I had a relapse yesterday. It wasn’t depression or cancer, I didn’t get drunk after months of sobriety, but those are pretty good analogies to the way jealousy tries to take over and destroy. What happened was, well, two things. First, my family is getting together this weekend for our Thanksgiving celebration, and since I’ve had a really busy work schedule this month I decided to stay home alone Thanksgiving day to rest and get in some much needed introvert recharging time. So I chose to spend that day alone, because I like being alone.
But despite that very good logic, something happened when I looked on Facebook and saw all the pictures of friends and families gathering for meals. One picture in particular, of a group of friends of mine eating together, sent such a feeling of grief through me that I had to do a breathing exercise to recover. I knew those friends loved me, and I knew I would have been welcome at the table, and I knew that the very good reason that they hadn’t invited me was because I live several states away, but still it triggered that deep feeling of being left out, that feeling that has not only plagued me since I was a kid, but somehow defined me.
The other thing that happened was that Sarah Bessey commented on the post I wrote for her synchroblog, and instead of feeling excited and happy that she had read it and like it, I felt sad that she had read and commented on all 133 submissions. How can I be special if everyone else is special, too?? If you could somehow scan my brain, you would find that question etched into the deepest parts of it. If everyone is special, how can I be special? That’s not even what the word means, right? Just like something can’t be very unique, as I learned from the West Wing:
But the thing is, I believe exactly that. I believe we are all special, all unique, and all deeply loved. And I believe my own specialness, my own calling, does not lie in convincing others that I am more special, more unique, and more deserving of love, but in noticing and affirming the ways that others are unique, special, and loved. I believe the ways I am different from others are not as important as what I have in common with others.
A little while after Sarah commented on my blog she posted a few of her favourites (with a u because she’s Canadian 🙂 ) on her blog. Mine was not among them. And I had to have a little chat with myself. Listen, self, I said. You do not have to be told you are special all the time. And the times that you are told that — when a blog post goes viral, or your friends share and compliment a post, or you win a contest — those are not the things that define you and your writing. Those are nice things, those affirmations, but it’s not why you write. You write to bring the deep, scary things to light, to express as well you can your own struggles and perspective, not to show off how deep you are or how clever or how good a writer, but to know you are not alone, and to tell others that they are not alone. If you were so unique and special that no one could relate to your experiences, then no one would want to read what you wrote.
It has taken 41 years to get to the point where I believe that. And I mostly did, yesterday, after the breathing exercises and the firm but gentle self-talk. But there was still a part of me that felt left out and lonely, over-looked and unimportant. And then this morning Sarah posted the winning submission, the entry in the synchroblog that had most stuck with her, that she most wanted to share with her readers. It is an essay by Rachel Roth Tapling about her struggle with faith, with the Bible, with church and leadership, and it is gorgeous. It spoke to me; in fact, it did what great writing does, what I aim to do with my writing, it described my own experience in a way that helped me understand it better. It made me say, “Oh my gosh, me too!” It was healing. And as I read it and found healing in it, I also found the final piece of healing for yesterday’s relapse into jealousy. Because I realized Sarah had chosen this essay because it needed to be read — because I needed to read it. I realized that Sarah’s end goal, that Rachel’s end goal, and, ultimately, my own, is not to choose who is special and who is not, but to help us all to find healing, to find our way through the struggle and doubt and trauma back to Christ. And I absolutely agree with Sarah — Rachel did that best. You can read her wonderful essay here.
Friend, you are special. You are unique. You are loved. Just like me, just like everyone else. If you don’t believe me, here’s one of the only people I ever believe when he says it. If you want to, if you’re ready, listen to him singing this song and imagine it’s God singing it to you.