It's a hard thing for me to wrap my head around and truly believe; that the only One I should care about pleasing, is my heavenly Father.
I was driving the other morning, and into my mind popped Jodie Nagai. Jodie was my best friend in elementary and middle school. Jodie was a beautiful Japanese girl, she was a talented musician, intelligent, great artist, and was known for her amazing origami and calligraphy. We had similar interests, and when she moved to Canada in the 9th grade, my heart was broken. I really loved Jodie. But not always.
The day Jodie walked into my 5th grade class to deliver a note to the teacher, in her tight sweater, and blue pants, hair flowing and her skin like porcelain, and I overheard the popular boy behind me say, "Jodie in the light blue pants", was the day I decided, "I am not pretty enough." The day our teacher asked Jodie to make the star for the top of the Christmas tree, instead of me, was the day I decided that "I am not talented enough." And if I can ever so sadly and humbly admit, that this right here just about describes my life long struggle and desire, my absolute need, to feel pretty and talented.
I grew up in a home full of comparison.
It was my family's favorite past time to stand outside of restaurant windows and make fun of the people eating.
Seriously. We did this.
If I wasn't competing in gymnastics for first place, or competing for the leading role in the school play, I was competing for the boys attention, the teachers look of approval, a glance or word from somebody that safely assured me, you matter.
And dare I say, not only was I in search for hearing you matter, but I kind of was wanting confirmation that I mattered most.
In my young adult musical theatre days, I was often compared to my friend Jenny, who also, loved to sing and act. Jenny's mom got her an agent, and head shots. Jenny had the confidence of a super star. Jenny wore that ridiculous braided bandanna across her forehead like Brook Shields, and I swear, I thought she was the most glamorous 8th grader I had ever seen. She wore guess jeans and Chinese slippers, got good grades, and was always dating an upper class star athlete. My mother, in what I know was only an attempt to build me up, would often get angry when Jenny would beat me out in a role, or outshine me in a production. "She has no talent! You are unbelievable!" she would assure me.
But I never did hear the assurance.
I only heard the disapproval.
The truth that once again, I was not good enough.
Jenny mattered more.
I was not worth as much.
As I have matured, I would like to say I outgrew this. But I didn't. I haven't. It is still very much a part of me, and what keeps the confessional at my Parish busy.
In college my best friend and I were called "the brown girls", because we both had brown hair, were short, and had similar personalities. Everyone thought we were twins. The catch? My friend was the cuter, smarter, twin. And for a girl who has come to believe that her worth is measured in her appearance and talents, this was not good. Feeling inadequate and ineffective, I chose to make myself as small as I possibly could. Maybe I could not be the prettiest and the smartest, but I was determined to be the skinniest.
And that was the thing, and so often, still is. This label. This way of defining ourselves. Unless I could be known to the world as something, I simply felt unknown. And it didn't even matter anymore what I was known for and to whom I was known. I just wanted to be seen.
Just yesterday morning, I checked my Instagram Account.
Instagram does this awesome thing now where they show you a fabulous grid of "popular posts." You know, it is social media's not so subtle way or reminding you that many people share photos just like you, only their photos (aka everyday lives) are just more interesting than yours. It is like the cool cafeteria table of pictures that you, eating at the geek table, gets to spy on.
(this is where I insert the song "be careful little eyes what you see")
Like Eve in the garden who sees the apple, every single one of these small snippets of strangers lives look so appealing...I just can not resist hitting on one picture, just for a a glimpse, just for a taste.
And one particular picture looked familiar...the face...and so what would be wrong about looking? What harm could there be in taking one small bite?
And so I did.
Now if I may give you one note of back history, but just prior to checking Instagram, I was woken up by a text from People's Bank alerting me that my bank account was below minimum. So truly, looking at Instagram was just as helpful as maybe pouring myself a shot of tequila, binging on the left over apple pie in the spare fridge, eating the last gingerbread cookie, and then weighing myself, just for kicks.
And so I clicked on the image, and up popped that dear friend of mine from school. Jenny. And it was not a picture, it was a video. A video of her and Oprah. Jenny founded an incredibly successful and celebrity based exercise studio that has taken the world by storm. She wears couture, bought a Manhattan apartment, and frequents the Broadway theatre, when not traveling the world bringing her fitness sensation to everyone. (Thank you Instagram for allowing me to peek in on her private life and learn and see things that without technology I would never have known) I immediately picked up the phone and called her, congratulating her for her success, and then I spent an hour in Adoration, just so grateful for her friendship and her beautiful ability to offer every man and woman, with the financial means, the opportunity to have a super fit body.
Yes, that was sarcasm. I told you...I keep the Priests in the confessional very busy.
I am 45 years old, with grey hair coming in, and I am not much different in the way that I think. Am I jealous of Jenny? Absolutely. But maybe not why you think. Would her bank account be nice to have? No question. Would I love her closet of clothes? Sure, I bet that would be fun, considering I wear the same three shirts, and even double them up as sleepwear, from time to time. But I am jealous of Jenny because she took her God given talents and used them to create something so successful; something that the world can see. Something that Oprah promotes as worthy of recognition. And let's face it. In the secular world of idol worshiping and feeling good and doing what makes you happy and the love of stuff, Oprah is god.
But Praise be to the real one true God, I am somewhat aware. And that is it right there...did you hear it? Praise be to GOD. Not to me. Not to you. Not to Jodie Nagai or the other brown girl, or Jenny with the stupid braided bandanna wrapped around her head, or Oprah. But Praise be to God. For any good in me, is from Him. Any good thing that I accomplish, is by way of Him. I will only be as beautiful as I am in abiding in Him. I will only be as effective as when I allow Him to work through me. I am only successful when I am doing His will. And if no one compliments me? If I win no prize? If I am not singled out or praised by the world? Then what?
It is a hard thing.
At least for me, I admit.
To not be recognized for good work.
To not be congratulated for a job well done.
To not be noticed.
To not be praised.
To not have Oprah invite me out onto the stage to say, "The way you taught that fifth grade class about Joseph, and his brothers, and forgiveness? That was amazing!"
It is just so hard to try to make a difference, a good honest difference, and feel like what you do just doesn't matter.
But it is also not true.
For any good we do is seen by the One who we should be doing it all for, in the first place.
And if I am looking for any other recognition, well, maybe I need to head back to the confessional, and remember why I do what I have chosen to do in the first place. And who am I to judge Jenny? For all I know she wakes up early to pray and give thanks to God for all of her good fortune. Truly, her life is none of my business. What matters is that whatever task I am given, whatever job I take on, whatever circumstance I find myself in, I remember to keep Christ front and center. Because I really do love Him. It is just that darn ego and need to be praised that continue to get in the way of my love.
And so this is what I need to focus on, especially these last weeks of Advent.
That all that I do, the big and the small, the seen and the unseen, I do it not for the world, but for the One who created the world.
It is not for the money.
It is not for the clothes.
It is not for the spotlight.
It is not even for me.
It is for HIM.
Every step, every breath every moment.
It is for Him.
And to Him, I am worth everything.
Even his very life.