Keeping up with the Joneses.
It’s an expression people use to indicate comparing oneself to another person or group of people, as in a family being envious of neighbors – the Jones – and their possessions.
Yet, it stretches far beyond a family looking next door and desiring a swimming pool in their back yard in order to be as popular as the folks beside them.
In today’s world, so many of us fall prey to this temptation of constantly comparing ourselves in some way to someone that we may or may not know.
It could be their facial appearance or body type, their clothing or car, their social popularity, athletic ability or intelligence. We could pine for their house, their job or their friendship circle, their spouse or significant other.
Whatever it may be, we in society often look at others and can find ourselves wondering, “Why can’t that be me?”
It was this observation a student pointed out in a recent assignment analyzing Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. (Luke 15:11-32)
In the story, Jesus tells of a son who renounces his father and heritage, demanding his inheritance and later squandering it on immoral behavior.
While the parable teaches the meaning of unconditional love and the value of forgiveness – as shown by the father welcoming the contrite son upon his return – there is also a secondary angle focused on the other son, jealous of his brother’s celebrated arrival. (Luke 15:29-30)
Jesus warns against the evil vice of envy in this lesson and on several other occasions, including his parable of the laborers in the vineyard. (Matthew 20:1-16)
In that teaching, our Lord reminds us to be grateful for our gifts, living humbly without focusing too much on others around us.
While such a task was difficult for many in biblical times – even for St. Peter (John 21:20-22) – the jealousy demonstrated in these stories speaks to the feeling many of us can have in our lives today.
Think about it. How often have you looked at someone else and wished you were them or had something they had? I know I’m guilty of this.
I know, also, that I’ve wrestled with this lack of satisfaction for quite some time, dating back to my middle years of elementary school.
Whether it was another boy’s hockey or basketball talents, their video game system, or their cute looks or funny jokes that attracted all the girls’ attention, I always seemed to compare myself to others.
This struggle with insecurity has continued off and on since then.
Whether it is my skinny body type no matter my exercise or eating, my high school and university grades, my teaching credentials and accomplishments, or my housing situation, I’ve never truly been able to keep from judging myself against another person.
Heck, I’m even envious of my friends who have successful writing careers.
All of this is foolish on my part, of course, as I’ve got much to celebrate without having to look at the proverbial green grass on the other side.
I’m blessed to have a darling wife who loves me for who I am and with whom I have three wonderful children who light up my life.
My family lives in a comfortable townhouse that meets all of our needs and allows us to enjoy a lifestyle offering many privileges and experiences.
I am a high school Religious Education teacher who holds great passion for my vocation, relishing the daily challenge of striving to invigorate the faith life of teenagers.
I have a strong network of close friends who support me no matter what and from whom I learn so very much.
As for my writing, as budding as it may be, well, let’s just say I’m entrusting that to the Lord, asking Him to guide my steps and open doors if they are meant to be opened.
The more I fall into the trap of longing for what others have instead of appreciating what’s mine, the more I lose sight of the goodness I already savor.
Sure, any one of us could easily think our life would be better off with someone else’s wardrobe or popularity, their electronics, bank account or job.
However, if we consider what we have and look at that as a collection of blessings from God, we can humbly realize we have so much to be thankful for and therefore live a life of gratitude instead of regret.