When the first feelings of melancholy surfaced, I wondered if it was because winter had finally managed to find its way south. Then I began to notice a pattern in my days. I would hop online and giggle my way through a friend’s latest blog post, but immediately chastise myself for not updating my own. An acquaintance’s tweet of celebration upon completing grad school momentarily reminded me of my desire to add another degree to the wall. A former colleague contacting me with an offer to work with two high schoolers with Asperger’s syndrome, had me wistfully thinking about the career I had left to fully embrace my vocation as wife and mother. Finally, a picture of the Himalayan mountains posted to Facebook by a high school friend and his wife, who had sold their house and left their jobs to spend a year travelling the globe, had me sadly wondering about how many years it had been since I saw my passport outside of the safe deposit box.
I spent a sleepless night thinking about roads not taken and began to realize how inundated we are by airbrushed versions of people’s lives through social media. Posting a picture of the latest date night sushi dinner (however artistically arranged) to our Facebook wall, or checking in on Foursquare to the airport on our way to the latest tropical vacation, or photo-documenting our children’s every waking and sleeping moment from their first breath onward, dramatically imbued with a heavenly glow courtesy of Instagram’s latest filter, has become a national pastime. We are constantly sacrificing at the altar of justification. We compare our lives to others and desperately wonder if we are on “the right path.” When receiving the message of “do/have/experience” from all and sundry, from our last boss to our sister’s best friend from second grade, it is only a matter of time before we question: “Was my path the wrong one?”
It took the contemplation of my own social media presence and the reality of my life to be able to look objectively at this culture of comparison.
Sure, today I completed a painting project (posted to Pinterest), got the oldest to piano and swim lessons (checked in on Foursquare), had the girls bathed and into their pajamas just in time to pull my latest “Eat Clean” recipe from the oven, toss an organic salad of mixed greens, and arrange it aesthetically on the new kitchen table (Instagram!) as my hard working husband walked in the door from work (tagged on Facebook as I sang his praises).
But yesterday I never managed to disengage from the cranky baby on the living room floor long enough to eat anything more than the slightly sticky Cheerios she shared with me from her princess cup. I realized that I had forgotten the main ingredient for the dinner that I was only just starting to prepare as my husband walked in thirty minutes later than expected. We ended up trading cross words as I phoned for a pizza delivery before losing my cool with my oldest over where the Goldfish cracker box belonged in the pantry. These are moments that don’t inspire documentation on my Facebook feed, lend themselves to being recounted in real time for Twitter, or beg to be deconstructed on my blog. I can only assume (hope?) that this is true for the majority of people with whom I share life moments on a plethora of platforms each day.
To quiet my mind from the questions clamoring for my attention (“Should I have gone to grad school?” “Did I travel enough before “settling down” into marriage?” “Is staying at home and being a mother to my children “enough”?), I reached for my journal of go-to verses and quotes, and almost immediately came to this one:
“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given us, let us exercise them…” Romans 12:6
We have each been blessed with particular gifts, and it is okay to use them and rejoice in them, but when we start looking sideways at the gifts of others and wondering whether we are “as good as,” then we tend to create an expectation that we need to be “the same as.” She went back to work after her first child, and if I don’t, I’ll never do Very Important Things. They are traveling through Europe, and if I don’t do that now, then I will never have Defining Life Experiences. He completed that third degree, and if I don’t, then I’m not living up to my True Intellectual Potential.
Harold Coffin said “Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own.” Technology has given us an unprecedented window into other people’s lives, but we must remember that this is the parlor, the room kept up for guests, but not necessarily lived in. And even if the rest of their lives is ordered to Martha Stewart-like perfection, their gifts are not our gifts. Peter reminds us: “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). We have been given gifts unique to us, to God’s plan for us, and following the “right path” is not about doing as others do or living as others live, but rather creating a unique life based upon the gifts that God has given to each of us.