Comparison

“Stay in your own lane.”

Recently I had coffee with a dear friend and mentor and this was her advice for me. It’s such a simple phrase, but so incredibly hard to live out.

I’ve always struggled with comparison. Rather than focusing on the individual journey God has for me, I often find myself looking to the left and right to see what everyone else is doing. This causes me to constantly re-evaluate myself. My identity becomes based on how I measure up to others, rather than on how God sees me.

Sometimes I wish that social media had never been invented. In my opinion, social media is what most strongly fuels comparison in our society today. And it is such an inauthentic representation of reality. On social media we present a collection of all of our best, most polished moments. We showcase our vacations, adventures, and our best moments with friends and family. While none of these are inherently wrong, they don’t accurately represent day to day life. As a result, we end up comparing the mundane, ordinary aspects of our daily life to brief, seemingly perfect snapshots of other people’s lives. It’s no wonder that social media sparks comparison and competition.

Although I appreciate the way that social media lets me connect with people who live far away, I’ve recently become profoundly aware of it’s negative impact my life. There is a direct correlation between my sense of contentment and the amount of time I spend online.

For example, as a definite introvert, I deeply value my alone time. My introversion is a key part of how God has wired me and something I actually really enjoy about myself. However, when I get online and see people appearing to be so social and outgoing, I tend to question this aspect of myself and wish that I had a greater capacity for people. I start to view my introversion as a flaw in my personality rather than as a gift.

The same is true about my singleness. Although I am enjoying this season of my life and don’t feel in a big rush to get married or have my own family, that can change when I get online and see so many people getting married and having kids. I start to wonder if I’m missing out and fear that I’m falling behind.

My problem is that I’m not staying in my own lane. Instead, I’m meandering into other people’s lanes and analyzing how my progress in the journey measures up to theirs. And this is such a deadly trap. I’m learning that comparison is a game I will never win. There will always be someone more connected, more adventurous, more attractive, and more successful.

However, when I stay in my own lane and fix my eyes on Jesus, everything changes. I realize that I’m exactly where I need to be and that God is pleased with me. I remember my identity as daughter, friend, and beloved of God. And I feel a sense of deep contentment about where I’m at in my journey.

It’s the joy that comes from staying in my own lane.

Advertisements

Present

The other day I encountered the present moment in an unexpected and beautiful way. I woke up too late and rushed around to get ready for the day. I hurriedly got in my car and started driving to work. I began to think about all of the things I needed to get done that day. I have this bad habit of using my 20 minute commute to obsess about all that was unfinished from the day before and worry about what the upcoming day will hold. This day was no different. However suddenly, I looked up and saw the most beautiful sunrise I had seen in a long time. The sky literally looked like it was on fire with gorgeous pink and orange hues. At the same time, one of my favorite songs started playing on my Spotify playlist. I immediately forgot about my anxieties and was acutely aware of the sacredness of that present moment with the Lord. It was such a sweet moment and I almost missed it.

I struggle to live in the present. This may be because I am an INFJ personality which I’ve learned is one of the most future-focused personality types. I also struggle with anxiety and am therefore constantly playing out “what if” scenarios in my mind. Additionally, I’m a bit of an idealist and spend a lot of time in my head dreaming about the future. Whatever the reason, I find it very difficult to embrace the present.

Sometimes I wonder just how many sacred moments I miss because I’m so caught up in my head. I think that some of God’s best gifts are only discovered by being fully engaged in the present.

I’m learning that it takes discipline to live in the present moment. I’ve found that certain activities help me in this area. For example, I most readily embrace the present moment when I’m hiking, running, playing music, or spending one-on-one time with people I care about. Each of these activities help me to live in the moment and fully engage with what’s happening around me.

I’ve also been learning the danger of multitasking. In my opinion, multitasking is one of the greatest hindrances to living in the present moment. It’s hard to be fully present when I’m cooking, watching tv, checking my phone, and trying to have a conversation all at the same time! I find that when I focus on one task, conversation, or activity at a time, I’m more likely to be aware of what God’s doing in that moment.

This goes so against my natural inclination. However, I want to learn how to more regularly engage in the present moment and find God there.

