Be Encouraged, You’re Doing Better Than You Think

Yesterday a stranger left a very sweet comment on a piece I’d written, saying, “I wish I was half as good a person as you seem to be.”

My reply to her was, “I wish I was too.”

Her kind words revealed the universal flaw of humanity: we are chronically oblivious to our own goodness.

We all suffer from comparison sickness; forever measuring the reality of ourselves against what we imagine about everyone else. We view our lives with an unforgiving microscope of hyper-proximity and the rest of the world through a filtered telescope of manipulated distance. We see what people choose to reveal to us, whatever we can glean from our brief interactions with them, and given what we know about ourselves—this is a competition we can never, ever win.

As a result, we go through much of our lives believing that everyone else has achieved a level of success we can never quite manage; in our careers, our relationships, our finances, our sex lives, our sense of self, our experience of joy. We all feel perpetually less-than. All of us.

And trust me, it doesn’t matter if the object of your gaze at any given moment is a public figure whose words you admire, that endlessly cheerful acquaintance on social media, the well-dressed neighbor you wave to in the morning, the effervescent guy you work with: none of them have their shit together in the way you imagine they do, and every one of them is far less okay than you think they are. The followers they have, the thinness of their waist, the cars in their driveway, and the kudos they achieve don’t make them impervious to disappointment and rejection. 

That isn’t to demean them, it’s to remind you that people are always in more pain than you realize, and to caution you against comparing your ugly truth with another’s carefully crafted facade. Measuring your goodness by anyone else is a really bad idea because you’re always working with incomplete information.

Today I re-shared this family portrait from a few years ago on social media.

Now as then, it garnered all sorts of lovely responses, with many commenting that we were the “perfect family”—and on the surface we were exactly that. But the truth was that we were a walking disaster. I’d lost my father suddenly 5 weeks earlier, and we were in the middle of packing up to move to a new city, leaving behind a community and careers we’d loved and the only home our kids had ever known. We were grieving and exhausted and terrified. If we could have picked a worse time to do this, I can’t think of it. But we were a family and we loved each other, and so we soldiered on while a photographer captured moments that magically erased any evidence of our sadness. And it is these moments, not our grief and exhaustion, that we chose to broadcast for public consumption.

And this is the great irony; that in the middle of our worst days we all put on our bravest faces and radiate okay-ness, all the while people around us are aspiring to who they believe we are, envious of what it looks like we have, desiring the apparent greenness of our respective grass. 

We’re all seeing other people through a small and very selective window, and that window usually doesn’t allow us to see how much people are hurting, the insecurities they’re carrying, the hell they’ve gone through or may be going through.

All this to say that we’re all a mess and no one is as together, happy, or confident as we want ourselves to appear, so go easy on yourself when you feel you’re not measuring up.

Don’t aspire to be as good as anyone else. They’re not that good either.

Be encouraged friend—you’re better than you think.

29 thoughts on “Be Encouraged, You’re Doing Better Than You Think

  1. “A sense of shame can keep you at a distance from God. It keeps you from praying because, “Why would God want to hear from someone like me? Or, if He does incline His ear (condescendingly), why would He answer? ‘I don’t come close to living up to His standards. He doesn’t really want to answer my prayers. He doesn’t even want to be around me.’”
    Jeff VanVonderen,
    Tired of Trying to Measure Up

  2. Pride , Humility , lowliness of stature. all attributes of mankind.
    Godliness with contentment is great Gain ( proverbs)
    In many areas of the bible the God , True God tells us that we are all , no exception sinners and come from Adam ( all ) and that no good comes from the heart of mankind.
    In fact it says ( the Bible ) Gods Holy Inspired Word ) that mankind seeks to do what ever gives him pleasure, satisfaction, builds his or her pride.
    The only good in man is From above which God Gives Freely to all who seek him and his holiness.
    So you see when we /you/I think I am good and good enough to get to heaven , we /I/Yu need to get real , confess our sin and pride to the one and only one true god , in quiet, alone with God time.
    All the Good that you see in the world is from Gods Love and His alone. Please in all you do give credit to whom it is truly due. God alone.
    I am chief of sinners ( said by the great apostle Paul )
    Yes Loved by God, Chosen to be saved from his acts of disobedienc.
    God Love s You , and Has provide a stable , way of escape, a true peace , a Truth that no man can take away.
    YOU are Great only in Gods Truth and love, and obedience as children of a loving God. He has provided for you , Yours , His own. and will give the best who by way of seeking him out have denied worldly lust, passions, and selfish ambitions to seek out Godliness with contentment.

