Sometimes when I'm reading it feels like I'm on one of the many forest preserve trails in my neck of Illinois. Walking along, with the chickory and black-eyed susans stretching up beside me like they are attempting to lick the sun itself and that unique Illinois breeze moving around and through you like ocean waters. You can get to the point on one of these trails where, outside of bikers and runners like me, you walk totally without distraction. Nothing to stop you or cause you to pause or be concerned. That is how reading feels to me, at least most of the time. Then this little quote from Steve Saccone's brilliant book Protege came upon me:
One of the first steps in [the] journey away from imitation toward originality is identifying who the people are we're trying to be like, and exploring through self reflection why we want what they have or why we want to be more like them. We must explore this path of discovery to find the root of our envy. Are we identified by who we are in Christ, or are we defined by someone else's definition of success? (39)
Remember the forest preserve? Now imagine a 400 pound silverback gorilla charged out of the chicory and speared me in the soul like an NFL linebacker. That's close.
Saccone was addressing Christian leaders, however I know his statement about envy - and I'd like to use the term spiritual envy - is a very real and possibly dangerous thing. The idealization of someone else's life of following Christ, beyond the characteristics we find in Scripture or echoed by God's spirit as healthy and beautiful ways to build up the church (see 1 Cor. 14:12), can be deadly and destructive to us because we never get to the place of realizing our grassroots and original poetry before God.
When we live lives of comparative spirituality or leadership and character envy, we rob God of His right to create us unique and to sanctify us as such. We lose that ultimate privilege to be God's unique creation amongst unique artists and visionaries in this body of Christ.
I plan on doing this exercise sometime in the near future:
-Write down the name of person who came to mind when we read the quote above. -What is it that they have that we want? -Are we willing to admit when we're suffering from envy that has the potential to bring down our soul completely?
In leadership and in following Christ the fundamental need we all have is to see ourselves as God sees us, not as we'd like to be seen through the mold of someone else.