Blessings and Comparisons

Okay, so all y’all should be used to my extremely sporadic posting by now. Sorry, but I don’t think that’s gonna change. But! I’m back with another post.

I  don’t know about you, but for a long time I’ve struggled with comparing myself to other Christians. There’s one group of girls in particular at my home church that I’ve struggled with comparisons. There’s three of them, two years ahead of me in school, and for so long I’ve looked at them and felt inferior. “They’re better Christians than me, better people than me. Look at how outgoing she is. Look at how people depend on her. Look at how nice and calm she is. Look at how popular she is.” We all know the tune, right? Someone who’s better at whatever we’re weak at. Well, I have a secret for you – most of the time, a weakness is just a strength taken too far.

For example. I am NOT a social person. I’ve gotten a LOT better since being at this residential high school, but I’ve always been the girl who sits outside the flow. I’m the one who is always alone, or if not, I’m certainly never part of a group. I’m the one always picked last in gym (still true, although I was picked not last a couple of weeks ago!), always the last to be chosen for group projects, and always sitting by herself for anything and everything if I could help it. And pushing people away when they tried to include me. I’ve always been scared of people, for no reason. For those who don’t know, I take after my dad a lot. I can’t say he’s ever been scared of people – I suspect maybe not – but he shared his introverted personality with me (I’m just more introverted). However, if you walked into our church and started talking with him, you’d never believe it. He seeks out people to talk to. He asks them how their day is going, how they are and how they feel. And they tell him. So many people tell him what is honestly going on because they know he cares. He makes sure they know. Now, this goes back to intentionality – I’ve written a lot about this, so go check out my other posts – but I think it would be fair to say that this is one of his strengths. He sees people, and not just the people in plain view. He sees the people who are hiding away, as well. I’m not as good at conversing with people (duh). But I know that I want to get to that point. I don’t have to be outgoing, just intentional. Because one day, I want to turn my weakness – how introverted I am – into a strength that allows me to see everyone, care with intentionality, and be a steady force and a steady person because these are skills I’ve had to learn.

On a similar note, one of many outgoing people’s weaknesses is seeing everyone and choosing to interact with everyone. This may seem counter-intuitive, but being on the opposite side of the spectrum, I’ve seen it in action. Outgoing people are so energetic, and they flit from person to person. While this means they do talk with a lot of people, often times they don’t even see the introvert in the corner. As someone who’s been so introverted she’d cry when forced to talk to someone for years, I developed my own little air about me. For some people (*ahem* extroverts), this draws the room’s attention to them. Some of it is because they have no problem talking and making noise, but some of it is because they just have this air that attracts attention. I, on the other hand, developed (fostered?) the exact opposite – an air that makes me invisible in many situations. I can be standing right by someone, off to the side, and they’ll ask “Where’s [my name]?” – or, if it’s someone I need something from, they might not even know I’m there unless I knock on their door or say something. I can be in a line or a crowded room and have people bump into me because my presence didn’t even register with them. This has (sadly) dispersed somewhat as I’ve grown more comfortable with people, but it still happens sometimes. And these are the people the extrovert does not see. They are so busy talking to everyone and moving on to the next person or activity or place, that they don’t see the people standing off to the side watching them and everyone else in the room. If they approach, they carry on a brief conversation and forget to come back once they’ve moved on. They don’t check to see if they need help, and even among their friends they are often so ready to move on that they miss when something is wrong and they need to slow down. As an extrovert, that is one of their weaknesses. As an introvert (with exceptions when I’m flustered from trying to socialize), that is one of my strengths. I’ve been that girl in the corner, so I see that girl in the corner.

Well. Back to the main point. Knowing that weaknesses are just strengths taken too far only helps so much, right? I mean, you can see that they have so many strengths, so they must be better at seeing and working on these things than you…not so. Here’s something that I realized recently, and it’s what really prompted me to write this. I am different from them. This seems so obvious, but it isn’t! I am different. I was looking at our personalities – she is more outgoing and I am more introverted, but hah! She sees her friend group and the other major groups, but she isn’t looking around. She sees what is put in front of her, but I look at what isn’t put in front of me! This, by the way is not 100% true – I’m sure she does look around sometimes, and I know that I don’t all the time, but I looked at her and I looked at me and I saw that I am better at something. And then I looked at her and I looked at me and I saw that our upbringings were different – she with her ultra-involved mother and outgoing personality and childhood friends and clean sun-lit home and desire to try new things and involvement in so much, and me with my introverted but intentional father who made me try new things when I didn’t want to and was willing to help but didn’t necessarily want to lead but could if he had to and my special-needs brother that restricted where we could go and my distinct lack of friends for a long time and my introverted personality and I saw that we were different. I was different from her and she was different from me, so why was I comparing us? Our personalities are different. Our upbringings were and are different. Our parents are different. Our support is different. So, if we are so extremely different, why wouldn’t our strengths and weaknesses and growth be different to?

