By Lindsay Steele
Occasionally, I attend Mass at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. Being around 20-somethings (as a 30-something) has made me think a lot about who I was at that age.
When I was younger, I often harbored negative thoughts and embraced ideals that damaged my sense of self-worth. I won’t lie; sometimes, I still do, but more and more, God is giving me the tools I need to work through them.
Most people probably have a list of things they wish they could tell their younger selves. My list is long, and some things are a bit personal to print, but one way to make peace with the past is to share the wisdom you gain through life experiences and self-awareness. As my pastor, Father Jake Greiner, recently said during a retreat, God doesn’t look for perfection; he looks for growth.
Here are a couple of the things I wish I could tell my younger self. I plan to share more in a future column.
Don’t beat yourself up
When I was younger, if I got a bad grade or inadvertently upset a friend, I would spend hours, even days, beating myself up about it. I would feel worthless and undeserving of forgiveness or understanding. I’d go over and over the situation in my mind, feeling worse with every repetition.
I still struggle with this sometimes, but now, I have a few coping skills that help me to be kinder to myself. First, I think about how I’d treat a loved one if they were to make that same mistake. Would I berate them like I berate myself or would I remind them that God forgives and that mistakes offer opportunities to improve and grow? In my “old age,” I’ve found that self-critical people, like myself, are often more merciful with others than they are with themselves.
Another exercise is to look at a favorite photograph of yourself as a child. Would you tell that child that they are worthless because they made a mistake? Of course not! You’d hug them and remind them that their worth comes from being a child of God, not from never making mistakes.
Comparison is the thief of joy
It is natural for people to compare themselves to others and their accomplishments and think, “if I could have what they have, I’d be happy.” This is a self-defeating lie.
As a child, I often compared myself to my sister, who was pretty, well-liked and good at sports. I was just a shy loser, or so I thought. By comparing myself to her, I failed to appreciate my own gifts of writing, creativity and openness. I now understand how these gifts have allowed me to encourage and bring joy to others. As a kid I would have readily traded those gifts in for different ones, if given the chance.
When we compare ourselves to others, it prevents us from being fully content with our lives. I often found myself feeling jealous or bitter towards others and angry with God for not giving me what I thought I wanted.
Most people seem to believe that the grass is greener on the other side, but we don’t always know the struggles that people are facing. In today’s social media-obsessed world, where we only see what people want us to see, we should never assume someone else has it “better” than us. In God’s eyes, we are all equal and he loves us all equally. He gives us unique gifts so we can bring his light to the world.
Once you start to embrace your gifts and see how God is using them, you’ll begin to find that sense of joy and confidence you’ve been searching for.
(Editor’s note: Lindsay Steele is a reporter for The Catholic Messenger. Contact her at email@example.com or by phone at (563) 888-4248.)