Yesterday I stepped into a children's clothing store, with the sole intention of exchanging a pair of sandals that didn't fit my five year old. I got sucked in, though, thinking, "Well, since I'm here, I should see if they have a little bow tie...oh, and the two year old could use a pair of shoes...and look, there's a sale on t-shirts." By the time I got to the register, my arms were full. As I piled everything on the counter and did a quick mental inventory of what I was purchasing, I realized that I didn't have much of anything for the oldest. So I quickly ran back and grabbed a shirt. "I have to make sure they all get something--it has to be fair!" I explained to the cashier. She chuckled in solidarity. We know how it is, I thought.
Internally, though, I was lecturing myself: they don't all have to get something every time. What are you teaching them by your actions?
And then, the counter voice: But I like to give gifts to my kids. What's wrong with that?
My internal dialogue can be a bit long-winded, so I'll spare you the rest of the conversation.
I've watched as my kids watch one another open birthday gifts or see their friends experience something that they desperately want to experience, too. I've watched as they try to "help" tear the wrapping paper off of a gift someone else is opening, wishing, with all their might, that the gift, whatever it might be, was for them, too, even though it might not at all be what they really want.
I try to gently remind them that it's not their time right now, their time will come, but it's not right now. I try to remind them to celebrate with their friend or their sibling, rather than focussing on themselves. But I also get how they feel. I get that it's hard to watch someone else open all the presents.
How could I not get it? I still wrestle with those feelings sometimes. It's not usually over the material stuff (although there are moments when it is); it's more often tied up in watching someone else experience what I might hope for myself.
A couple of months ago I read about the accomplishments of someone I had known years ago. They are beautiful accomplishments, and I was so happy for her. Until I started to compare her life to mine. Her work was exactly the kind of thing I want to be doing, and I began to stew over how little I've done. Within the same week, I learned that a dear friend had been given the opportunity to participate in a something I'd always wanted to do. It's not fair! said the voice in my head.
(Un)fortunately for me, I had just preached a sermon I needed to hear.
It was on the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Here is a bit of what I had proclaimed:
God’s work in someone else’s life does not detract from God’s work in my life. Someone else’s gifts do not diminish mine. In the novel The Horse and His Boy, a young girl asks Aslan about the fate of someone else. Aslan answers, “Child, I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.” If God chooses to pour gift after gift into another’s life, that is God’s prerogative.
Those words kept rolling through my head, and my internal dialogue took off at full speed. Do you believe this? I asked myself. Do you believe that God has and is giving you good gifts? Or do you think God has forgotten about you? Why can't you just be happy for your friends? Do you think you are more deserving of good things than they are?
When we get wrapped up in comparing our lives with someone else's, we become blind to the gifts in our own lives. We fail to notice what God is doing in and around us.
I want to live in the freedom that giving thanks brings, not the prison that jealousy creates. So, today, I will give thanks with others for the good things happening in their stories. And I will pay attention to the gifts--different though they are--in my own story.