For the first time, I thought that we each had our own strengths – that her strengths that I saw were not my strengths and they weren’t supposed to be. I wasn’t – I’m NOT – supposed to grow into a carbon copy of her. I’m not supposed to have her strengths, I’m supposed to have my own! If I chase after her strengths, I won’t have time to focus on my own. When God uses me, he doesn’t want her strengths – if he did, he would use her! When God uses me, he wants MY strengths (and sometimes, MY weaknesses). When he uses me, he chose me for a reason. There are things that she can do that I can’t – talking to people, for example. BUT! There are just as many things that I can do that she can’t! And the best part is, I don’t even see all of them yet! I don’t know how I will develop in the future, but I know that I will be different from her (I say her because my ladder of comparison, if you will, went youth group -> group of three girls -> one girl in particular). Even my growth! It’s common knowledge that guys mature slower than girls – it’s why girls sprout up in middle school and guys sprout up in high school. They aren’t worse than girls, they just have different timing. Well, so de we! God’s timing for me, even my timing for me, is going to be different from her timing (ignore the fact that she is two years older than me, please). I’m going to sprout at a different time from her, and she’s going to sprout at a different time from me. And whatever that looks like, that’s okay! If it looks like she socializes better, that’s okay. I can go build up that girl in the corner who’s sad because no one is talking to her. She hangs out in a group, great! I can hang out with people one-on-one. It looks like she sprouted first, that’s fine. I didn’t need to sprout right then, I needed to sprout later. Think about, for example, a rose and a tulip – tulips bloom early in the spring, roses in the summer or fall. Does that mean either flower is better or worse? No! It just means God designed them with different timelines in mind.

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it, but I recently found out about The Bagel Theory (from an email letter from Stephanie May Wilson, who’s letter series she wrote to her single younger self I signed up for, and she heard it from her friend Hanna). Here’s the excerpt that explains this:

“When I was in high school, a musical theater director of mine introduced me to his personal theory I like to call The Bagel Theory.

Hear me out.

All of us musical theater kids, we were all bagels. My friend Chloe was a chocolate chip bagel; My friend Anna was a sesame bagel; I was a blueberry bagel.  You get the idea.  We were all great bagels, but we were each a different kind of bagel.

When auditioning for a certain role, Chloe, Anna, and I could all be up for the same part.  We would all be uniquely great for the role, but at the end of the day, the casting director was looking for a certain type of bagel.  Chloe may get the gig because they were looking for a chocolate chip bagel.  It didn’t mean that Anna or I weren’t amazing bagels. We just weren’t the bagels they were looking for.

Suddenly, getting rejected for a part wasn’t a judgement of our talent or abilities, it was just a reflection of someone else’s preferences.”

These comparisons that I’ve been struggling with are the same thing! In one situation, God might be looking for a sweet bagel, and so he might choose her chocolate chip bagel-ness. That doesn’t mean I’m an inferior bagel. It just means he the sweet bagel was better for the situation than the sour one (I wanna be a cranberry bagel). But, by the same token, sometime later he might want a sour bagel – in which case I would fit the bill better than her. Not because I’m better, but because He needed a cranberry bagel. I could go on and on, but the basic fact is that we’re all different and we all need to be ourselves, because there will always be a task that only we can do or a strength that when needed only we have or even a weakness that is exclusively ours. It would be like comparing a squirrel and a stingray – why would you ever compare them? You don’t judge a stingray on it’s ability to climb trees, or a squirrel on it’s ability to glide smoothly through the water.

She has a group of friends.

I have a best friend who’s so close my whole family calls her my sister/their daughter/their granddaughter.

She’s called upon to lead a lot.

I know how to follow because if I led I’d probably mess up and actually don’t want the job at all.

She’s way ahead of you.

You need to be back further to help out someone else.

She’s smart.

You have a big heart.

She’s confident, but bossy.

You cringe but are careful not to hurt those around you.

In conclusion…sorry this took so long. That’s all, Bye.

