What prompts today’s post right in the middle of the Psalm 91 series is a radio program on the sin of envy I heard just a few hours ago.
Just stop your sinful envy, noted the preacher. Confess it. Get rid of it.
Well, yes. Of course. We should all do this. Immediately.
“But it’s not always so easy, Pal,” I told him, speaking loudly and clearly right into the radio… which is when I decided now was the time to share my story about my own Quest for Truth in the Foggy, Soggy, Bog of Envy. It is a tale fraught with some surprising twists and turns that might even amaze the radio preacher.
More importantly, I hope it encourages you, gentle reader.
For who has not dealt with the fearsome Green-Eyed Monster from time to time?
See if what worked for me might work for you, too. It’s been quite a quest…
“I can’t believe you actually KNOW her!” My middle school writing student gasped, jaw dropping.
“If I bring my books will she autograph them?” another student asked, with a similar look of amazement. Two, three, ten more chiming in, “Mine, too?”
I assured them I had been friends with their absolute favorite book author for years; yes, she was really coming to speak to my classes here in the home school resource center; and, yes, bring her books; I am sure she will autograph them.
Wow, I though, did I ever score with these girls! Probably secured my nomination as teacher of the year…
But little did they know the event represented a huge personal celebration for me: my hard-one victory over severe envy of my friend’s phenomenal publishing success. And she had only just started her soon-to-become meteoric rise to fame.
IT ALL BEGAN THERE
I first met “M” when we were both involved in local politics in the late eighties, early nineties. We knew each other from church, we worked together for a short time, and we were also both struggling writers. At the time I wrote whatever I was randomly interested in. She wrote primarily teen and women’s books for the Christian market.
Actually, I should say I was struggling. Although “M” had yet to sell a book proposal, she was and remains the single most prolific writer I have ever known. The strength of her talent is such that she produces polished manuscripts at a rapid rate. Her book sales are now in the literal millions.
To date I believe M has won every major book award that exists in the Christian publishing industry. Sometimes you see cardboard advertisements for her latest books or latest in a series of her books in stores. I expect soon to see her name on the writing credits of the Hallmark channel made-for-television movies. Or even on the bigger screen.
Though she long since moved away from the area, occasionally I hear or read about her. She travels with the elite in the world of Christian book writers and sellers and I am sure I was fortunate to have secured her to speak to my little home school writing class at that time as by now her schedule and her fee would be far too prohibitive. On the other hand, I am sure she was gracious even back then to accommodate my students for a small fee and lunch at the best place I could get us into while she was in town visiting her family.
On the other hand, I am not a prolific writer. At all. And I have a split “career passion,” you might put it. When I am teaching, I am sure this is my life’s calling. When I am writing, I am sure THIS is my life’s calling. And when I am writing some new or innovative lesson plan for one of my classes, well, the rest of the world just stops for a bit as I work out the fun and effective, I hope, details…
In terms of the actual production of devotionals or commentaries or humor, or whatever else I am writing, I relate much more to what Oscar Wilde once said: “This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back in again.” Let’s say that most of the time I belong to the “slow writing movement,” as contrasted with my friend. In addition, if it weren’t for the fact that I sell lesson plans my sales wouldn’t amount to more than a few dollars now and then.
In fact, my current writing passion is this blog. This venue, though it garners a modest readership and posts are free for the downloading, is a source of great satisfaction. Like Paul, the tentmaker, I have a good “day job,” and, as they say, it “supports my writing habit.” Except that my day job as an instructor is an equal source of joy, as noted above. So I feel doubly blessed.
As a writer and a teacher (equal billing) I very much relate to the sentiment expressed by Olympian Eric Liddell who though he knew he would one day work on the mission field, also knew his running ability was “of the Lord.”
“God made me fast,” he told his sister when she questioned his Olympic ambitions. “And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
When I nurture students, when I encourage you, reader, I, too, feel God’s pleasure, if I may say. Probably similar to my friend’s emotions when she writes her books, speaks, and ministers in the much larger, global arenas to which God has called her.
However, as you might imagine, the first I had heard of my friend’s wildly successful writing career (which occurred several years prior to her visit to my class and shortly after her move out of the area) I was not so overjoyed. And again, that was before her global fame.
I was, in fact, struck breathless, numb, with envy. It’s hard to describe the actual feeling, but I savor trying because I savor the challenge of crafting just The Right sensory description (this morning, I inserted a sensory detail; this afternoon, I took it out again). So I will try.
The feeling that suddenly engulfed me was heavy, suffocating, and thought-stopping. It felt like a wide band had tightened around my torso. A feeling like what occurs just before you faint when sound fades and your entire being telescopes into a sense that something big is wrong and then you go down. Only I didn’t go down. I just stopped, stunned, in my tracks.
This was only about a year after M had moved to another city to work for her friends in their Christian publishing business. She stopped in for a quick, unannounced visit to the place she and I had both worked. I still worked there. She breezed in with a sackful, a large sackful, of her books, copies for everyone!
