I did it again. I compared myself to her, and I lost. I lost big, and now I feel crappy.
I innocently opened up a copy of the academic journal and saw that she just published another article. Rather than “Wow—I should read that,” my response was “She just had a baby, too—how did she have time to do another article? There must be something wrong with me since I Netflix more than write because I’m still dang tired with two little ones.”
How did I make her great article about my incapability?
Well, it was easy for my warped mind to do it, since the pathway from “she did a great thing” to “that means I’m no good” is a well-worn one. Rather than traveling the “I rejoice with you path” I follow the “You make me look bad” one; no wonder jealousy made the Bible’s top ten list. In fact, I can’t even remember what her article was about and it’s unlikely I’ll read it because I have a bad attitude.
And I know it’s sinful. I realize it goes against St. Paul’s sage advice in Romans, his call in 1 Corinthians, and his exhortation in Philippians. Heck, I’ve even memorized those verses and I realize comparison doesn’t help me; it makes me feel crappy.
Yet, somehow, I often travel that well-worn negative path in my mind. I travel it with acquaintances’ triumphs more than close friends’ greatness. And when I travel it, it gets me down and sometimes keeps me down.
Here’s the thing: I’m an older young mom. Yes, you read that right. I’ve only been a mother for 3 years, but I just turned 44. Before becoming a mom, I knew a life of hard work and long hours, and now I’m choosing a life that revolves around my two sons and means fewer hours and significantly less measurable accomplishment.
Today’s world offers women choices. In the past, I’d be expected to stay at home full-time with my kids. But now I don’t have to. Though I probably wouldn’t fit in that full-time stay-at-home-mom box, a box looks like a relief from my situation. Here, there are no boxes; anything goes, and I get to make choices. Problem is, I too-often wonder if I’m making the right choice.
Luther might not agree with me placing this choice in his “adiaphora” category, the category where there is choice since it’s neither commanded nor forbidden in the Bible. But, Scripture doesn’t command exactly how a woman should spend her day, whether she’s a mother or not; nowhere are we forbidden to work.
I am mostly at peace with my choice to provide as much personal care as I can for my children. My job is flexible and seasonal; I can be with my kids for many of their waking hours and work when they sleep if I choose to.
Many don’t have that choice. Most don’t have that kind of flexibility in a full-time job. And yet, somehow, I make it more of a struggle than a joy, especially when I see that she published an article in that journal and I didn’t.
I could probably publish an article in the journal if I chose to have full-time care for my kids. Heck, I could probably write that book I’m writing now in tiny fits and starts. I could also blog more, tweet better, speak in more places. . . Or maybe I wouldn’t be nearly as productive as I dream.
Problem is, I want to do it all. I don’t want to renounce anything.
I try to quell my jealousy by telling myself that I don’t want to write that article, I want to spend time with my kids. But something about it rings false, and I feel as if I’m still in a fight to slow my drive.
So I try a different tack.
I decide to “agree with my jealousy,” and somehow it calms my raging soul.
I want to write that article. I do. It’s true.
But I want to spend time with my kids more. I do. It’s true.
It’s not about not wanting it all. It’s about choosing what we want more and doing that.
For me, right now, I want to write, but I want to be with my sons more than I want to write. So I choose.
Others may be in the opposite place—they want to be with their kids, but they want to work more. So they choose. Here, there is no box. One choice is not morally superior to another. I choose what I want more. And in doing so, I renounce the other.
I want the joy of singleness, but I want the joy of marriage more. So I’ve chosen. I want independence, but I want kids more, so I’ve chosen. I want to eat it all, but I want to be healthy more. . . we make choices that renounce the other way all the time.
At the end of the day, a key to happiness is “not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got,” so sang Sheryl Crow. It’s choosing to want what you have more.
My old mantra was “no, I don’t want that, I want what I have.” It never worked.
My new mantra is “yes, I want that. But I want what I’ve chosen more.”
And it’s already giving me more peace and freedom in my chosen path.
* Brief Disclaimer: While this post makes sense when we have choices, when one feels forced, it may not apply. For example, one may desire marriage more, but may not have an eligible partner. One may desire children more, but may be unable to conceive. The pain and possible jealousy in those scenarios are different and need a different mantra or grieving process. Furthermore, there is a question of call, which I did not unpack.
(Interested in hearing more from me? Check out my book, The Book of Womanhood)