Recently I was in a funk thinking about all the cool things that other women are doing, feeling like my mundane little stay-at-home life did not measure up. While doing dishes at the kitchen sink, I couldn’t shake the idea that I was wasting my God-given talents and that I was excluded from the cool kids’ club.
The fact that other people were doing amazing, beautiful things — things that encourage, educate, beautify, and bring souls to Christ — instead of inspiring me, made me feel left out, which in turn made me angry and envious. “Ugh,” I thought in disgust as I rinsed sudsy cups and bowls. “I’m being so selfish.”
I felt worse knowing that the Catholic women doing all of these amazing projects are truly wonderful people — they would encourage me to follow my dreams and do whatever-it-is … write a book, or start a group, or anything that God wants me to do. They aren’t rejecting me. Their success is not holding me back. It’s not a competition!
“It’s not a competition.” Those words kept running through my head as I stacked plates in the dishwasher.
I realized that I had fallen for one of Satan’s favorite lies: that we are all competing for success, for worth, for God’s love, as if there isn’t enough to go around. What nonsense! God is infinite, and his love never runs out. The more we receive, the more there is to share. There’s room for everyone to advance. No one need be left behind.
After all, the church is the Body of Christ. There are many parts, many gifts, and many members — but we’re all one body. And that means we’re all on the same team. The successful “cool kids” are in the church and so am I, which means we are both parts of the body. We’re in this together. In a very real way, I am on the Cool Kids’ Team — and so are you.
Instead of thinking of myself in competition with the other women around me, I am finding it so helpful to remind myself that they are on my team. Every sale, every book, every beautiful essay or popular Instagram photo or funny joke or inspirational apologetic — it’s all more points for my team.
A win for one is a win for the Body of Christ, which is a win for us all. I can cheer them on sincerely because I can truly share in their victory without having to duplicate it myself. We’re in this together.
Just as there are many parts of the body, there are many different ways for each of us to “succeed” — what does success look like for a hand versus a leg versus a kidney? Some people are teachers, some are thinkers and writers, some work for social justice, some do incredible work that is totally invisible to the world because it is behind convent walls.
But each part is vital. Each person on this planet has been individually willed by God to be here for a purpose, to build up the Kingdom and bring us all a little closer to heaven.
I’m trying to be extra careful during the holiday season when there’s a particular risk of unhealthy competition. There’s so much pressure to get uniquely thoughtful gifts, create beautiful traditions, capture magical memories, and live up to the impossibly perfect pictures we see on TV and social media. High expectations are often accompanied by a fear of not measuring up, which leads to stress, frustration, anger, and envy. The drive we feel to “get it right” is mostly a sense of competition with our neighbors or even our own memories.
Holidays are supposed to be an outpouring of joy from our recognition of God’s extravagant love — we are celebrating! There’s no wrong way to celebrate, as long as you have a spirit of gratitude and resultant generosity. It’s a festival, not a series of evergreen-sprigged hoops to jump through. We don’t have to compare our traditions with our neighbors. Every family is different, and that’s the way it’s meant to be. We each manifest God’s goodness in our own way. It’s not a competition.
Don’t let the devil whisper in your ear that you have to bring others down or run yourself ragged in order to be your best self. We are not in a race; we’re in a church. We each build up the other. If you’ve been feeling envious of your fellow men and women, take it to confession and ask for God’s healing. If you’re suffering under the weight of anxiety and fear, turn to the Lord and ask for his strength. We don’t have to earn his grace — it’s a free gift. Life isn’t a competition, and we are not in it alone.
Thanks for being on my team. I’ll be over here, doing my daily dishes, cheering you on.
Jessica Carney is a parishioner of St. Colman Church in Ardmore.
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