Thursday, July 2, 2009

Day 32: Envy = Motivation?

"And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind."

Today, I charged into our chapter of King Solomon's wise musings ready to hop up on my favorite soap box, chant my "life is not meant to be lived alone!" refrain, and encourage all of you who are praying for a husband to keep on keeping on, because I think God is with us in this particular dream. I even had a nice little illustrative story I was going to trot out, about the benefits of determination, perseverance, and not giving up (tennis player Venus Williams and all the times she's been on the brink of defeat with the whole world watching, and somehow she digs deep inside herself and fights back, usually winning the tournament, in case you're wondering. I was going to tie it into the fact that she's never really alone out there--that unlike most players, her sister and the rest of her family are on the court with her. I think that sort of teamwork is exactly what God intends).

But before I reached my favorite line, the one about how "two are better than one" and "a cord of three strands is not easily broken," I was stopped in my tracks by the line at the top of the page. Envy as our primary motivating force? That sounds so grim! And yet so true...

Right now, I'm busting my hump to finish revising/editing my manuscript for my second book. It's been an absolute bear to write, truth be told. It's due in to my editor, in final form, a week from tomorrow. I'd stop to throw up because I'm so panicked, but that would only waste time. Yesterday, I typed so long, my fingers got an odd tingling at the tips that sort of freaked me out.

But why?

Don't get me wrong--I'm not against hard work, or going above and beyond to honor our obligations. Part of me enjoys cruch time, because it's when my most creative juices flow. But if I take a nanosecond to consider WHY I'm working so hard, King Solomon's point really resonates. I love it when an author I admire has a whole array of books for me to read. I love when someone pushes themselves to think about a variety of life's slices (and then pushes even harder to capture those thoughts on paper). I look at writers from the past like Madeleine L'Engle and C.S. Lewis and see how much they wrote, in so many different genres, and I want to do the same. I want to push myself, to take up some room on the shelf. But wanting it isn't enough. Bookstores and libraries don't just give you that space--you have to earn it. So that's what I'm trying to do. But is envy mixed in there as a primary motivating force? Absolutely. I'm not sure what to do with that, but it's worth thinking over.

We typically think about envy as inherently bad. I think it's even one of the Seven Deadly Sins. But can it ever be good? Can it spur us on to greater things than we might otherwise attempt? (Granted, this falls apart if our envy includes NOT wanting the other person to have the thing in question--that gets pretty ugly. But what if their having it simply stirs up in us the desire to have or accomplish something similar ourselves?)

When I first started coming to church, I openly envied some of the couples I saw there. (And yes, I could ditch the word "envy" and replace it with something more socially acceptable, like "admire," but that would be a total lie.) At a certain point, I made the connection that to get where they were, perhaps I should do what they were doing. This lead to a pretty radical restructuring of my life. Tough, but worth it.

Think for a moment about the thing you're working hardest on right now--mentally, physically, spiritually. It might be a project a work, a friendship you're trying to save, getting into shape...
What's your motivation? Don't judge it, just think it over, maybe talk it over with God.

Let me know how it goes :)


Sarakastic said...

I never thought of envy as a good thing just because I equate it with spite. Once again you have changed my views.

Stella said...

Dear Tingly Fingers: WOW! Thank you so much for continuing with 40 Days given the pressure you're under!

Yup, I agree ... there is such a thing as constructive, purposeful, motivational envy.

That said, I have to wonder if Solomon was having a "cranky-pants" day when he wrote today's reading.

PS--My security verification word to post this comment was "proodled" ... Giggles!

Rachaelita said...

"At a certain point, I made the connection that to get where they were, perhaps I should do what they were doing. This lead to a pretty radical restructuring of my life. Tough, but worth it".

I had a similar realization about my envy when I started going to church again. Thank you for reminding me that what I am doing now, the tough choices I am making, will pay off...(God willing in the form of a husband! lol). In the meantime, I'll keep pressing in. If God uses even our mistakes for good, I have no doubt he can use our envy, too.

kim said...

At this point, taking my hands off the steering wheel and letting God drive. Why is this SO hard?!