The Thief of Joy

The other day I found out that my ex-boyfriend got married. 

What followed in my office cubicle is best described as the Mr. Krabs meme personified. I barely even noticed my co-worker asking to borrow my stapler.

Aside from the expected bittersweet feelings, it was like a new mark of adulthood. Prior to age 25, breakups consisted of overcoming the idea that your ex would date someone else or perhaps go to college across the state. But now, there was overcoming the idea of your ex getting married. Like married, married.

It added new meaning to rapper Mase's lyric, "I wanna see you happy even if it's not with me." There was no mistaking that we both needed to move on. Who knows what kind of trajectory we would have found ourselves on had we tried to make a failing relationship work. 

What was once a teenage love affair grew into two young adults trying to hold on to the nostalgia of the good ol’ days. But they were long gone, I knew that though I struggled against that logic. Learning that your first love is not forever is hard. It was painful letting go and as a result of slowly ripping that band aid, it was perhaps tougher than it should have been. Ultimately the years of on-again, but mostly off-again all came to an end with a prideful and perhaps petty "Ok" text message. Such a dismal conclusion to such a major relationship in my life.

After the shock and reminiscing wore off, what lingered weren't bouts of asking “What if?” Instead, there was an ongoing fight to resist the need to compare. 

What has really changed for me since then?
Have I found my happiness?
Crap, I'm single.

Milestones in the lives of others-- especially those once close to you-- can cause you to doubt your own. And that's exactly what I was doing. Theodore Roosevelt wasn't lying when he said, "Comparison is the thief of joy." Until that moment I was celebrating the last day of my summer internship while preparing for my final year of graduate school. I was also excited about finally receiving paperwork for my upcoming counseling field placement, which would seal the deal for graduation in spring. If you know my testimony, then you know the hurdles I've jumped, the weeks of eating Ramen noodles I swallowed, and the tears I've shed to reach this point. 

My life was not to be in competition with my ex's to see who would win the breakup down the line, but still I was seeing my accomplishments as sub-par or less than.

Our journeys are not to beat our friends or former lovers to degrees, careers, or engagements in order to prevent ourselves from feeling behind. What it comes down to is that everyone wants it all in life, but for each of us that "all" will be different. In her book Can I Have and Do It All Please?, speaker and evangelist Christine Caine wrote, Having it all does not mean we can have anything we want, or that we can have everything simultaneously.”

The fulfillment of that "all" will come in God's timing. I knew that I needed to trust in that and not see my ex or anyone else’s joy as a sign that I was lacking joy in mine. It's easy to be guilty of this when it appears that graduation, wedding, and baby announcements are showing up constantly on Facebook. In reality there are no striking surges in these milestones, instead we hone in on them because they highlight what we feel is a void in our lives. Be mindful that comparisons can often cause us to covet things before we're ready.

The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 4:11, “Make it your goal to lead a peaceful life, mind your own business, and keep your hands busy in your work.”

God’s “all” for me won’t be found in expectations from Instagram memes detailing #RelationshipGoals or Thought Catalog articles telling me what I need to accomplish by 30. And it certainly won’t be found in the act of comparing my life to others. In short, my “all” will be found in minding my own business and my own journey. Keeping your eye on someone else's lane can cause you to see your life through a filter of inadequacy. 

For the times we do fall into this trap, confess those feelings to God whether it's jealousy, frustration, impatience, or upset. Ask Him to give you joy during whatever season of life you're in. Comparison is the thief of joy, but God is able to restore.

—Tara Pook