mental health,  mindfulness,  prayer,  reality check,  self care

The despair of comparison and letting God in

Do you ever take your eyes off your own paper just for a minute, maybe not every day, but every so often? What do you see when you look around?

I don’t necessarily mean on social media, but let’s start there. Maybe you sit down for a few moments of peace in between meetings or mountains of laundry. You tap the screen and lose yourself for a few minutes – maybe more than a few – in those perfect little squares. (Yes, I know I pick on Instagram a lot. No, I’m not sorry.) In the span of a few moments you’ve maybe seen amazing vacation pictures, a victory shot of a new number on the scale or a new pair of jeans.

A lucrative new opportunity someone else has been handed, a pregnancy announcement, the money shot to a set of keys to a new home being handed over. A gap-toothed kid smiling with a solid gold report card. A kitchen reno. A mission trip overseas. A road trip over state lines.

Whatever it is that you’re seeing, when it causes your heart to contract, tightening with pain instead of expanding in gratitude and wonder, what is happening there?

Original sin, sure. A touch of envy. A dusting of avarice. A smidge of self righteous resentment. Quite possibly, yes.

But what if the pain is also a sign of something more foundational than plain, boring old sin?

What if God is examining an old hurt, probing an imperfectly-healed wound with His finger, showing where it’s still tender, infected, impacted?

I was on the treadmill last month in a fit of mid-January despair, multitasking between (I kid you not) a motivational podcast with a self-help book pulled up on my Kindle while maintaining a vigorous pace. Of the two entire times I exercised during the month of January, this was by far the more strenuous.

My mind wandered from the podcast as my brain strained to toggle between audio and visual input. Frustrated, I switched off the Kindle and stared into space. What was the use, anyway? I can intake all the self help advice on the planet and still only show up at the gym twice a month during this season of life. I just don’t have the hustle. I just don’t have the grit.

God gently quietly inserted Himself into my negative stream of consciousness and this thought popped up: “But do you spend time with Me?”

Not lately. My conscience was seared on the spot, but with the gentle precision that only the Divine Physician can wield.

During the tumult of the holidays and a very sick month for our family, time with God – along with my amazing diet and great sleep hygiene and New Year’s Resolutions to slay all day – had fallen along the wayside.

I saw myself in that moment on the treadmill in a crowded gym at 10 pm on a January night and I laughed at how perfectly, perfectly I embodied my perpetual desire to save myself.

God constantly has to remind me to stop fighting Him for control of my own life.

Basically from the time when I first gained self awareness right up to present day, I’m in a constant cycle of forgetting Him, forging ahead, enjoying moderate success under my own formidable head of steam, having some kind of stress or effort or circumstance-induced breakdown, crashing and burning, and then calling out to Him in despair. And repeat.

He always picks me up again. Consols me with an intimacy that doesn’t seem possible outside of a retreat setting.

For about a week or two – however long I manage to maintain my newfound enthusiasm for a good prayer routine, however long I can perceive Him metaphorically rubbing my belly – I lap up His closeness like a good-natured dog who is so, so happy the master came home from work again.

Inevitably, life creeps back in and the intimacy fades. As I’ve come to understand in my slightly more mature walk of faith, it is almost always me withdrawing from the Lord, not vice versa.The morning after my little treadmill epiphany I came to God with some pretty specific questions, asking Him why so-and-so had already achieved such and such, wondering what was wrong with me, my work, my commitment, my ability, etc. He was really clear and, again, really gentle: “What I have given to her would not have been good for you.”

Unfortunately that sentence wasn’t followed immediately by “but I’m going to give it to you soon!” Happily, neither did He finish with “And I’m never, ever going to give it to you.”

I guess He’s leaving the more nuanced work of discernment up to me.

It did get me thinking that some of my specific struggles with jealousy are tied to specific wounds or weaknesses of mine: the fear of not being chosen, of not being enough, of bringing my best to the table and still being rejected – this specific fear usually manifests for me as paralysis and procrastination. Because they can’t reject what you’ve never offered in the first place, am I right?

I’m the guy who buries his single talent in the ground and then obsesses about why everyone else is having so much success with their talents, while simultaneously trembling in fear of being called out for it one day.

Where is this going? I guess my point is twofold. First, that God uses specific weaknesses and wounds to speak to us about His vision for our lives and to remind us that we need Him. When something hurts, it’s an invitation to turn towards Him and ask for help.

He wants to heal us, He longs to…but He won’t force His way into our lives. If we turn away and refuse to show Him the cut, He can’t bandage it up. I’m sure it pains Him to watch us dripping blood all over the place like crazed toddlers, clutching at the injury in agony, wondering why He won’t help us but refusing to come near enough to let Him do so.

Second, He will continue to bring our pain to the surface, offering us opportunities to address it with Him. The woman from today’s Gospel who grabbed at Jesus’ robe in the crowd, had she tried everything in her own power already, was she desperate to be healed and finally reaching out to Him as a last resort? Or had she been crying out for years, unable to articulate what it was exactly that she needed until the moment she laid eyes on Him: the source and summit of her healing?

