There he is, my old friend Jealousy waiting to wish me a Happy New Year as I wake up to my Facebook newsfeed.
I’m a little surprised at seeing this friend so early in the new year; to be honest I was hoping he wouldn’t visit for a few days. But staring at me from my laptop is a photo I wish I was in: Three acquaintances and their wives having fun at a party. One, a successful businessman. The second, a rising star in a multinational corporation who is also a successful writer. The third, a funny, likeable, very popular musician.
I suppose I want to be in the picture because I want some of their success to rub off on me. I want to be associated with them. Other people who see this photo, were they to see me standing alongside, might think, “Ah, I think I recognize that guy. I didn’t know he was friends with Mr. Musician. Hmm, I’ll bet he’s funny and likeable too…”
And that’s really the crux of my problem, isn’t it? It’s not that I want to be in the photo; I don’t want to trade lives with these men. I don’t wish their spouses were my spouse, or their kids my kids. I love my wife and kids just the way they are, thank you very much. I don’t even wish it was my living room the picture was taken in. No, what I want are the personal qualities of these three men which seem to drip off the picture like liquid gold: Business success, writing talent, and popularity.
The photo is a mirror into my own soul and has nothing to do with the gentlemen pictured therein.
There are undoubtedly facets of each man’s life which I cannot see in the photo: Marital difficulties, stress at work, creative blocks, etc. But again, the photo has become a mirror; it’s no longer a photo. I’m not even really seeing the people in the photo. Instead, I’m seeing the parts of myself I feel unfulfilled and insecure about.
Taking this analysis a level deeper I might ask, “At what level of business success, writing talent, or popularity would I feel fulfilled?” The answer is as painful as it is obvious: There is no such level. No amount of success, talent, or popularity would ever allow me to feel fulfilled for more than a few moments. I’m therefore driven to ask the final question: If I do not feel fulfilled now, and if I will never feel fulfilled by anything I can acquire in this life, what is left for me to do?
Two answers come to mind.
First, I must learn to sit with my pain. I must invite my friends Jealousy and Unfulfillment over for coffee. I must be intimate with my pain and resist the urge to numb it through busyness, pornography, or even through writing this blog. I must accept the fact that the hunger I feel will not be satisfied this side of the grave.
Second, I should consider the lives of the Saints. Though they longed for the same things I do (probably much more intensely), I believe they were able to make peace with their longing and accept it as another “friend” along their journey.
Now let’s shift the focus to you. As you scan Facebook and/or hear others’ New Year’s Eve stories, do you feel jealousy or envy rising up inside you? What parts of the photos or stories create that emotional reaction? Like me, are you jealous of someone’s apparent popularity? Perhaps you find yourself wishing you could be as attractive as someone you know? Or worse, is it possible you’re so insecure that you share your photos and stories to make others jealous?
These painful moments are the recognition of our shadow and are excellent learning opportunities; let’s not waste them!