What’s the difference between jealousy, envy and coveting? And should you feel guilty for all of them? How does knowing these things help you in your relationships? I cover all of this in this episode.
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This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, but it wasn’t until I woke up thinking about it that I knew it was time to bring it to the podcast.
We are going to talk about the difference between jealousy, envy and coveting. This is something that I’ve confused about most of my life. Recently, through reading my scriptures, I figured something out that makes it so clear how to differentiate. And I think this will help you in your life as you navigate your relationships and emotions.
Start with Definitions
Let’s start with covet. What does covet mean? To desire something that belongs to someone else.
In Exodus 20, where we find the list of 10 commandments, verse 17 says, Thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, not his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, not any thing that is they neighbor’s. This is the final commandment in this particular list.
One thing I always think of when studying commandments is that the Lord never commands anything impossible. If it is a commandment, then it is possible for all of us to follow. In D&C 89 where we learn about the Word of Wisdom, it says “adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.” I don’t see why that same principle wouldn’t be applied to the 10 commandments as well.
So— desiring something that belongs to someone else is possible to control within ourselves.
OK, let’s talk about jealousy now. How would we define jealousy? 1. feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages. Which begs the question of what is envy?— a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck. So coveting?
- feeling or showing suspicion of someone’s unfaithfulness in a relationship. Like a jealous wife.
- fiercely protective or vigilant of one’s rights or possessions.
- hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage.
Jealousy is a little more complicated. It encompasses covetousness plus other things.
As I pondered the difference, I thought of how the Lord refers to himself as a jealous God. If jealousy and covetousness are similar, but God refers to himself as jealous, then where does that leave us?
I think this will help: jealousy is being afraid you will lose something, usually a relationship. This makes sense in the context of God being a jealous God. He doesn’t want to lose his relationship with us.
In the footnote of Exodus 20:5, it says jealous in this context means “possessing sensitive and deep feelings.” Perhaps in this situation feelings of not desiring to lose someone? But also knowing that they have agency?
OK, so when I realized this definition of jealousy, it made it very clear the differences between jealousy and envy. which maybe today we would call envy. Jealousy is fearing a loss of something you already have, and coveting or envy is desiring something that belongs to someone else.
How does this help us in our relationships and as we process emotion?
First of all, it’s ok to be jealous. It’s natural and normal. God did not command us to not be jealous, which either means to be human is to be jealous or that it does not apply to even the weakest of saints, or some other reason known only to God.
But he did command us to avoid coveting or envy. Knowing what you are capable of, is often the first step.
Why might God command us to not covet?
Personally, I think it’s because as soon as we are looking to others and what they have, we are not being grateful for what we have. I think it takes us away from our own path, our own business to refer to the concept from last week. Perhaps envy distracts us from our own purpose?
Or, it puts us in a mindset of scarcity when God is a God of abundance.
Why do you want to know?
OK, so why am I talking about this? How exactly is this even helpful?
- When you’re struggling in a relationship, especially if your struggle involves feelings of sadness, it may be helpful to check in and ask- am I jealous? (As in desiring to not lose the relationship or something in it.) Sometimes just naming the proper emotion is so helpful.
- Knowing when you are coveting vs when you are jealous can help you know if you’ve broken a commandment or if you are just human. It helps alleviate false guilt. It helps point you toward repentance if necessary.
- If you decide you are in envy/coveting, and you stay curious, it can lead you to understanding what you desire. I’ve heard others say “Pay attention to what makes you jealous (which is really envy here), it’s probably showing you an unmet need within yourself.” I agree with this. Of course do the repentance work to bring yourself back into alignment with the Lord, but it could also be an invitation to be curious about what you feel you are lacking, that maybe IS within your control to obtain, if you focus on creatively bringing it about in your life.
Don’t forget to enter the 100th episode giveaway by giving the podcast a 5 star rating and a review and share it with a friend! And if you’re ready to overcome envy or jealousy, schedule a free session with me. Until next time, go be you and follow the Spirit.