While associates chattered in delight and awe and rummaged through her books and clamored for autographs, I felt as if time ceased. I forced my congratulations, gave M a big hug, found some book for her to autograph while all the while the earth shifted on its axis. At least my earth shifted. At least on the axis in the staff lunchroom.
Worse than the stark contrast in our writing worlds, I suddenly felt as if I was enmeshed in a thick, dense, web of Envy. Jealousy seemed too flippant as a descriptor, too frivolous. I was suddenly, powerfully, overwhelmed with the Big One, Numero Seis on the list of the Seven Deadlies, the nasty over which kingdoms topple and battles of epic and biblical proportion are waged—indeed, Satan’s own sin!
I had to admit, though soon the feelings eased up a bit, the green-eyed monster had most definitely embedded its long, pointy claws deeply into my mind, emotions, spirit, and psyche, E) All of the above.
Help! Was all I could think of to pray.
When I got to the praying stage.
WHAT IS YOUR PASSION?
And the work commenced.
While M rose speedily through the writing ranks, soon breaking through the ceiling and shooting into hyperspace (or so it seemed) Phyllis grabbed the shovel.
My starter conversation with the Lord went something like this:
Lord: This, too, shall pass.
Lord: First, confess Number Six.
Me: Now, what? I still feel foggy, soggy, and boggy!
Lord: Are you willing to do the work?
Me: Anything to feel better!
Lord: Dig to the level of the REAL cause of your envy. It might not be what you think…
As was/is often the case between the Lord and me and these kinds of conversations, I knew I’d need to reach for that shovel again and again and dig deeper and deeper until I reached the bedrock of Truth about the situation. I knew it would take time, effort, gut-honesty, and continual “dialogue” with the Lord. And it did.
To stay in my stinking Bog of Envy, stop here. To fast-forward to the treasure at the bottom of the Well of Wisdom, read on.
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL
At length, after much digging, seeking, learning, counseling, praying, here is what I found: My severe envy of my friend’s huge success as a writer was, surprise to me, not her writing success!
…Wait for it. This is big…
The reason for my envy, I discovered after all the effort (see above) was the fact that M was living and operating in her true calling and passion. M had “done the work” of discovering and working very hard at what she knew was her work but also her ministry (and it took her until she was about 40 to “succeed,” at least how the world defines success).
And, though I was working in a good place, even writing a local humor column at the time and selling a few other articles and devotionals, etc., I was NOT—and I knew it—doing the work, pressing forward, challenging myself as had and does my friend.
This was it!
Me: Thanks, Lord, once again!
Lord: I’m here if you need me.
Immediately, the Muck of Misery began to dry up and blow away. And I realized I had much work ahead of me. Because what I discovered, with help from many helpers and guides along the way, was that I needed to go back to school to complete the degrees I needed to teach where I felt the leading to teach and where some doors of opportunity had been opening up.
And I also needed to do the work of determining what, where, how, why, and when I was to write.
This took much longer.
The humor columns were fun and a way to cheer up the columnist and the reader, hopefully, and I made it almost to the point of syndication (they chose, instead, a crossword puzzle for the “filler space” in their national and Canadian newspapers). And the occasional set of devotionals for various publishers was edifying, but I did not sense all of this was to be the primary focus of my writing career. To the contrary, I began slowly to suspect it had something to do with the “T” word: technology.
People talk technology and my eyes glaze over quickly and thickly.
But, my theme was “do the work” (like my friend does), so, at length (much length) I sensed the time was NOW to start a blog. (And, surprise, surprise, once in awhile I am inspired to draw some analogy or other in the spiritual realm based on some innovation in–the technology realm.)
Anyway, I had no clue how to do this, but in the interim of when I started this whole business to the point at which I started this blog, God had greatly blessed blog designers with the smarts to help even tech-phobic people such as me enter the arena.
The rest is history. The rest is, I should say, a number of years after my close encounter with Envy of Biblical Proportions, that I am enjoying the dual blessings of teaching and writing. And though my gracious friend continues to bless and amaze the world—and her pocketbook, no doubt–with her insights and output I am content.
I suppose this doesn’t make much sense to the world that sees gain as godliness (although God blesses people materially), but I think those of you who experience such joy in your own true ministry/calling understand completely though your work, like mine, may be much humbler in scope and sequence than my amazing friend’s.
But if today you are mucked up in the Bog of Envy (and trust me, it won’t get better unless you act), see if your life could take another direction, a right turn, perhaps at the Sign Post of Possibility, a detour at Hope Hostel. Or perhaps you will be directed back to a former “love,” vocation or avocation.
Ask God for what reason you are riding on this spinning orb called earth, and don’t settle for less than the truth. And be prepared for surprises.
And at all times keep your arms and legs inside the ride and stay very close to the Tour Guide, Who “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Ephesians 3:20).
Lastly, be encouraged: if He can work “in me by His power” to free me from the Claws of Doom in the Foggy, Soggy, Bog of Envy, He can help you, too, in your quest.
UPDATE, MAY 2021: Guess what? My friend did, in fact, have a Hallmark movie produced based on one of her books! It came out either last summer or the summer before, and featured a couple of the most famous Hallmark movie stars!