His mercy is new every morning, but so is our freedom to turn away. It’s a constant sacrifice of the will to turn towards Him, confiding our hurts and insecurities, our jealousies big and small. He wants all of them, begging us to lay down our burdens, longing to draw all the poison to the surface and make us well, make us whole.

As for me, I can wash my face and not quit my daydream and hustle like I mean it all day every day, but unless I hand my dreams, my heartbreaks, and all my brokenness over to Him, I’ll never reach the potential that He has in mind for me.


  • Leslie

    Love this. Gretchen Rubin said something interesting about this topic in a more secular tone. She said if we feel jealous about something, this is a subtle reminder of a yearning we must have inside. She said she was always jealous when she heard of a classmate pursing a career in writing. That was a big sign to her that her calling was not to be an attorney, although she clerked in the Supreme Court! She was meant to be a writer.

  • Laura

    Very well expressed and something I’m sure many people will relate to in this world of comparisons. Putting our relationship with God first is the key to everything, which is why the devil works so hard to help us forget that.

  • jeanette

    I pray the Liturgy of the Hours. The antiphon for Tuesday, Week II, Office of Readings is this: “Surrender to God, and He will do everything for you.” I have taken that as my personal reminder that He is the one leading me through life, especially the hard things in life.

    It might help you, too. Commit it to memory and pull it up daily (sometimes hourly), and before you know it, you will believe it and live it, allowing Him room to do the leading. Then it is between you and God to define your life in a partnership based on love and trust. You aren’t going to be led to where you want to be, you are going to be lead to where He wants you to be.

  • Dan

    “God requires us to get up everyday and do it all over again(spiritually) as if we never had done anything at all.” I’m paraphrasing someone else but id like to make the point that that is the mystery of faith. Just like the Journey is the destination, it is in the reaching towards him that he is most pleased. From that reaching and longing some of our most beautiful works of art and music have been born. We fall, despair, hope, and rise again renewed from our spiritual rinse-wash-repeat cycle. Its a lot of spinning, makes me dizzy most days.

    If we change our definition of success, we change our perceptions of that really super duper looking green grass on that side over there. As a former machinist and musician who is now a full-time child care dude, my personality’s constitutional poles were irrevocably reversed. Success changed from a precision machined steel component to a dry diaper and sleeping baby. Seemed easy enough in my mind, and definitely brought me closer to our Lord. Mass attendance and that famous one word prayer “help” sharply increased. Then at the moment of my deepest despair i did something i never do, and that’s look at a blog. I was on CNA and kept seeing mama something or other. Click, then boom. Niagara falls. I was pouring over old blogs of yours balling my eyes out because here was someone with a gift using it for awesomeness, honesty and genuine good will. Motherhood is and should be an exclusive club, but i was so impressed and grateful for what you are doing i wanted to let you know. I don’t have a great family support system in dealing with first time parent issues. Just me and my wife and winging it.

    It was perfect timing for me, finding this blog and has made a huge difference in my life so ill keep reading. When all i want to do is create something out of steel or sing my ass off with a band at a bar, thinking i should be there rather than where im at i remember two things………….

    (1)Wherever your at, be all there. (2)Whatever you are, be a good one.
    I used my spirituality to inform my parenting through only dealing with small realistically attainable goals. No time for the rest. Blessings Peace and Grease

  • Melissa

    I had to get off social media because not only do I compare myself with other people and their successes and triumphs, I compare my failures too! The whole #momfail thing can send me into a guilt tailspin. If accidentally bumping your babies head into a door jamb is making a mom feel crazy guilt, what about my REAL mom fails?! You know, where I’m screaming at my kids? It’s easy to end up feeling like the only one struggling with something, because we want to be real on social media but not *too* real ya know? I’ve been off of instagram for a few months now after being super active on it, and the other day I logged on and within about two minutes I remembered why it’s so not great for me.

  • KM

    I’m reading Direction for Our Times (similar to In Sinu Jesu for moms) and what I read today seemed so perfect I thought I’d share: “I want to address holy souls. So often you become discouraged. You do not bear with yourself at all. I, your Jesus, have endless patience with your flaws and weaknesses. You must trust Me to forgive you and overlook these human frailties. I am not like a spy, waiting to catch you at bad behavior. Rather; I am your friend. Your greatest advocate. I applaud your small attempts at holiness. Along with the Communion of Saints, I am pulling for you, My holy chosen souls. There is great work to be done. So let us not waste time worrying over our humanity. I don’t expect perfection. Please do not expect it from yourself and you won’t be discouraged.”

  • KP

    Wow. This hit me right in the gut. You have articulated my two year journey of applying to graduate school and continuously being rejected/waitlisted. I have been questioning how this could be part of God’s plan. Today in prayer I even asked, “What are you trying to teach me lord.” I now see that it is that my success in life does not determine my whether I am worthy of love and belonging. I am enough just as I am. Thank you for sharing this.

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