“It’s hard to grasp, you know? I am almost 40 years old and I will never be this world’s version of successful.”
With those words, my eyes filled with tears. Greg just took my hand and let me collect myself for a minute.
We were sitting on our back patio after dinner while the kids dealt with the dinner mess. It’s one of our favorite things to do on summer nights. We don’t always dive into such serious conversations, but that night I think he knew that I needed to work some stuff out.
“I don’t know if I’d agree with that,” he said after a bit. “Are you doing what you want to do with your life?”
“And would you change anything about it?”
“Then I’d say that’s a pretty damn successful life, wouldn’t you?”
“I guess. But…”
Comparison is the thief of joy.
It’s like Teddy Roosevelt knew me or something. I have no idea the circumstances surrounding his proclamation of this truth, but man alive. Is it ever applicable to me?
Maybe it’s turning 40. Maybe it’s this odd adjustment period I’m going through in my life as these kids who’ve been so dependent on me for so long are all of a sudden not so needy anymore. (How dare they grow up and be the independent humans I’ve worked so hard to raise, anyway?) But I can’t help looking around and seeing so many successes in the lives of people I know and love. And distinctly not seeing them in my own.
And to be very cliché, I’m doing a fantastic job of comparing my behind the scenes footage to everyone else’s highlight reel.
I see my friends with amazing careers. Nurses, writers, photographers, teachers, doctors, tech workers, and corporate executives. Women my age who have made huge strides and names for themselves in their respective fields.
I see the amazing things they produce to support their families. Beautiful decorated cakes, print art, books. And the ways they work from home to bring in a paycheck. Selling everything from skin care to candles, lipstick to food products.
Then there are the go-getters who volunteer for everything. Serving on the PTO, organizing functions, leading Bible studies, chairing committees, and making life better for the communities they call home.
For a whole lot of years while my kids were tiny and I was caught up in the daily circus of “Mom to Littles”, these things didn’t faze me in the least. I was so busy! I was living my vocation to the fullest! And now, most of the time, 9 days out of 10, I sit in awe of these ladies. I look at what they do and marvel at their capabilities.
Then that 10th day comes along. And instead of being proud and amazed, I feel broken. Less than. Defeated.
When I let myself compare where I am and what I can do with the situations and achievements of others, my joy in that with which God has graced my life just slips through my fingers.
Big dreams to small things
This world looks at a person’s wealth, achievement, and status to determine success. And, for a long time, that’s how I did, too.
When I was growing up, I had BIG DREAMS. I wanted to be on the stage. A Broadway star, that’s what I was going to be. But life happened, love happened, and I made choices. And I know in my deepest soul that they were the exact right choices. Because by denying the BIG and choosing the small, I have not only found my vocation, but my path to Heaven, as well.
So I do the grocery shopping. I menu plan and I cook. Money is saved when and where it can be saved. The laundry gets done (and done…and done…and done again). Children are carted to and from here there and everywhere. I braid hair and restock deodorant. Mop the floors, volunteer in classrooms, take kids on field trips. I snuggle little girls first thing in the morning and I stay up with puking kids in the middle of the night. I pay the bills and sign the permission slips and fill out all of the school paperwork. I’m the homework assistant, the pre-test giver, the paper editor. I go to Bible study when I can, Mass every Sunday, and I make meals for people to show them my love.
These are things that may seem small and insignificant to the world at large. But when they are done with great love, how very big they are.
Do small things with great love.
If you want to bring happiness to the whole world, go home and love your family.
Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do…but how much love we put in that action.
St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta knew what she was talking about, man! I need to print these out and hang them all over my house as reminders. That way, whenever that 10th day comes around, comparison and envy won’t get the better of me.
Because here’s the deal. Even if this world looks at what I do as something that could be hired out, easily replaced, and without value…
My family doesn’t feel that way.
My husband doesn’t feel that way.
And my God doesn’t even remotely feel that way.
He wants all of His children to follow the path that will best lead them to Him in Heaven some day. My path to Heaven just happens to be lined with children, dishes, laundry, carpool, food, family, and friends instead of degrees and promotions and production. I want to walk that path each and every day I am given on this Earth with so much love that others can’t help but be drawn in. And not just drawn in to me and what I can do, but to the source of all the gifts I’ve been given. If I can do that? If I can do all of these small things with that amount of love?
Then maybe what I will say to Greg is this…
“I am almost 40 years old and, while I am not this world’s version of successful, I am a success in the eyes of those I love the most.” And those tears will be from a heart brimming over with gratitude and praise.