When You Feel Like You Don’t Measure Up

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One of my favourite childhood films was Mary Poppins. I would watch it over and over again, wishing I could fly in on that cloud, powder my nose, wear those shoes. I loved her combination of kindness and no-nonsense; the way she was strict, but gentle, teaching the importance of looking after others and ‘seeing past the end of your nose.’

In the scene where she first meets the children, Mary Poppins pulls a tape measure from her magical carpet bag and proceeds to see how they measure up. Michael is found to be extremely stubborn and suspicious, while Jane is inclined to giggle and doesn’t put things away. Mary Poppins, of course, is practically perfect in every way.

I sometimes wonder what Mary Poppins’ tape measure might have to say about me. It’s easy to look at my life and feel like it’s not quite measuring up. I don’t have a thriving family or own a beautiful home. I seem to be scrambling back down the career ladder instead of climbing up it and I spend my free time scratching out words and ideas and wondering if they’ll ever be read.

It’s easy to feel like it’s all a bit unsuccessful, like I’m going nowhere and achieving nothing.

Maybe you’ve felt like that too?

Our world has a lot to say about what defines success. We’re supposed to have stories to tell about how our kid is top of the class, or about the luxury holiday we’re going on. We’re supposed to talk about our latest job promotion or the new house we just bought. We’re supposed to tell everyone that our church is the biggest and the best and the coolest.

But what if life isn’t like that? What if we can’t tell those stories? What happens when we lose our job or get cancer? What happens if we’re dealing with depression or the end of a relationship? What happens if we fail at something or our child has special needs? What happens when we’re hurt or grieving? What is success supposed to look like then?

Greg Boyle writes that ‘the tyranny of success often can’t be bothered with complexity.’[1] And the truth is, we are all complex people. We take two steps forward and three steps back. Things don’t always work out the way we expect. The messy and the broken and the beautiful all seem to come mixed up together on most days.

Jesus has some pretty controversial things to say about success too, like the first will be last, and the last will be first. Or when he tells the rich young ruler he must give away all his money to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Or the story he tells about people who’ve been working in the vineyard for a short time and they earn just as much money as the people who’ve worked there all day.

None of it seems very fair. But it turns out Jesus doesn’t measure success like we do. He isn’t about money or privilege or power or status. He’s about generosity and compassion and freedom from the things that are holding us back from being our best selves.

Mother Theresa summed it up when she said, ‘we are not called to be successful, we are called to be faithful.’

I love that thought. It takes such a weight off us. Our job is to be faithful, to show up to our own lives and do the best we can, with all the compassion and generosity we can find. How it all works out in the end, that’s up to God, who really is perfect in every way.

[1] Boyle, G. Tattoos on the Heart, p.67