  3. What lovely words you give us this morning…words to reflect and ponder in days to come even. I feel immensely more peaceful right this minute than I did after reading the limited amount of ‘news’ I do read these days. I’ve been thinking about the different ways we like-minded folk have been dealing with our frayed emotions – some friends have joined groups (Drinking Liberally & Indivisible) and are taking action; others are keeping their heads down; you are writing what’s in your heart and head and sharing it; me…for now I am being mindful and knitting scarves for military veterans:)

  4. Love yourself as you are and if you can’t, at least begin to like yourself and build on that!
    God does!

    I stopped my “comparison” competition many, many years ago and am happier for it, my hubbie of 25 years noticed the difference, I started to like, then love who I am with all my flaws. He called it being human. Great fella I have in my life! Not perfect, just human!

  5. Thank you for the lovely words and thoughts. Somehow you seem to know what we need before even we do. That is a real gift and I thank you for sharing it. Have always suffered with the less than syndrome, so it’s good to be reminded that I am not less than, that I am good enough and that I could be better. Peace, Love and Resist.

  6. What a beautiful picture you shared along with those beautiful words.

    I was raised with a double helping of “God will punish you if you…..”. Although I have changed my thinking on the matter I still feel guilt to this day. Did my words offend someone today? Was I not gracious enough to that restaurant server? Did I respond in kind to someone who was offensive? And so many more.

    Still I love the God I believe in and I believe he loves me as much as he loves everyone. None of us are perfect and most of us stumble sometimes daily in our quest. But those moments when you feel God’s love, when you can open your eyes to the beauty God created for us give us strength to carry on.

  7. This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. My wife and I vow each day to NEVER take our day for granted.! I actually seek opportunities to pass along a word of encouragement to someone. All imperfect people out there, put your spiritual gifts to work! Make someone’s day better. You will be the one blessed!
    What John has eloquently stated takes courage. Let’s make the world a better place! Today!

    • If you haven’t seen the movie “About Time”, I highly recommend it. It speaks very clearly about your entire first paragraph.

  8. Thank you, John P for these wonderful and humble words. Very pastoral. Yes, that comparison game is insidious.

    ““Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.””

    This goes hand in hand with what you wrote yesterday. I wish people who comment on this blog would adopt this as their SOP. Some obvious have, others of us manage it sometimes, and still others make no attempt at all, not caring that they bludgeon people with their words, not caring what kind of hurt they inflict. You know who you are.

  9. Or as I often tell people in my spiritual direction practice, “don’t compare your worst to somebody else’s best”.

  10. Life is not a trap set for us by God, so that He can condemn us for failing. Life is not a spelling bee, where no matter how many words you have gotten right, if you make one mistake you are disqualified. Life is more like a baseball season, where even the best team loses one-third of its games and even the worst team has its days of brilliance. Our goal is not to go all year without ever losing a game. Our goal is to win more than we lose, and if we can do that consistently enough, then when the end comes, we will have won it all.

    — Harold S. Kushner in How Good Do We Have To Be? by Harold S. Kushner

  11. I use different words to describe the Sacred that I believe in–any word is completely insufficient and totally unable to actually accurately describe God, the Father, the Almighty, and so on.
    To me, the word “God” is easily substituted with “Love” and/or “Compassion”. I also believe that every single physical being has a sacred spark within. Each of us starts from the same point, a sacred being, who then has choices to make. Depending on those choices, a being becomes “good” or “bad” in society’s eyes. Yes, even 45 (DJT) has this sacred spark–which has almost completely disappeared because of the choices he has made his entire life.
    I choose to do what is right as the natural response to that sacredness. I do it out of Love, not fear. I Love every being–but there are those who I choose not to be with because of their choices. That doesn’t stop the Love. One of the best descriptions of Love comes from I Cor 13:4-7:
    “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
    And here’s how I know that Love is the same thing as God: you can substitute every iteration of “Love” with the word “God” and it still makes complete sense.
    It’s very important to understand that Love for every being includes Love for OURSELVES. We have to know Love, we have to recognize its presence within us, in order to then Love everyone else.
    Be compassionate to yourself so that you can be compassionate with others. Don’t worry about what they are, what they have, what they seem to have achieved. Those are irrelevant when it comes to interactions–Love should be the communication between beings.
    We’re aren’t as bad as we think others are good. We are all equal in the potential for the things that matter: Love, kindness, compassion, caring. And the really cool part of this is that if you are not doing these things, if you don’t have Love and etc, you can always change your choice to doing them. At any point in life.
    “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple. The philosophy is kindness.” (Dalai Lama)

