Recently, there have been a slew of pregnancy announcements in my social circle and newsfeed.
When I hear these announcements, sometimes I find that I can’t control my visceral reactions, despite my deep love for my friends. Self-doubt jumps out from the shadows and begins its barrage of accusatory questions.
Why her, now? Why not me? I keep getting passed by people who are younger or who have been married for far less time. How is this fair? Why can’t I have the one thing I want so badly and have worked so hard to achieve?
I can start to believe that I’m running behind schedule—that I’m running out of time. I wonder if I will ever have the experience of being pregnant or if I will always be the one on the sidelines, wishing it were me. I attend baby showers and often the tiny, adorable clothes feel like a knife in my heart. Having kids has been a lifelong dream of mine, so it feels like something crucial is missing from my life and without it being realized. It feels like I will be incomplete and unfulfilled without the experience of parenthood.
Maybe for you, it’s not pregnancy announcements, but it’s the recent barrage of holiday engagements. It’s been years since you’ve been in a serious relationship, or you’re getting over a broken heart. If you see one more couple pledge to become lifelong partners announcing their happy news online, you might just throw something through your computer screen.
Or maybe it’s career goals. Maybe you’re working in a field that you never thought you’d be in. Maybe you have a miserable boss or you find yourself at the end of every weekend with the inevitable ‘Sunday dread.’ Maybe you’re stuck in a job you hate because of debt. You feel like a failure and you wonder if you’ll ever have a career that makes you excited to get out of bed and go to work in the morning.
Regardless of the circumstances, watching others cross milestones we haven’t yet can stir up a lot of unwelcome emotions. Jealousy boils up and we sense that somehow, because someone else has reached this goal we want so badly, it means our own goals are in danger. We think something is wrong with us, or we’re screwing it all up, or that life has dealt us the worst hand possible. We feel like something essential is missing, and if we could just have that one long-desired thing or achieve that goal, then we’d be fulfilled.
But let me tell you friends… these are lies. I can only tell you this because I have to fight them on the regular. These whispered insecurities that echo through our hearts and minds come from our enemy, not our belovedness. Your value isn’t tied to your status in life. It’s not dependent on your roles or titles. It’s not defined by whether you’re someone’s significant other, or someone’s parent or someone’s boss. These roles add depth and meaning and joy to our lives, but they are not the whole of our lives. Your worth comes from the fact that you are a child of God, infinitely loved by the creator of the universe.
God’s voice has to be the one that we listen to, trust and obey above all others, learning to put far less weight on the words of our inner and outer critics, those voices threatening our sense of worth. The voice of the Spirit is still and small. It is the voice of peace that passes all understanding. This is the voice that reminds us who we are, and calls us home to his heart.
So if that’s true, then what happens? We can begin to embrace the season we’re in or the roles we’re currently meant to play without the heavy burden of requiring them to be where we find our value. We can show up to our everyday lives and start to become more aware and appreciative of what we have been given rather than what’s lacking.
The antidote to discouragement about the lack in our lives is practicing gratitude – actually thanking God for the gifts we’ve already been given instead of demanding what we think we deserve. This means slowing down enough to notice the small joys that are present every day: savoring a freshly poured cup of coffee, watching in awe of a sunrise or sunset, marveling at our body’s capabilities in exercise, the presence of a dear friend, or the sound of children laughing.
This kind of noticing easier to some than others, which is why the word “practice” is essential. Like any other kind of training, gratitude is a muscle we have to work in order to strengthen. When I was struggling with depression in that first year of infertility, it made the whole world seem dark. I demanded answers from God, but there were none, just simple reassurances of God’s love.
To be honest, I wanted more than that. I wanted to twist God’s arm and make him to step in to remove my infertility. I wanted to prove how deserving I was to be a mom by listing off all the good things I’d done and ways I’d served the Kingdom. But after three years, I am no longer under the illusion of control. How and when and if this happens is not mine to decide. I can cooperate with the best of medicine and offer fervent prayers, but nothing I do can produce life or fill the empty ache in my heart and arms. I’m still waiting for a miracle.
With each passing year and every unanswered prayer, I find myself clinging harder to the knowledge that I am God’s daughter and he has plans to prosper me and not to harm me, even if those plans look far different from my own. I identify with the words of the Apostle Paul all the more:
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39 (NLT)
No blinding anxiety, no unanswered prayers, no infertility, no singleness, no divorce or unfulfilled dreams will ever be able to separate us from the love of God. We are his children, he calls us by name, and we are his own. No matter what else befalls us, these things are true and eternal. Those empty, aching spaces in our hearts and lives can never be fully satisfied by a role, no matter how significant. They are meant to be filled by our loving Father, who lavishes his love on us without end. Friend, no matter your current status, know that you are meant to walk in the freedom that is your heritage as a child God.
What roles have you been wrestling with or fighting for? What would it look like to loosen your grip in order to walk in freedom?