Well, anyway, none of that mattered now. I was learning to love Jesus and had just finished earning my college degree. I felt hopeful and even joyful about my future, when I once thought I would never experience anything but emptiness. I was so grateful to God for how He had filled my life with good things!
And, that is why I agreed to share my story on that Friday night. I was thankful for all God was doing in my life and I wanted to tell others about this hope I’d found. So, as I arrived, I parked close so I wouldn’t have far to walk; my knees were knocking before I even entered the building! I sat in the back and prayed as the singing started, I noticed with quick relief that Doug was not there that evening, and somehow I managed to sing the last song along with everyone. They started announcements and I knew I was up next. My stomach was in knots, I breathed deeply and looked up just in time to see Doug arrive late and take one of the only seats available – in the front row. I heard my name and remember praying in a flash of desperation, “God – it is your story. Please tell it.”
I can’t fully explain what happened next, because I’d never had an experience like it before.
I told my story. People listened. They laughed when I said something humorous and they cried when I shared the hard stuff. Afterward, a lot of people wanted to talk to me. I felt relief, happiness, and something I never would have expected: fulfilled. It isn’t that I was great or did a great job or said great things. It was simply the fact that people universally experience pain, and disappointment, and rejection, and they long for hope, and joy and acceptance. And it is a comfort when we realize that we are not alone in our stories – when we can say, as C.S. Lewis once defined the way true friendships begin: “You too? I thought I was the only one!”
I did not speak to Doug that evening. But eventually we did meet one Friday evening when he wore jeans instead of a suit. He wasn’t as serious as I’d thought, but he was quiet. I was chatty, so it wasn’t terribly awkward. And when he did speak, it was worth listening to. Still, I remember thinking wistfully that he’d probably make a great husband to one of these lucky gals I saw each Friday night. I never included myself in this ‘lucky gaggle of gals’ because I saw Doug as out of my league, and we did not speak often because of this.
It is stunning to me now looking back, how narrowly and inaccurately I viewed myself. It was as if I placed myself on one side of my mental ledger and measured to see how I stacked up in comparison to the accomplishments and polished appearances of others. The pain of my past failures had resulted in deep insecurities that not only kept me from seeing my true worth, but also prevented my ability to see others as fully unique individuals created in the image of God. The comparison game is a useless exercise as an attempt to measure our worth on our own terms, since it only ever has two possible outcomes: shame or pride. It will always perpetuate our insecurities and will discourage and exhaust us because it is never-ending. Comparing ourselves to others for validation is evidence of our lack of trust in God as we disbelieve that we are who God says we are. There is only one way to escape this crazy comparison trap, and the time was quickly approaching for me to decide whether or not I would take it. (To be continued…)