A Horrible Bird Named Jealousy


“You can’t keep a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep it from building a nest in your hair.”

You’ve probably heard a form of this saying, usually referring to some sort of temptation.

I like the old Jamaican version: “You can’t keep crow from flyin’, but you can keep him from pitchin’ ‘pon you head.”

What birds are circling nearby for you? Lust? Anger? Hopelessness? Greed?

Yeah, I’ve got those. But there’s another kind of bird that wants to roost in my hair. It’s nasty and dirty, with grey oily feathers. It’s heavy and clumsy and foul smelling. It’s eyes, they’re a dull green. It’s name is Jealousy.

This is not the kind of righteous jealousy felt by God, whose name is Jealous (Exodus 34:14). No, my jealousy makes me lay claim to things that are not my own. If there are taller people in the room, not only do I look for a box to stand on, but I’m also tempted to kick the feet out  from under them. There’s nothing attractive about Jealousy, and the nest it wants to build is repulsive, as well, made out of frustrations and excuses, crooked sticks, rusty paper clips, snakeskins, and used Band-Aids.

Jealousy is the offspring of a strange combination of parents: One is “You’re not good enough,” and the other is “You deserve better.”

It’s been hovering close by for a long time, like a loyal friend. But it’s not a friend. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. And yet, there it is.

As a missionary, there were so many for me to be jealous of: those who speak the language better, report more baptisms, talk to larger crowds, plant more churches, have more guests in their home, are better able to “do it all,” and have more and better relationships, opportunities, ideas, and influence.

And now that I’m no longer on the field, Jealousy hasn’t disappeared: I see people with nicer houses, better jobs, higher salaries, more blog views and Facebook shares, and more faith.

Then there are those who are still “over there.” It’s not that my wife and I wish that we were back overseas. It’s that we wish that our desire to be there outweighed our need not to be there. And as others stay longer, as others report success, my first thought is too often “Yeah, but” or “I could have, too, if.”

What an awful way to think. What a horrible bird Jealousy is. Oh, how I’d love to wring its neck. And yet . . . .

With no small amount of fear, I ask, “Am I the only one?”

But after that first thought, I am getting better at formulating a second thought, which consists mostly of a prayer. It’s not a complex prayer. In fact, it’s only four words: “I’m sorry” and “Thank you.” The complete prayer is this: “I’m Sorry. Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you.”

And somewhere in the midst of my prayer I smile. I smile because God is good, because God is working, because others have great stories to share, because it’s not all about me, because smiling makes my face feel better even when my heart disagrees, even when the smile doesn’t last very long.

It’s like waving my arms above my head—the “sorries” and the “thank yous,” the prayers and the smiles—scaring the birds away.

As you’re out and about, watch for me. I’m the guy with the messy hair and the violently flailing arms. Maybe someday Jealousy will quit trying to pitch ‘pon my head and will leave me alone. But until then, please pray for the strength of my arms. They get so tired at times. And if you need me to, I’ll pray for the strength of yours.

[photo: “Home Improvement,” by Mike Timberlake, used under a Creative Commons license]

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Craig Thompson

Craig and his wife, Karen, along with their five children, served as missionaries in Taipei, Taiwan, for ten years before returning to southwest Missouri. His experiences, as well as conversations with other cross-cultural workers, have made him more and more interested in member care and the process of transitioning between cultures. Craig blogs at ClearingCustoms.net.

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