Thoughts on Loneliness

“However most of us our reluctant to admit our loneliness even to ourselves. All of us tend to have a congenital need to deny that we experience loneliness and that it is, in some way, responsible for many of our feelings, actions, and pursuits… We admit that we are lonely only with feelings of shame and weakness. Also, most of us feel that loneliness is not something that should affect normal, healthy persons… Unfortunately, too, the cost of our self deception is high. We pay a heavy price for not admitting our loneliness, facing it squarely, and grappling with it honestly.”

-Ronald Rolheiser

This quote comes from the book The Restless Heart by Ronald Rolheiser. This is easily one of the best books I’ve ever read and one that I’ve read more times than I can count. I love Rolheiser’s nuanced, thoughtful perspective on loneliness. He identifies many types of loneliness. Some examples are…

… the loneliness that comes from being alienated from others (what we normally think of when we hear the word “loneliness”).

… the loneliness of being in relationship with others, but not being fully known.

…the loneliness that comes from our culture’s mobility. People, places, and organizations are constantly changing or moving away.

…the loneliness of rootlessness. With our culture’s breakdown of the nuclear family, people are losing their sense of belonging.

…the loneliness that comes from losing touch with our spiritual heritage and history.

…the loneliness caused by media and advertising. The media constantly presents us with ideal people, relationships, and things that we can never quite attain.

…the loneliness of living “as in a glass darkly”. Until we reach heaven, our relationships with God and with others are imperfect and only partially satisfying.

I’m realizing that loneliness is a universal human experience. Even the most social, extroverted people probably experience feelings of loneliness from time to time. I also find it interesting that we tend to be so private about this completely normal human experience. I wonder how much more fulfilling our relationships with others could be if we felt the freedom to admit our loneliness rather than hiding it from others.

In The Restless Heart, Rolheiser quotes psychologist Carl Rogers. The quote reads as follows:

“I have most invariably found that the very feeling which has seemed to me most private, most personal, and hence, most incomprehensible by others, has turned out to be an expression for which there is a resonance in many people. It has led me to believe that what is most personal and unique in each of us is probably the very element which would, if it were shared and expressed, speak most deeply to others.”

I have found this to be true in my own life. The seasons of loneliness that I have experienced have actually resulted in some unexpected gifts. I think that sometimes God allows us to go through times of loneliness because it increases our sensitivity and empathy for others. Only by being lonely ourselves, do we understand the loneliness that others experience. I also think that seasons of loneliness cause us to be more thankful for deep and meaningful relationships when we do experience them. Most importantly, though, I’ve found that loneliness has the potential to draw us closer to the Lord and the intimacy that he offers.

And that is by far the greatest gift.

The Power of Calm

“Do we want to infect people with more anxiety or heal ourselves and the people around us with calm?” -Brene’ Brown

This quote immediately jumped out at me the first time I read The Gifts of Imperfection. As someone who struggles significantly with anxiety, I was challenged to consider the effect that my anxiety might have on others. Anxiety is contagious. I know this to be true from personal experience. When I spend time with stressed out, anxious people, I find myself feeling more stressed out and anxious. As a teacher, I’ve noticed that on the days when I’m stressed or worried, my students tend to be more on edge as well. As humans, I think that we tend to match the emotions of the people around us.

The sad truth is that stress and anxiety are practically an epidemic in our culture. The pace of our lives is too busy and frenetic. Living in a digital age, we are bombarded by information overload via technology. And on top of all that, we hear stories of disasters around the world on what feels like a daily basis. It’s no wonder that so many of us are crippled with stress and anxiety. And sadly I’m realizing that my anxiety has the power to seep into my relationships and negatively affect the people around me.

However, I’ve also been realizing something very hopeful. While anxiety has the potential to spread like a disease, calm is equally contagious. I believe that calm has the power to heal anxiety.

Have you ever been around someone that exudes calm? My dad is one of those people. He is rarely stressed out or anxious. He simply takes each day as it comes and doesn’t worry about the things he can’t control. He is slow to speak and quick to listen. He regularly uses his sense of humor to diffuse tense situations. He takes his time when making important decisions and refuses to rush. For an anxious person like myself, spending time with calm people can be so healing.

