"You need to stop comparing yourself," a friend bluntly told me me as we were sitting in Panera together one more during Thanksgiving break last November.
I didn't like hearing that. But I knew she truly meant it out of love and I am so thankful for our 'no holds barred' bilingual friendship. :)
At that point in time, I only had three weeks left before my college graduation and I was once again worrying about my final GPA, the one that would define me for the rest of time until I went back to school and earned my MBA. I had just finished telling her about how I wasted too much time in college fretting over my GPA and tying my self-worth to it. How silly it was for me to think that something as small as a number would determine the path my career would take. It is important to do well in school, but each person's "best" varies on an individual basis which was something I had to learn the hard way many times.
Fast forward to this past weekend. I went on an all girls retreat with CCW (campus ministry I have been involved with for some time at JU) to St. Augustine Beach. We stayed in a condo that was donated by friends of the leaders and it was a wonderful time, but it wasn't wonderful all of the time. In a sense, it was a true retreat for me because I was far away from the distractions of my jobs and phone as I forgot to pack my phone charger. Now for the hardest part: the central topic of all of the breakout sessions. We looked at "The Comparison Trap," series by Andy Stanley. I guess you could say that that was the one topic I had been trying to drown out and run away from ever since last November. It couldn't be that big of a problem in my life, I told myself.
Well, if the message wasn't enough, the extra conversations I had with old and new friends and how all of the planned events and free time played out definitely cleared up my remaining doubts. While I didn't have the distraction of my phone, I had the Internet readily available on my netbook. I did retreat and enjoy the time away from the busyness of my life, but there was one thing I still had to do regardless if I was on the retreat or not: submit posts and blogs to a scholarship website I write for called CollegeNet. I won a scholarship from them in 2010 that helped pay for the rest of my full senior year and since then, the site has meant the world to me. I have never been more challenged or stretched in my personal beliefs, worldview and writing skills than I have writing for that site. And I have met some wonderful people on there that I call my friends. I could go into more detail, but I will save that for another post. The main point was, I still had an obligation to vote for a candidate in the last scholarship tournament (which had much higher stakes than it ever has had in the past) and stay active in this week's election or else my ranking would drop. I also personally made a commitment to myself to not miss a day posting on the site from last Wednesday until the end of January. I was able to submit all 5 of my posts for Saturday in the morning before breakfast, though I was almost late for breakfast that morning. In a way, you could say that all of my good brain power for the day was used up before all of the important discussions I was to have and listen to with that great group of women. I didn't mean for it to happen that way, it just did.
The central message of "The Comparison Trap" could be summed up in Ecclesiastes 4:6 which says, "Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind." (NIV) It really struck a cord in me because I have been 'chasing after the wind' ever since I graduated from college 10 months ago. I've been trying to figure out my place in the professional world while still maintaining the relationships with my friends with our new chapter in life. I wasn't just reminded of that once this weekend, it was a reminder that kept flashing up everywhere I looked. Yes, it was a retreat but it almost felt like torture to me and sometimes that is what we need. To not just see the problem in our life that we need to resolve, but to be reminded of it so much that the only we can do is find a solution instead of continuing to ignore it. Here were the reminders for me: almost all 19 girls who were there (minus a couple) had some type of smartphone that they were constantly on, they all looked prettier and cuter than me, they had pretty much all known each other for awhile, they all had their Bibles in English (I forgot my English Bible and had only brought my Spanish) and they all loved talking to each other all the time (haha). Also, we had beach and pool access during our breaks and free time, but you had to have a key to get to either. It also seemed like I missed the groups who were going to either place by just a couple minutes which further tested my patience.
Now, I'm merely just stating the unexpected struggles I faced over the weekend. I don't need you to tell me I'm beautiful, unique, smart and wonderful to talk to, etc. I know those things are true even though I forget sometimes, I just wanted to get that out.
During the month of October, I have faced some steep 'ups' and sharp 'downs.' Rejection and disappointment in many different forms have almost become the norm for me, almost. I know full well why all of these things were happening. On Monday, October 1st, I started praying in Spanish at least once a day. I have prayed in Spanish in the past, but only in small settings and when someone asked. The thought never crossed my mind to incorporate it into my private prayer life with God on a daily basis. I was feeling discouraged at the end of September so I decided to spice up my life by challenging myself to pray at least once in Spanish for all of October. It has not been the hardest month of my life, just the second hardest. haha I still stuck close to God because He was literally all I had. I could have easily cursed Him like Job had done centuries ago. I knew that deep down that that was not the answer. It never is.
Though I questioned my self-worth, identity and physical beauty often this past month, I finally decided for myself that I would no longer believe the lies that I have believed for countless years. Lies that the world tells me as a woman and as a follower of Christ. What helped me the most through the first two terrible weeks of this month was Matthew West's new album, Into the Light, and Tenth Avenue North's new album, The Struggle. Matthew West's lyrics in many songs particularly resonated deep within me because they spoke and started to heal the hangups I have about my physical appearance and intelligence. Basically, he answered the question, "Am I good enough?" with passages straight from God's Word. I verbalized in a post online that I was no longer going to listen to the lies this world feeds me and for the first time, I truly meant that. I chose to "let the truth of His promise speak louder than the lies" by drowning out those lies with encouraging words and God's truth. Though I have just begun the path to reconciliation with the lies and the truth, it's amazing what happens to your perspective of the world and how different your reactions are to what the media throws at you.
This is not going to be a change that you will see in me overnight, but it will be a change that I hope you will see in me if you interact with me in person over the next few months. I will continue to struggle with image, value and self-appreciation naturally but it won't overtake my life as much as it has been in the past. Just like with anger, it's best to let go of the things you tightly cling to in your two hands and leave one hand open to receive the new blessings God has in store for you. Though you may not see the blessings now, trust me they are on their way.