I have two incredibly smart, cute, funny little boys.
Sammy is the oldest. He's almost 7 and he is pretty much a genius. He started reading before he turned 3 and memorized the times tables just for funsies while he was in preschool. But this post is not about him.
This post is about Josh, who is almost 5. He is sweet and imaginative and hilarious. He loves to make people laugh, and he also has a special talent for knowing when people need comfort. At my husband's grandma's funeral this past summer, he went up to Dan's grandpa and just put his arms around him and loved him for several minutes. He comes up with elaborate stories about his superhero adventures, assisted by all his animal friends. He loves to be a special helper, and Eliza follows him around all day, imitating his every move. Right now he sounds like a pirate, because he's trying very enthusiastically to say his Rs (including in words that really should have a W -- ever heard of "taking a showrer" or enjoying a "rarm" day?). What's not to love about Josh?
I'll tell you what Josh doesn't love about Josh: that he's not Sam. In spite of our best efforts to convince him that he is special and wonderful for just who HE is, he is constantly comparing himself to Sammy. It's understandable, I guess -- Sammy gets a lot of attention for how smart he is and all the things he can do. It made me so sad one day when the boys were painting pictures together. They were both putting their best efforts into their projects and doing a really great job. But Josh took a good long look at Sammy's painting, then back at his own. He picked up his painting and with a look of such hurt on his face, ripped it slowly and deliberately in half. I said, "Oh, Joshy! Why did you rip your painting? You worked so hard and it was a really great painting!" He said, "It's not as good as Sam's." I tried to talk to him about how it was great that his painting wasn't the same as Sam's, because it was his and that he had done his best. I talked about how Sammy is two whole years older than Josh, so he's had a lot more practice. I told him I really liked how he had used so many different colors, and how fun it was that he had made up a story to go along with it. But nothing I said made any difference. He ripped his painting up into small pieces anyway.
This particular incident happened a couple of months ago, but I've been thinking about it a lot over the past few days. I wonder: How often are we the Josh in this scenario? We look at what others are creating or accomplishing and we instantly devalue our own abilities. "Oh, I could never ______ like her!" But instead of trying our best and then tearing it up, we don't even try. Or maybe we do, but we never share our experiences with others because we think they have no value. God has given each of us our own special talents and abilities, meant to enrich our lives and enable us to lift others. Do we throw them back in His face because we think nothing we do will ever be as good as what others do? And all the while we are hiding a secret sorrow because we want to share, to do, to be everything that we can be.
It makes me think of the Parable of the Talents in the New Testament, which begins in Matthew 25:14. The basic story is that a man is going away and gives different numbers of "talents" (an amount of money in the parable) to each of his servants to take care of while he's gone. To one he gives 10, to another 5, and to one, only 1 talent. When he comes back, the servants to whom he had given 10 and 5 talents had both invested wisely and doubled his money. He rewards them both equally. The servant to whom he had given only 1 talent had hidden his talent in the earth out of fear that he couldn't do anything with it. But the truth was that the master wasn't expecting that servant to earn 10 more talents like the first servant, just to do something with it. God has given us all different talents and gifts, and he just wants to see what we will do with them. He's not comparing us to anyone but ourselves, so why do WE do it?
A few weeks ago my husband Dan took Josh out for a special ice cream date. They talked about all the great things that Josh can do, and came up with a new motto: "Have fun along the way!" They talked about how Joshy doesn't need to compare what he does to Sammy -- the whole point of doing stuff is to enjoy doing it, not to worry about how other people are doing the same thing. Since then, when Josh starts to get into that comparing mindset, we say, "What's our motto?" And he replies (with varying degrees of enthusiasm): "Have fun along the way..." At the same time, we are trying very hard to point out all of the things that are great about Josh. (And balancing that with doing the same thing for the other kids too, of course -- man, being a parent is not an easy trick.) Hopefully this is just a phase, and we can get through it and we'll all be glad they're not going through it as teenagers... or in their 30s.
I want to challenge you to "have fun along the way." As adults, it's not just about fun, of course. We want to find real fulfilment and bring happiness to others at the same time. Identify something that you love to do, whether you think you're the greatest at it or not. Do something that forces you to share that gift with others -- teach someone something, give an act of service, create a gift -- and do so unapologetically.
Don't worry that someone else could have done it better.
Don't worry if your talents aren't as "visible" as everybody else's.
Don't feel like you have to measure up to some imaginary standard.
Just appreciate the joy and enrichment you felt in doing it, and the blessing it is to someone else to feel cared for. If you feel like you don't have any special talents, ask God to help you find the gifts He's given you. He might answer you by bringing a long-lost interest to your mind, or by helping you see a need that you can fill. Keep your heart open, so that God can show you the beautiful things He's created in you. Just you, just the way you are.
Our lives are a blank canvas, waiting to be filled with beautiful colors and stories. Don't let fruitless comparison make you tear it up and hide it away.