“Comparison is a trap,” he tells me over the phone as tears stain my pillow and midnight approaches. “Satan wants you to believe these lies about your worth. It’s all bullshit, Jessie.”
Some nights strong words such as these feel needed.
I’ve been letting myself get caught in this trap of comparison, jealousy, and insecurity for far too long. I’ve been letting social media suck me in and make me believe false things about my worth. Who has more followers? Who has better filters? Who gets the most attention, affirmation, and adoration?
Time is wasted in front of the mirror every day in my house. Lord, I was going to spend more time with you. I’m sorry. I let myself care too much.
Isn’t that a miserable realization? You’re letting yourself care too much. And if you could, you’d care less. You’d throw off your worries like a coat instead of the boulders they really are. But alas, you don’t know how to care less because you feel stuck — stuck in this trap, this awful yet irresistible trap.
Let me tell you something about myself: I am a woman dealing with one too many insecurities.
Those are the words my therapist used yesterday afternoon, and I sighed in resignation because I knew she was right. It’s the same sigh I release as my boyfriend and friends try to puncture the lies with the truth, the truth that I’m blind to while it’s clear as day for them. Along with that sigh comes a small chuckle because it’s hilarious really — preaching on confidence and worth and strength when I seem to have none.
I’m going to preach on reality for this one minute. And the reality is that I do feel trapped by comparison.
Jealousy is at my door, begging me to pay mind, and I always do. Insecurity asks for more time, and I always give it.
The reality is that I worked hard on my selfie for Instagram this morning and every bit of attention it receives today will be used to temporarily calm my fears, the fear that I’m not loved enough and the fear that everyone else in the world is more put-together than me. I’ll be brainstorming ways throughout my day on how to become more popular, even subconsciously, and I’ll realize later as I scroll through news feeds that I’m not all that popular and never will be. Not like her. Not like they are.
The reality is that I’m wishing for more followers and likes and shares of any piece of writing I produce because some days it feels like my writing is all I have. I tell myself that at least if people are paying attention to my work, then I know I’m doing something right. And with each thing I post or publish, I send up a prayer. Lord, please don’t let this be about me. I know it’s all supposed to be for you. If it’s not for you, don’t let a single person read it. But people do read and I get confused on who this is really for and what it’s really all about.
I feel so silly for my silly insecurities. I feel so petty for my petty jealousies. But telling myself I’m silly and petty doesn’t do the job of getting me back into the truth, away from that stone-cold trap.
This morning I spent what little time I had, the time between staring at myself in the mirror and heading into work, in prayer. I prayed for relief from the lies. Jesus, I need to see myself the way you see me. Show me my worth.
And then I turned to Ecclesiastes where I found wisdom staring right at me, obbvious wisdom that somehow escapes my grasp.
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 8-9).
Yes, I think. This life is so wearisome. I try to improve and fix so many things every day of my life and somehow realize the futility of my efforts and collapse exhausted into my bed. That’s where my midnight phone calls come from: this place of restlessness and weariness. Nothing is enough for me. Not me, not my efforts, and sometimes not even the promises or truth God has for me.
And when the sun comes back up and I begin again with my attempts to make good out of my life, something falls apart for every thing that comes together. And what does come together is nothing new, nothing noteworthy. What I speak or do has been spoken or done before and will continue to be spoken or done for years to come. What I write about has been written before and will continue to be written for years to come.
When I’m working on the proposal for my book, I work so hard to convince myself this is something worthwhile. I tell myself that this book will matter because it’s different and special and written by me. But when I finish a chapter or make a revision, I close my laptop and again feel the weight of this life’s futility. This book I’m pouring my heart into may very well never get published. And if it does get published, it may very well not change one thing.
I want to be a world-changer, but the truth is, I probably won’t be. Certainly not if I’m still standing in front of the mirror and critiquing my image, and certainly not if I’m still scanning social media and letting myself be worn down by numbers.
This morning I found an email in my inbox, a perfectly timed email.
Your sense of worth should never boil down to a good Instagram post or a sexy filter though. It should never have anything to do with numbers. Not followers, either. Followers don’t change the fact that you fail people. Or let people down. Or regret people. Followers don’t mean you’re not still the regret of someone else. They wash away quickly. They don’t show up for you at 2am. Don’t get so crazy about them. Don’t think you are so important. Just do something that is follow-worthy. Keep the focus on others. Make people think. Think more on your own actions. Above all, be who you say you are.
Oh, beautiful Hannah Brencher, you reached through the screen and held my hand once again.
I need a hand to hold and a whisper in my ear that says I’m beautiful and worthy. Period. I need a reminder that what people say or don’t say on those two subjects does not matter one bit. They don’t see me when I’m crying out earnestly to my Father. They don’t know the way my heart cringes for injustice. They don’t understand just how precious the words permanently etched on my shoulder are.
The other day, I was wrapped in Grant’s arms in the simple hallway of my dimly lit apartment. And as my head turned to the side to rest against his chest, I happened upon our reflection in that moment: him and I in a warm embrace with mismatched yet fitting bodies. And I thought to myself that this is a lovely sight not many get to see. And if they did see, would they realize just how lovely this is?
Yes, I need reminders that I’m beautiful and worthy, but not the kind of reminders typed with careless fingers and placed beneath filtered photos. I need the kind of reminders that come while catching quick images of myself I know only God could truly see and value.
And I need that challenge, that boldfaced question: Am I who I say I am?
Am I reflecting my identity as a radiant, redeemed daughter of God? Or am I letting the enemy twist my perception of my identity so as to take God out of the picture?
Between the photos and publishes and pretty things, I’ve been forgetting that God has been and always will be on the one pedestal that matters. He is on the one true throne.
Who gives a damn if we squeeze our butts onto makeshift thrones in this world?
News flash: this life and this world as we know it will not last forever. We can’t take social media to heaven. We can’t please God with shiny hair and stick-thin bodies. We can’t insert long-lasting meaning into what is passing away.
Everything in this world is meaningless, the book of Ecclesiastes cries out to me on this difficult morning. Everything in this world is pointless, my soul groans after my foolish body exhausts all possible mediums to gain approval that can’t satisfy.
With our bodies aging and this world dying and our efforts failing, what can we do? We can praise God for the little time we have left to touch hearts and point to Jesus. We can fight lies with God’s Word like we’ve been summoned to do.
Send those lies back to hell and get your hands, your lips, your bodies back to the calling that has been placed upon your life.
This is what I’m doing in this moment: sending lies back to hell on both of our behalves. I know the lies are trying to burn holes into your heart like lasers. Comparison brings heartache. Jealousy brings hate. But my darling, you can let yourself peek at the truth. Look up from your phone and get a glimpse of your Savior. Look up from this world and let yourself wonder at heaven, that eternity we’re moving closer to with each minute. Don’t let that sneaky, villainous snake grab hold of your arm and convince you to stay in that trap.
The truth is, you can step out of the trap. It’ll take many predetermined steps, but every one of those steps will be a victory. You are not in chains as you believe. You are beautiful and radiant and free.
Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:1-3).