I want to become a calmer presence for the people around me. I’m learning several strategies for bringing calm to anxious situations. For example, when a student is upset, I’m learning that it’s important to speak with them slowly, in a quiet voice. I try to match their level of agitation with an equal level of calm. I’m learning that simply listening and asking questions can help when a friend or loved one is stressed. I’ve also realized that it’s perfectly ok not to respond right away. Taking a deep breath and just stopping to think can be a powerful strategy in a challenging situation. Although my natural default in tense moments is often anxiety and stress, I know that I can change that.

I want to learn how to be a non-anxious presence.

Creativity 

I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of creativity. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently read Brene’ Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection. In this book, she explains that a key component of living a wholehearted life is embracing creativity. She notes that a lot of people are afraid to express themselves creatively because being creative is vulnerable. It takes a lot of courage to create something new and share it with the world.

Her perspective on creativity has really got me thinking about my own relationship with creativity. For as long as I can remember I’ve always loved creative forms of self expression. Growing up, I enjoyed scrap booking, sewing, making jewelry, and doing basically anything crafty. I also loved writing music on my guitar and had a season in high school where I wrote a new song every week! I’ve always loved writing as well. A couple of years ago, I found a stack of “books” that I’d written as a child that I remember being so proud of.

However, when I started college, my creativity fell by the wayside. Life became too busy and I experienced a lot of stress balancing school, work, student teaching practicums, and other other commitments. Looking back, I realize that I simply stopped prioritizing creativity in my life. Now that I’m out of college and working as a teacher, I have more free time again. It’s been so exciting to rediscover my passion for music and writing. And I’m hoping to explore some other creative avenues in the near future as well.

Brene’ Brown’s work has also got me thinking about the way that I encourage creativity in my students. She explains that most people who struggle with creativity have “art scars” from elementary school. They can remember a specific time that a teacher or another student devalued their art because if wasn’t like everybody else’s.  I don’t want to be that teacher. I want my classroom to be a place where my students see their own work as unique and valuable. I want to have a classroom environment where it is safe to take creative risks. I’m not completely sure yet what that looks like practically, but it’s something that I want to keep exploring.

As You Are 

“Jesus came to bring you out of the shadows. He sees you and He loves you-just as you are, not as you should be. Let him love you just as you are.” -Sally Lloyd Jones

I read this quote today and it really ministered to me. Sometimes I feel defeated by the areas of my life that are broken, including my constant struggle with anxiety. I am frustrated by how my anxiety limits me and causes me to miss out on so many things. And at times my anxiety causes me to even feel unworthy of God’s love and acceptance.

But this is not God’s heart towards me. God’s love for me is not based on who I “should” be. He sees me just as I am. Anxious. Stressed. Unsettled. Restless. Unsure. Afraid.

And He loves me.

The Gift of Limits 

I woke up feeling especially tired this morning after a long, exhausting week. I also felt acutely aware of my limits and the ways that I pushed too hard this past week. I regularly ignore my limits. I say yes to too many things, work too late, and keep going when I know I need to stop and rest.

My natural inclination is to view my limits in a negative light. However, I’m learning that my limits are actually a gift. God has graciously created us with natural limits. We need sleep. We need food. We need rest. We need help and suppport. We were not created to be self-sufficient. We were created to need God and to need others.

I’m learning that I have a lot of limits. First of all, I have physical limits. As the teacher of a very busy class I’m learning that I need 8 hours of sleep each night and a good breakfast just to make it through the day. I have emotional limits. Sometimes the needs of my students and the people around me feel very overwhelming and I need to take time to journal or process my emotions with someone I trust. As an introvert, I have major limits when it comes to people. I love spending time with people, but I also need long stretches of alone time to recharge and feel like myself again. My age and lack of life experience are limits as well. When I encounter difficult situations as a teacher or even in my personal life, I need wisdom and advice from others.

I’m learning that these limits really are a gift. They remind me that I can’t manage life on my own. I need God. I need others. And that is something to be thankful for.