 

Pshh! I’m kidding! Kinda. It’s easy to compare ourselves, but we all need to be different. We don’t want to equal up, because if we did we’d lose those specific strengths that we’ll need for where we’ll be. Don’t compare the squirrel to the stingray. It doesn’t work like that. Adios for real this time!

P.S. Go check out Stephanie May Wilson at http://stephaniemaywilson.com/ – she’s an amazing Christian writer who has lots of good stuff to say, and her emails feel like sitting down with a friend over a cup of coffee. Okay, ciao!

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Red Letter

Hey guys. This won’t really be a run-of-the-mill post, exactly. This is going to be a letter to a friend I have now, and friends I may have in the future. It expresses some of my thoughts, as me, and might give you guys some insight into stuff too.

Let me explain the original situation first. Flowers were donated to my school today. I got two bouquets and managed to get one for a friend who was away today due to health issues (I basically go to a boarding school. See my page for more info). She came back this evening, and I gave her her bouquet and let her pick some flowers from my two – since I had two. She knocked the flowers out of the cup, we went to the bathroom to take care of the mess. While coming back, to warn her about my flowers sitting in the entryway to her room, I said “Watch out for the pretty ones.” Now my letter will explain the rest.

Friend,

I’m sorry. I realize how that sounded, but I didn’t really mean my flowers were prettier. I was trying to come up with something witty, something better or more intelligent than “watch out for those”. Mine were blooming since they’d been in water longer, so prettier just popped out. I got nervous, a little. I don’t think you understand. I know how awkward, crazy, and/or insensitive I sometimes sound. But I don’t know what else to do. Really I just want to make sure you’re still my friend. I’m so so so socially awkward. You say you are too, but let’s compare for a minute. We are both in our junior year of high school, our first year at this accelerated school. We live in the same wing of the same floor. I am healthy, you have a host of health problems. As we walk around, a host of people come up to us. Any given moment, any given place, it’s plausible for someone to come up and say “Hey, how’s it goin’?”. You say you don’t like to talk to people, but you go around and you know so many people. You know what’s going on in their lives, you say hello, you’re so involved. Maybe you don’t like talking to them all the time, but you still don’t understand. Because as you say hi, I don’t even know them, nor do they know me…and we live in the same building and have all school year. You talk to people and ask them for help and anything else. You hang out with them, and not only with them but with college students too. You have so many friends, and how many guys have/had crushes on you?

I have two people I basically ever talk to, and that’s you and my roommate. How do I tell you you’re the only one who ever invites me anywhere? I’m not dumb. I value my personal relationships so so dearly. I know more pros and cons than you do, I know the power of those skills, I know the technique behind them. I just can’t do them. It’s so natural for you. You build a relationship with ease in 5 seconds that I can’t build with all the effort in the world in 6 months. I know, I know, you don’t like talking to people, you prefer to be alone…you still don’t understand.

Did you know that without you, I would never leave my room except for classes, meals, and, when spring comes, volleyball all alone on the outside court? Even when I’m so bored I could scream, so tired of my room, it’s better to be there and on a screen than out watching everybody having fun with a friend and not approaching me, or worse…scaring away someone who does approach me. Even volleyball. I can play volleyball outside for hours with people passing and not have one person approach me, but the instant you come out six people ask if they can play too. You don’t understand.

I get it. I know my limitations. Most of the time I remain completely level-headed. But occasionally I don’t. I get nervous that my odd humour will make you think I’m too weird, that my tendency to laugh to much might make you think I’m trying to hard – or an idiot – or that I might laugh at something you don’t think is funny and you end it. I know it’s unreasonable. But what if you did? What if our relationship just slowly faded. I can’t laugh over Starbucks with God, much as He’s my Savior whom I love. If we stopped hanging out, I’d be stuck in my room, asking myself what I could have done better. Wondering if I’ll ever get another friend. I’ve made four close friends my whole life, and you’re one of them. .

I didn’t mean that my flowers were prettier. It was that tiny, tiny niggle of fear. I’m not desperate. I’ll restrain myself and avoid torturing myself too much. But it does scare me. I can see myself all too easily having no friends as I grow older. Or having the one best friend, who’s so close I call her my sister, but being far away and so we can only call, and I’m stuck at work or my house all day. I can operate in society now. It used to be much worse. But there are times when I just can’t quell the panic at the idea that I might be stuck alone. I’m independant. I’m an expert actress. You’ll never see any hint at this in my face. But being alone? You have no idea. Wondering if you’re just staying with me out of pity or compassion? Yeah, that happens. You say you’re an introvert who likes being alone. And I’m telling you, you have no idea.