I never thought it would happen to me. I can’t remember ever envying someone who had a bigger house…a faster car…a higher salary…or a corner office. Nor did it bother me that I wasn’t part of the envied “1%.”
So it shocked me recently when I found myself in the clutches of the Green-Eyed Monster—a term originating in Shakespeare’s play, Othello: “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”
A number of events the past few months confirmed that I’ve been afflicted with this terrible disease. Although material things still aren’t the focus of my jealousy, several incidents pushed other buttons that brought out the Green-Eyed Monster in me…
- I ran into an old friend who now preaches in churches and conferences around the world. In contrast to his apparent success, I have very few open doors for ministry, despite my love of preaching. It puzzled me that he’s had so many opportunities, when I was sure I could preach as well, or even better.
- I spent time with a man who, like me, is a ghostwriter for other authors. I found myself extremely envious of the fact that people were actually reading the books he wrote (in contrast to my books, read by hardly anyone). And in addition to being jealous of the best-selling books he was producing, I groaned as he boasted about the huge fees he received for each book, exponentially higher than my rates.
- I read about a pastor a few hours away who was impacting thousands of young people through a church he planted. At my advanced age, I’ve concluded that the only reason to live is to find ways to pour my life into the next generation. Convinced that it’s a waste of time trying to change Baby Boomers, I’m frustrated that I don’t have more opportunities to disciple young believers.
As I’ve looked back at these three incidents, I see a pattern. For the most part, the Green-Eyed Monster didn’t rear its ugly head because of envying people’s money or status—instead, I envied their impact. The most important thing in my life is still to impact the world for Jesus, and I was jealous of those who were doing that more effectively than I was.
There’s a lot you could psychoanalyze in my perspective. Some of my friends have pointed out that I’m much too performance-focused. They’ve confronted me about basing my self-image on my accomplishments rather than on God’s unconditional love for me.
I’m sure my friends are correct in their observation. I’m praying for the Lord to remedy this.
But in each of the three incidents that triggered my bout with envy, something later happened that put everything in an entirely different light…
- I heard reports that my preacher friend had virtually begged one church to have him come and speak. This greatly offended the pastor, and made my friend seem like a real jerk, desperate for honorariums. Perhaps his life isn’t so great after all.
- The ghostwriter did a book project for a ministry I know in another state, and his work was deemed to be substandard. The man also turned out to be very difficult to work with, a real turn-off for the ministry that had hired him for the project.
- The pastor who built such a successful outreach to young people was revealed to have a serious alcohol problem. The board removed him from his pastorate until he could get help, and for now his ministry is over.
Isn’t it strange that we often envy people who don’t have such a great life after all? We’re jealous of the image they project, but things look entirely different when the curtain is pulled back.
Because of these experiences, I’m no longer envious of the three men who triggered my Green-Eyed Monster experiences. I would rather be me than them.
Yet I’m still struggling with envy of another kind: I’m “envious” to be more like the person God created me to be. I want to be more like Jesus (Romans 8:29, Luke 6:40), and more like the Jim Buchan envisioned by my Heavenly Father when He created me.
One more thing…
A few years ago, I was telling my friend Bernard about all the things I didn’t like about my life. I thought I had made a pretty good case for why he should feel sorry for me, but Bernard was much too wise to fall into that trap.
“Jim, don’t you realize that millions of people would gladly trade places with you?!” he said.
How ironic. Despite my complaints and my envy of others, millions of people would be envious if they saw the life God has given me. I guess one of the best ways to slay the Green-Eyed Monster is to be grateful for the life I already have.