  12. How do I see my real self? I have never, in 64 years, seen my real self. I am a product of verbal abuse, physical abuse, self abuse. I know about God’s love but it does not change the picture. I have no answer for more clever family members, unsolicited friendly advice. My husband and dog gave me the only unconditional love I have ever known. I think whatever true view I had of myself died with them. Paul said, “Now we see through a glass darkly…” Isn’t there a way to see the self truly, before we die?

    • Patricia Hartmann, I am very grieved to read of the abuse that you have suffered. I am glad that you knew unconditional love from your husband and your dog.

      You don’t mention it and, of course, you don’t have to say anything about it but I have been greatly helped by certain recovery groups and therapy as a result of my emotionally, mentally, and verbally abusive parents, my own sexual molestation as a young person and raped as an adult.

      I wouldn’t say I see myself truly, but I see myself more clearly. it is a very different picture of me than my abusers would have me believe in. I am content with seeing myself more clearly, even if not truly. It is good enough for now.

  13. I grew up in a church that encouraged us to believe and live in a state of “not being enough”–that only then were we any good. I’ve spent many years trying to change my way of thinking that has been so hurtful to my spirit and soul. Thank you for speaking to my heart.

  14. I am gradually coming to the conclusion that most of the Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical view of Christianity needs to be seriously rethought in terms of a million things we know to be true now that people in Bible Times did not know—and that look just plain weird—when you try to translate them from ancient, primitive cultural terms to modern terms in our much more knowledgeable and technologically advanced culture.

    Like:

    Have you ever thought about this? If you read the Old Testament and listen to fundie preachers talking about the Old Testament, you quickly learn that God runs on an odd, non-octane fuel called GLORY. It seems to be a precious substance that He needs to feel like He is okay and everything is right in his unique world. However, He can only get really high-quality GLORY from human beings, who apparently produce a USDA GRADE A variety. Moreover, He leaves the manufacturing and supply chain of GLORY totally up to the inferior humans. The problem with this set up is that it puts men in control of God: “Sorry God. We’re out of Glory today because I’m in a really bad mood. Come back next Sunday, and I might have a new batch for you—unless maybe I am up late with SNL and sleep in Sunday morning.”

    And why does God need this substance called GLORY so bad. Just think about it for a minute. He created the known universe and 32 parallel dimensions. He wove time, space, and gravity together, and by his own admission and claim, He is the greatest that ever has been, is the greatest now, and is the greatest that will ever be. In addition, He is totally clean, holy to the maximum, and infinitely perfect. He always has been. He is now. He will always be—and the power of death and entropy in this universe and other such bugaboos in the 32 parallel universes have had no power over him, do not have any power over him now, and never will have any power over him. With a resume like that, an entity could not escape being totally cool with himself, his ego, and all that he has done. Congratulations of any kind pales in the face of this monolith of personal being and accomplishment.

    Yet……..yet. He needs this substance called GLORY. He needs people to constantly be telling him how wonderful and how great He is. “No God. I didn’t score that touchdown. You did.” What? Does He have short-term memory problems? Alzheimer’s disease? The Old Testament has all these wonderful, poetic flourishes about millions of the angels, choirs, and other Heavenly hosts doing nothing but sitting around in the Heavenly throne room singing praises to him and otherwise telling him how great and noble he is 24/7/365—and this keeps on for all eternity.

    You would think there would be more substance to the God psyche than this—because—even in flimsy human terms—this is just plain weird and downright shallow. It is the kind of thing insecure, earthly potentates like Kim-Jong-Un need to soothe their nerves and reassure themselves that their kingdom is not about to be overwhelmed by unscrupulous and disgruntled relatives and underlings with an eye on assassination.

