We’ve all heard the popular saying, Comparison is a thief of joy. Though I know in the silent still pockets of my heart that this is true; the tendency to want more than I have, to compare myself and my achievements to other peoples’ possessions and achievements, and to feel dissatisfied or anxious about my lot in certain areas of life, is an ongoing battle for me. I’ll be cruising along, all sunshine, smiles and gratefulness, then bam, I want what I don’t have all over again.
At church we have recently been in a series on exile. I found the following definition of the term exile so gripping: exile is when where what should be seems to be losing the battle to what is. In simpler words, life is not what we think it should be. I have been in this season of exile, in one way or another, for more than a decade. Some of my desires are really quite trivial, but I can allow them to take precedence in my heart.
As a little girl I always pictured my life as an adult. I would have a ton of kids, a Chevrolet Suburban and a beautiful house with a big backyard. As a grown woman what I actually have is 3 kids, a CRV, and an urban condo with no yard at all. I don’t take walks around my neighborhood. The kids can’t be outside alone. The size of my car stuff withed all of the kids and our stuff gives me actual pains in my chest. This discrepancy between what I want and what life is has not always sat easily on me. I’ve battled a lot of bitterness of the years. Does hating my condo make my life any better? No. Does wanting what I don’t have bring me joy? No! Does scrolling through perfect homes on Instagram make me feel better about what I have? No! Do I need a serious reality check from time to time, and a conviction to be grateful; like once every few months? Yes! Ultimately if I confront my longing up close I know better. I have so much more than lots of people do. There are millions of people in the world who would be so excited to live where I live. Ultimately, I do not have a house, but I do have a home that is filled with love, and with the voices of three awesome little monsters. I’m sure that all of the people I pass each day at the city bus stop would be downright thrilled to have my CRV. There are women out there physically aching to be a mother, while I am so blessed to have three. There is no such thing as what I should have.
This comparison and longing for what others have bleeds over into my professional desires as well. I have been actively pursuing this blog for 6 months. I have posted faithfully each week. I am proud of my writing and all of the feedback that I’ve received. Buuuuuuuuttttttt, when I don’t check myself, I allow my heart to become anxious and dissatisfied. How come my following is still so small? Why do other bloggers have more followers than me? Why is another writer earning paid sponsorships? Why haven’t any of my posts gone viral? Why not me? Again, when sitting with these feelings I realize that comparing myself to others is only causing me pain. I realize that people work hard for years and years without seeing the types of rewards that I am aiming for. I believe in my blog, and believe in my future book, and I believe I will have to work hard over a long period of time to get there. Comparison is not speeding me up, because it slows me down in working on myself. And it’s been 6 months! Come on! It took me decades to take action on my writing dreams. It’s going to take me a bit longer than 6 makes to make it happen. #duh
Unfortunately, like many women, I also play the comparison game when it comes to my physical self. I hate that I want to look differently. I know in my heart that I am a loving person, a fun person, a smart person, a good person to know. I am a pretty good wife, a great mom, and an faithful friend. I know that my polka-dot skin, my boob size, and all of the physical features that I feel aren’t quite right have no true bearing on my value. Buuuuuut, I’m not naive. I know that we as humans make a lot of judgements and assumptions about women based on how they look. I am guilty of this myself. And I know a lot of people will find it silly that I have lots of insecurities. But I do. Exposure to beauty on social media, in addition to the women I see on the screen in tv and movies, leaves me feeling that I am just not beautiful enough. I see everyone’s best versions all around me; and I don’t feel like I can keep up. On other days, when my hair falls in just the right wave, my makeup leaves me feeling fresh, and my muscles feel firm from a workout the day before; at those times I feel on top of the world. But am I vocalizing that in the same way that I vocalize my negativity? Probably not. I can tell myself once that I look nice that day, but I will tell myself a thousand times that I’m bloated, or that my moles or gross, or that I need a boob job.
And all of this comparison truly matters, because comparison does take our joy. Negative feelings breed more negative feelings. And there are 6 eyes on me all of the time. If your kids are like mine (and judging from the memes out there I know they are); our kids are literally watching us at all times. They are always there. Lol.
I often think that I’m doing a good job of keeping my wants inside my brain, but I know that sometimes negative comments leak out of me because I hear that in my children. My five-year-old son already does this constantly: why did she get the yellow vitamin? why don’t I get to sit by mommy? why am I always last? He must be getting his Eeyore tendencies from somewhere; and my husband is not like that at all. My husband is patient in waiting on his dreams. He is joyful with his health, his physical body, his lot in life. As a tiny human, I see these tendencies to compare alive and well in him already; and when he is in one of those funks he isn’t making anyone happy. Comparison is a thief of joy.
I am currently reading one thousand gifts, by Ann Voscamp. This book delves into the practice of thankfulness. The practice. Thankfulness is not automatic to us, and must be exercised intentionally every day. Ann learns to be mindful of the beauty all around her by looking for things in the world to appreciate; little things that might otherwise be ignored. The click of a seatbelt. Crackle in the fireplace. New toothbrushes. Boys jiggling blue Jell-o.
Ultimately there has to be more than me praying Thank you for my blessings. If they are hearing that prayer, but seeing my dissatisfaction, then I am not living a great example. And I don’t mean to suggest that it’s not ok to be dissatisfied. I want them to see that I have goals and dreams. I want them to see me work for them. But I don’t want to whine when I don’t have what I want as quickly as I think I should. I never want to complain around my children about how I think I should look. Should is a dangerous word.
If I am using that word I want them to hear this:
You should have a dream for your life.
You should work hard for those dreams.
You should expect that you won’t always get what you want.
You should try new things. You should go for it even when you’re scared.
You should be truly thankful for the life that you have. We are healthy. We are safe. We have a roof over our head. We have never missed a meal. We are blessed to be employed. We have each other. We have good hair and luscious lips. We have long legs. We have quick comebacks. We can read.
One thing I have learned is this: if comparison is the thief of joy, thankfulness is the creator of joy. We should live in these blessings and pour out our joy on others. This is the kind of woman I want to be.