Friends, if you've read my blog or if you are facebook friends with me or if you know me personally, there are probably a couple things you know about me. I have some insecurities and I have some issues with contentment.
Apparently that's stating it very lightly after the hot emotional mess I was last night. This affected me so deeply that I'm still dealing with the emotional aftershocks this morning and still fighting off some spontaneous tears.
What has me so upset you might ask? Well, believe it or not it was the simple act of going to a small group meeting from our church.
But, let me back up. Many of you are probably familiar with or involved with the small groups movement so popular in churches today. In a day and age that churches are sometimes quite large, it's a chance to get together with the same people over an extended period of time and form some deeper relationships. It's a way to feel connected within the church body, to grow together, and to encourage one another. It's a great format when it works.
John and I were part of a small group from our church several years ago in which I felt very comfortable. Even though we had a wide range of ages and marital/ family statuses we were all pretty much on the same socio-economic level (read: we were all ok financially for the most part but still struggled here and there). The home we met in felt real and comfortable and just a bit imperfect ( a lot like mine). I could relax and be myself.
Our small group leaders ended up moving away and we went without a small group for a couple years. We did have a short period where we met with a couple we've known for many years and another couple. But, a busy season of life for many of us in the group meant that eventually we couldn't meet with much regularity and eventually ended meeting together formally.
Which brings us to now. We've been wanting to get plugged into a small group again. But, we just weren't sure which group to jump in with. A husband and wife from our church that John had gotten to know on a missions trip invited us to visit their group.
Let me say that any new social situation is difficult for me. It takes me a long time to get to know a new group of people and to feel truly comfortable. So, the first time we went, I was already on edge and anxious. When we pulled into the driveway....which was really more of a road unto itself... there in front of me spread out this massive property with beautifully fenced & maintained meadows, a large custom house, and a detached 'garage' that was larger & more beautiful my own house. I would call it an estate.
It turns out we arrived at least a half hour to 45 minutes early. John must have misunderstood the start time. So, already anxious...now I feel awkward & insecure in this house that's beyond anything I've ever been in before. As the other people arrived, it was obvious that this group had been together for a long time and everyone knew each other very well. In addition the children also knew each other & were a bit older than my boys.
That was our first experience with the group. Eventually that day I relaxed a bit. I enjoyed listening to the conversations around me. And, people seemed basically down to earth. But, I wasn't sure how to join in.
The next time we went we met at a different house. This one was definitely more modest. It was gorgeous and perfectly decorated. But, it felt more homey and I relaxed a little bit more. But, I still felt like an outsider trying to join in with a group that already was so bonded.
It became clear that several of the families own their own businesses...successful businesses. I know this is one of the reasons this group appealed to John. He would like very much to form relationships with other Christian businessmen. Plus he seems very comfortable with the other men.
I however still haven't been able to open up or really feel comfortable.
The group took a break over the summer months so we haven't been in touch with these folks much other than to say 'hi' in passing at church. But last night was the first night that we met again to begin the new year.
I was nervous again. Social anxiety was high. But, I tried to set aside any previous perceptions I had of the group (i.e they were all rich & I didn't have much in common with them). I tried to go in with an open mind and heart.
We were meeting at yet another couple's house that I hadn't been to before. And, as we came around the corner and pulled into their driveway and yet another 'estate' perhaps even more impressive than the one before loomed before my eyes, I wanted to do nothing other than turn around and go home. I was fighting back tears before we even went inside. And, as we walked in the doors it became even harder to keep my tears in check.
This house was a showcase house. It was beyond anything I'd ever seen before in my life (and I thought that about the first house!). Each room had furniture and decor that was showroom quality. There were no used or second hand pieces in this house. Everything was new and perfect.
We met in the basement....which, when you think of a finished basement, even a nice finished basement...you have a certain family room style in mind. Again, everything was the highest quality and perfectly decorated. I suppose you could say it was slightly less formal than the upstairs. But, everything...the lighting, the appliances in the kitchenette, the furniture the decor, it was all high end.
I could not relax. I was so beside myself. So insecure. So upset. I choked back tears the entire evening and just wanted to go home.
Why? Why did this upset me so much? This is the part I've been having trouble putting into words. I tried to explain myself to John last night when we got home & I could finally release the messy cry I'd been holding back.
I guess in a nutshell, I don't feel like these people could ever really accept or know me. I feel like if they saw my house - how tiny it is, how dirty it is..it's glaring imperfections they would reject me. John assures me this isn't true. And, in my head I know he's probably right. They really are nice people.
But how could I ever share my struggles or challenges with them. They would have no point of reference. There is no chaos in their homes. There is no clutter. There is no need to improve anything. Everything is already perfect.
You know I wrestle with contentment & envy so much. I can't even conceive of how much money that property and it's furnishings cost. I can't even afford right now to replace my broken shades on my windows. For them that would a drop in the bucket. And, frankly, it seems so unfair to me.
John works so hard. So hard. We are frugal. We save. We tithe. And, we can't seem to get ahead.
There's a house on 5 acres near us that came up for auction 9 years ago. We had gone to the open house & I fell in love with that house & that property. It's just an old, unrenovated farmhouse. But, I loved it. And, I loved the peacefulness of the land around it. I've dreamt about that house. And, I've said that if it was ever for sale again, I wanted it.
Well, it's up for auction again in November. And I know we can't afford it. We just can't.
And, I've tried to come to terms with being content where I am...being thankful. In fact I often feel guilty for longing for a bigger house & some acreage. I don't want anything flashy. A simple old farmhouse with some land will do. But, I struggle with this. Because I KNOW that compared to third world countries even I am living in luxury. And, I often ask myself what the best way is to use the money that we ARE entrusted with. Is it to improve ourselves? Or to improve others?
And, I'll admit. I couldn't help thinking about that as I sat there. I looked around and knew that one small area of their furniture would totally pay for the adoption of the daughter my friends are trying to bring home from China. The refrigerator in the finished basement alone is worth more money than what I can raise for the ministry that we benefit through the vintage sale we work on & plan for months.
And it's not for me to judge how they spend their money. John told me I was being very judgemental. And, he's probably right. I just don't know how to let go of this feeling of unfairness. I suppose that's the definition of envy, right? Looking at what someone else has and begrudging it. There's a reason God included 'Do not covet' in the Ten Commandments. Coveting makes me feel absolutely miserable. And it hinders relationship.
I also know that I have no idea what their struggles are. While all I could see was perfection I'm sure their lives aren't perfect. I have to see people for who they are and not what they have.
So there I was all in a great knot of insecurity and envy.
Next weekend we're supposed to go away for the weekend with the couples from this group. We're going to a cabin for two nights. I don't want to go. I don't know if I can past how I'm feeling. I don't know if I even totally understand how I'm feeling or why I'm feeling it. I don't want to have pre-conceived notions of who they are. After all, isn't that what I fear? That they would have preconceived notions of me if they could see how I live?
I'm not sure how to deal with this. Maybe God is trying to teach me something.