    This brings me full circle to my point. Intuitively, I doubt that God really has this enormous hunger for GLORY, and I further would suggest there is no way he would put humans in charge of a supply chain for something He needs that much. Talk about a set up for disappointment!!! When we read our Bibles, I think what we are actually seeing is an attempt by primitive Judean herders and later Jews not that far removed from it to do what they were not allowed to do in stone, metal, or wood—create a man-made graven image of God painted poetically in WORDS. But as the Bible reminds us, God is not like anything the human mind can imagine, which is why material graven images were forbidden in ancient Jewish culture. Any such image you dreamed up would inevitably be wrong. Worst of all, the Judean primitives fashioned this “word image” of an egotistical, GLORY-hungry God (who is nothing like Jesus) and his Heavenly surroundings from the everyday tales of human kings, the sumptuousness of their royal courts, and the sycophant courtiers who were always careful to do nothing but praise his royal majesty—who was prone to fits of rage, insecurity, and constantly in fear of being bumped off by a relative or rival. I think Monty Python would put it like this:

    “Well, let’s see now. What’s God like? What’s Heaven like? Well, the Sumerians have a king. I hear tell God is a king too. So, God and Heaven must be something like the blooming Sumerian King and his royal court. Yeah, write it up like that. That’s what they must be like—but embellish it a lot because Heaven’s just got to be embellished and look much better.”

    If God is anything like the Jesus of the New Testament—and the Book of Hebrews says that they they are the same—then the Old Testament vision of God is wrong. It just about has to be. I cannot imagine the suffering servant Jesus, the loving man of Judea, sitting around as an egotistical, needy oriental potentate hungering and feeding from a trough of GLORY while choirs of courtiers sit around as petty sycophants singing his praises day and night forever. Poetry—yes. Reality—I kind of doubt it. Jesus would have none of it. He would be much better than all that.

    • I’ll save you the trouble:

      Youin’s is wrong!!! God izz exactly like that ’cause ever word in the Old Testament was personally written down by God’s own hand. He writ it about hisself. He knowed who his self is. There ain’t a bit of human thought or writin’ anywhere in that black KJV Bible book of mine. My great granddaddy Homer graduated 6th grade and got him a fine Bible education a sittin’ under the old elm try outside his log cabin. He knowed what God and Heb’n was like. He passed it on to his son Clyde “Possum Britches” Eldridge. Old Possum Britches passed it down to my daddy. When I quit school in 8th grade, my daddy passed it on down to me. That’s when I got my job a loadin’ feed bags down at Green’s Home and Farm. After I was there 20 years, them people down at Squealing Hog IFB Church made me pastor ’cause I was the only one that could read. I told them what God and Heaven was like too. I also passed it on to my son Filbert Hazel “The Nut” Eldridge. Heezuns graduates from The Ohio State University next month. Hezzuns izz got a straight “A” average in English and philosophy, but despite all that book learnin’, heezuns izz retained all the simple Bible things weezuns izz taught him when he was a child down in Skunk Spray Holler. I talked to him on the tellerphone last night—asked him what heeza gonna do after he graduates. You know what he said:

      “Now that I have this fancy college education—I am suave, debonair, articulate, and erudite to the maximum. I am going to dress up all those simple country Bible teachings that were passed down in our family for generations. I now know how to dress them up in a tuxedo to make them look learned and respectable to the rest of the world. Then I am going to spend the rest of my life militantly attacking all those Professors of Divinity at Harvard University, Duke University and Oxford University. I will show them a thing or two. How dare they think that their religious learning is any deeper, better, or more true and important than what old Possum Britches taught your father. I will kick their butts, ally myself with Jack Schaap when he gets out of prison, move to Hammond, Indiana, and start my own Bible-believing TV ministry. The thoughts, words, insights, and Bible parsing of old Possum Britches and his descendants will live on forever.”

  15. Thank you for those kind and loving thoughts, John. I’ve always been insecure – and it started very early. Once I started school, I had the misfortune to come up behind the Golden Child – my perfect sister who could step into manure and come out smelling like attar of roses. Most every teacher I had, she had first. I never measured up in their estimation (wasn’t as smart, didn’t catch on as fast, etc.) and nobody ever let me forget it. It hasn’t been until maybe the last ten years that I finally started to accept myself as I am, and to believe my wonderful husband and many wonderful friends when they tell me I’m more than good enough. Never hurts to have more reinforcement, though!

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