more honest, more charitable. Our exchange began to flow easily from her anxieties about the looming reordering of priorities that comes with a new baby to my discernment of what God might be asking through my infertility to the latest slow cooker recipes we’ve tried. It was almost as if we were college roommates once again, catching up on her fluffy pink sofa in between classes and homework assignments. It wasn’t perfect, but it was real. There was new life and suffering and joy and longing and hope and faith – all of it wrapped in together into one too-short conversation, just as in life here in this world, a world that is not yet Heaven.
As I hung up the phone, I felt gratitude. Thank you, God, for this conversation, for this authenticity. Please let there be more moments like this in my life, and for all women, more sharing, more walking with one another through all of life’s joys and struggles. Help us to see less of each other’s highlight reels and more into each other’s hearts.
For all of us who struggle with envy, particularly within infertility, I want to remind us that we are needed, and appreciated, by our friends. Too often, I have felt isolated, or like my experience is of no consequence to the expectant or new mom, but this simply is not true. Our “fertile friends” need us to walk alongside them as their sisters in Christ, just as we need them. I want to encourage us to take the phone call from the pregnant friend, listen to the worries of the new mom, ask about the grandkids, and always remember and remind ourselves that there is more to the story than meets the Facebook profile or the Instagram posts.
More and more, through experiences like the conversation with my college friend, I realize that even though I stubbornly resist, stumble, and fall, God is making me more like Him through this. When I respond to the temptation to envy by instead praying for the friend, or when I say “yes” to simply listening to her, to looking into her heart instead of dwelling on her “perfect” photos, I grow in Charity, and I am able to love more as He loves.
Each of us is loved by God, uniquely and completely, and He has wonderful plans in mind for our lives. I believe that one of those great plans involves total transformation of our hearts, particularly if envy is a struggle we face. He wants to make us great saints! Let us pray that Jesus will nail our tendency toward envy to His cross. May we grow in Charity as walk together with our brothers and sisters in Christ on this journey, encouraging one another always. And through it may we become the saints He calls us to be.
Allie is married to her wonderful husband, James, of three years, and writes from Texas.
Meet Allie and the rest of the Springs in the Desert team at our one-day retreat for women on December 7 at Mother Boniface Spirituality Center in Philadelphia, PA. Registration is by mail only, so click on the flyer for the registration form. We hope to see you there for a day of prayer, friendship and solidarity!