We have one mature tree in our front yard that Olivia points to whenever she stands at the front door, face pressed up against the glass.
She’ll scrunch her nose and repeat “tah tah tah” in an effort to say “tree,” all the while staring at the flowering crab that’s been brown and red long before this year’s fall season decided to arrive.
This one tree sure makes it easy for Olivia to correctly answer when I ask her to find “our” tree (though my mom-bias still tells me she’s a prodigy), but our house used to have two mature trees in the front yard. One on each side of the sidewalk leading to our front door.
At some point the previous homeowner removed the second tree, and I’ve spent some mornings looking out onto our front yard, wondering what the view might have looked like with two mature crabtrees canopying our walkway.
We do that a lot, don’t we? Wonder about what could have been, might have been, or maybe (we dream) someday will be.
We all have different kinds of “trees” that have been removed from our lives for one reason or another, and I’ve spent plenty of time (usually while bitterly folding the laundry) imagining what life might of been like had I made this decision, took that job, or followed that path rather than the ones I actually chose.
My strongest battles with envy occur not when I compare my life to someone else’s but when I compare my life to the hypothetical one I’ve created in my head — the one I “could” or “should” be living.
And let me tell you, being envious of your hypothetical self and the life she’s living can really do a number on not only your sanity but also your self-confidence, your sense of self-worth, and your ability to be to grateful for your everyday.
This was my major struggle during the first few months after Olivia was born. My hypothetical self was doing it all: caring for her baby while pursuing her PhD, publishing academic articles, and teaching university classes that were challenging and inspiring. She was living the life I had thought I would have after Olivia arrived.
My actual self, however, struggled with PPD, was drowning in a lack of self-confidence, and questioned again and again if deciding to be a full-time mom was really the best idea. Playing with a crew of stuffed bunnies every afternoon felt a lot less significant than inspiring the masses with my academic research (side note: babies are also a good punch in the face to your ego, in case you were wondering).
Being envious of the selves that we imagine diminishes the significance of the selves that we are, and that, my friends, is the lie of comparison.
The only evidence we have of the tree that was chopped down in our front yard (besides a satellite image on Google maps) is a small patch on the lawn that is growing sprouts where the stump was once rooted.
When one tree is cut down, there will sometimes be a number of small sprouts that will grow in its place–each with the potential to become viable trees themselves, with the proper amount of care and sunlight. These sprouts are strong, their stems are thick, and I’ve tripped over them a countless number of times while we’re playing in the yard.
Sometimes we spend too much time staring up into the empty sky, trying to imagine what life would have been like under the shade of another tree, and we miss the strong life and growth taking place right at our feet.
This week’s focus in the Cultivate Calendar has been about gratitude, and I think the best way to battle envy is to stop asking What if? and start declaring What is: what is true, what is noble, what is right, what is pure, what is lovely, what is admirable, what is excellent or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).
What is growing in places you least expected.
Choosing gratitude (and it is most definitely a choice we have to make) has a funny way of redirecting our gaze. Our necks, stiff from holding our focus in one direction (usually ourselves), are finally able to move, the kinks are loosened, and we can turn our heads towards other areas of our lives that we had been missing for so long.
I’m not saying that we should give up on having dreams or creating goals.
I’m saying that we need to give up living our lives in the shadow of a life that isn’t even being lived.
Battle envy with gratitude. Point at the one tree in your front yard with pride and joy and thankfulness because there it is! Still standing and providing shade.
Then seek out life and growth in places you thought were cut down and destroyed.
We may find a few sprouts that could surprise us.
“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Colossians 2:6-7
P.S. We’ve started the Cultivate Calendar, but it’s not too late to join the party. If you haven’t downloaded your free calendar, you can do so HERE.