In a phone conversation with a friend, she reveals her struggle with an event she is planning. Given that the gathering will be held in a small space, there are a limited number of people she can invite. After telling me whom she thinks she will include, she speaks of others, those left off the guest list. “I feel badly because they might be hurt,” she sighs. “I’m not sure what to do.”
In a flash, I’m transported back to junior high and the seemingly endless dramas of female friendships accompanied by jostling of emotions, positions, alliances and fractures. “It’s not like we’re 13,” I sternly remind my friend, trying to help her regain her well-won adult perspective. We cannot contort ourselves around other people’s imagined feelings, I tell her. Trying to do so is like chasing a zigzagging rabbit that always eludes us. My friend graciously receives my advice, and we turn to other matters.
Belatedly, I realized my remarks were aimed at myself as well. The previous week I caught myself stewing as I cleaned house in preparation for a visit from another friend, a “neat” friend. Even as I made the effort, I knew that a few swipes of a dust cloth and vacuum brush weren’t going to propel me into her league. My home will never be as tidy, as dust-free, as thoroughly clean as hers. Nor should it matter.
My tidy friend and I are not the same person. We have different personalities and preferences; we make different choices. She cleans for tension relief, something I found unbelievable until I lived with her. I learned from her, and still put into practice some of her strategies. On most days, though, if I have to choose between baking cookies or washing windows, I’ll pick baking. If I have to choose between conversation over tea or chasing the dust bunnies, I’ll pick conversation. While I sometimes wish my home looked more like hers, I realize it’s a fantasy wish, not supported by my actions. Fortunately, not one of my friends visits me because of my housekeeping skills.
The deeper conflict isn’t about the shininess of our floors or the neatly folded towels. The deeper conflict is about how I compare myself to those around me; it’s about how I measure my worth. It’s about insecurity and too-critical judgment. It’s about a feeble ego, the kind of things that teenagers wrestle with, and that we think we leave far behind as we add years of living.
Perhaps teenaged angst doesn’t completely resolve itself; perhaps we carry experiences and feelings from previous decades along as we age, notch up wisdom and gain a longer view. Perhaps there will always be an unsettled part of me that looks around with the anxious eyes of a teenager and deems myself to be lacking. Perhaps in time, that younger, less-formed part will grow quieter, calmer, more accepting of herself and her human foibles.
The Apostle Paul was ever ready to coach fledgling Christians towards growth. I offer this paraphrase of Ephesians 4:29: “Avoid negative, immature thinking and speaking. Give yourself over to words and actions that encourage and build up, not just those around you, but you as well. Be graceful towards yourself and others.”
Might we recognize the harm of silly comparisons? Might we seek freedom from insecurity? Might we trust God who formed us in love and sustains us throughout our lives? Might we rest in God, the ground of our beings and the sphere within which we are complete? Peace, Gentle Reader, peace.
Melissa Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) has a passion for helping people develop healthy, vibrant relationships with God, self and others.