“Wealth is like seawater; the more we drink, the thirstier we become; and the same is true of fame.” ~Arthur Schopenhauer From the Archives: Money Isn’t Joy
Some people dream about becoming wealthy. Even from a young age, I suspected that wasn’t my destiny. I wasn’t born into money, and none of the careers of interest to me were ones that make a person rich (except in … Continue reading
Growing up in a poor neighborhood, I knew I was blessed to go to school with the wealthy. I didn’t have the emotional fortitude for my neighborhood’s public schools. I would have been too insecure and deferential to flourish. But for as blessed as I felt to have Ph.D.’s for teachers, get textbooks I could keep, and have a bountiful spread of food to choose from at lunch (at no additional cost), I also felt guilty. Why me?
All of the kids in my neighborhood weren’t going to an elite private school. All of the kids in my church didn’t have testimonies about kind benefactors funding trips to Europe. These were incredible experiences. I felt very blessed. However, I also felt guilty. Why me? What made me worthy?
It helped to ascribe some of the blessing to my mother’s prayerful, faith-filled living. I knew that she and God were buddies. But what about all the other poor kids whose moms were also best friends with God? Why weren’t they all experiencing the same perks I was?
Every time I was prompted to share my latest testimony, I worried that those listening would feel jilted or jealous. I worried that my testimonies sounded like bragging. I shared them with reluctance. I toned things down so I wouldn’t sound arrogant. I was embarrassed by my blessings in the face of so much want in the world.
What I’ve come to realize (and this is an ongoing struggle for me—feeling blessed and guilty) is that just as I can be genuinely happy for a loved one who gets something I want, others can be genuinely happy for me. I might feel wistful and wishful, but I’m not envious, especially when I keep things in perspective. Plus, everyone’s idea of a blessing is not the same. So it’s fruitless to get mired in comparisons. You might want a boyfriend. I might want a house. She might want a promotion. He might want time off. It’s not worthwhile worrying that others are jealous of what I have. Everyone’s hopes and dreams are different.
Furthermore, blessings are about the one who blesses, not the blessed. It’s about God, not me. I haven’t earned any of it. When I look back at my life, I see how much this is true. I haven’t felled any literal Goliaths with a stone, but God has equipped me to do more than I could have done on my own. I’ve never wielded a slingshot, but I have seen the meager finances of my family fell many a financial foe.
For example, my parents bought a home in New York City without a mortgage, and they weren’t wealthy at all. They were a young, immigrant couple with a toddler (me). They both worked hard. My father worked multiple jobs (almost never taking a day off) to put himself through college and law school. They were renting when a neighbor they’d been kind to decided to sell her home directly to them.
My two siblings and I all went to prestigious private schools—again, not because my parents were affluent, but because doors (and scholarships) opened up for us. Even when my financial footing wasn’t secure, I flourished. Although I spent a couple of post-college years without a fulltime job, I was still able to pay rent, buy a car, visit my grandparents in Grenada every year, and pay off my student loans so that I’d be debt-free by the time I got married. (That last one even came several years early.)
All of these experiences and achievements (improbable, if not impossible, by the world’s natural standards) have strengthened my faith, and that faith is a constant source of encouragement and peace. Some might call it luck or karma or coincidence, but I see it as God-affirming evidence. Especially when a loss gives me more than I had before—as after the fire or my husband’s car accident. In both of those cases certain losses also led to upgrades. In both of those cases a difficulty also led to blessings.
Why me? Why are some lives so full of hardships while others seem to have it easy? Well, I’ve begun to answer my own question—it’s in the word seem. The reality of a life and how it appears to onlookers are two different things. Just because someone appears to have it all doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering. And many we might be tempted to feel sorry for don’t covet our lives or want our pity. Wealth isn’t happiness. Fame isn’t friendship. No one life is all good or all bad. It’s why I try so hard to not be envious. Who am I to begrudge the good another person enjoys? In the same manner, I shouldn’t let my life’s blessings make me feel embarrassed.
Feeling guilty is usually an indication that I am looking at things from the wrong perspective. Why me? Why you? I don’t actually know. But I don’t think why is the important part. First of all, my life’s blessings do not take anything away from anyone else—especially if they afford me the ability to be generous. Secondly, life is not a competition. It’s a gift. We haven’t been called to earn, but to receive, enjoy, and share it.