Envy vs. Emulate

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Lovely rice seller on market day in Bhutan

We’ve been waiting for you.
You are the only one
who can fulfill your part.
-Sue Miller Hurst


Envy

Pronunciation: ‘en-vE

Definition: A feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success,
or possessions (Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd edition); a resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage (Merriam- Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition).

Late in the sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great made envy one of the seven deadly sins, which are defined as “deliberate violations of the will of God, a misuse of our free will and a deliberate turning away from God. Sin is a grave matter committed in full knowledge with full consent of the will; until it is repented it cuts the sinner off from God’s sanctifying grace” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 200th anniversary edition).

What is it about envy that Christendom has seen it for centuries as a deliberate sin? The effect of deliberate sin is that we are cut off from God’s grace, disconnected from our wholeness. We are out of balance in a profound way and feel it not only in our hearts and minds, but also in our bodies. The feeling is toxic. We experience hell right now.

Have you ever envied and resented someone who was really excellent at something? For being intelligent, talented, capable, beautiful, handsome, funny, athletic, doing what they love, fulfilled spiritually, charismatic, at ease socially, etc.? Where do you feel it in your body? What kinds of thoughts did you have about them?

Have you ever resented someone who had something you didn’t have and thought you deserved? For example, healthy relationships, close friends, a great job, a lovely home, a car, a great wardrobe, a trip somewhere, money, a great body, etc.? What have you said inside your mind when you thought about this person? What have you said to others about this person behind their back? What do you feel in your body?

Our definition of resentment at Wings goes like this: “Resentment is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die.” This is the feeling of envy. It gnaws at your mind, heart, and gut. And when you are feeling it, you may do or think things that you are not too proud of later, which means a double dose of guilt.

Envy seems, in a way, to be safe, and it keeps us justified in not taking action of our own. However, envy is anything but safe. It is insidious and keeps us stuck in resentment, jealousy, longing, and “poor me” or victim thinking. Toxic.

When we envy another, we build separation between ourselves and them and also distance ourselves from the very things we want. They belong to the other, not to us.

Let’s look at another possibility.

Emulate

Pronunciation: ‘em-yU”lAt

Definition: A desire and effort to equal or excel, to imitate or model another’s desired traits, capabilities, or possessions.

My mom gave me a great gift as I was growing up. She used to say to me, “If a human being can do it or create it, so can you.” So I grew up believing that if I did my part, I could do just about anything (except be a man, which for a while I thought would be pretty cool). I watched people I admired and “tried them on,” the way they walked, talked, painted, sang, played field hockey, danced, anything. I didn’t realize I was emulating them or modeling them. I just watched very closely and then did what they did, and I learned. I went beyond my own frame of capability.

I am not saying that I never felt envy. Sometimes it was bitter in my mouth with words I wanted to say to diminish someone’s brightness. Sometimes I felt so jealous of another’s beauty that I couldn’t sleep, feeling such angst in my body I thought I would die.

I am saying I found a way through envy to valuing, honoring, and appreciating others’ talents, capabilities, and possessions, so that I could learn from them how to bring all that abundance into my own life. I began to emulate those I admired and blessed them for showing me the way. Who do you respect enough that you want to model them and grow?

Reflections:

1. What role has envy played in your life?

2. Who have you envied? What capabilities of theirs did you envy? What impact did that have on you?

3. What possessions have you envied? What impact did that have on you?

4. Who do you want to emulate, to model their gifts and talents and make them your own?

With love and gratitude,
Kris King

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