It’s happened since I was a child… other children would come to my house, or to my room and say “Must be nice that you have new stuff…” Must be nice that your parents are rich!” They would jump on our trampoline and say “Must be nice your parents have so much money that you get to have a trampoline….”
I hated those accusations, because I knew that we were not rich. I knew that I was a bit of a miser and I saved every shilling, every dollar, every dime of my allowance for the things I really wanted. I had a special coin purse from the Netherlands, that I hid at the very top of my bookshelf and very carefully put in money that I earned or was given. I also knew that I only had one really big shopping trip every 3 years or so. I lived in Africa in the 80’s and while yes, my parents worked in the city and I had electricity and running water, I did not have a ton of luxuries when it came to shopping. But I did save my pennies so that when I did have opportunity to shop for what I wanted I had the money to do so.
The truth is, I wasn’t rich and neither were my parents. I know there were days that my dad was not sure how the bills would be paid or enough financial support would come in that month to keep gas in the cars and the electricity on. However, he was faithful and wise with how he did spend things. We were also abundantly blessed by incredible men and women in churches all around the United States who gave sacrificially of their time and money to provide both for our financial needs and often with gifts for us as children (i.e. money for a trampoline).
Fast forward to college. While my parents were wise and prudent with money, due to some unforseen circumstances right at the time I went to college much of what they had saved to use to put me through college had to be used for something else. So while they were able to sacrifice a lot and help with many expenses, it was up to me to go to work for the rest. Fine with me…I was raised in a family with a strong work ethic. At the first college I attended, my roommate my first semester told me “It must be nice to have all new things to come to school with – my parents aren’t rich like yours and I just brought my old stuff from home.” Nothing could get through her brain that to bring my 10-year-old bedding over from Africa would have been more expensive than shopping for new when I got stateside and I’d had to give up most of the things of my childhood bedroom as I would not being going to back to the place I called home. Mind you her parents paid every dime of her tuition, but she whined as she had to work to pay for “her spending money”. I worked hard to provide for myself and pay my own tuition needs and actually ended up dropping out of the program I was in when the professors rather than being supportive of my need to work told me that I could not have a job and take their classes and be successful. My heart was crushed by their words as were my young, fragile dreams.
I moved from there to another university where once again I was going to have to work hard to get through . I was blessed beyond measure when miracles like the most miserly man the town knew met me and offered me a $2500 scholarship, and the school worked hard to help me find the money needed to take classes and pay tuition. My professors understood my need to work, encouraged it and even help me find jobs – and work I did, I worked three jobs, went to school full-time hours, took on extra babysitting and odd jobs to make sure my bills were paid. When, while in school I decided to purchase a little house in the ghetto and rent out a room to help me pay for the mortgage – others once again said “Must be nice to own your own home…” Yes it is nice…mind you…it is a house in the ghetto with a door that cannot seem to stay locked, no central heat or air, no dishwasher, but my mortgage is less than your rent and it is nice….what have you worked for lately?
Post college has not been much different…”Must be nice that you get to travel all the time….” “Must be nice that you have the freedom to do what you want to do…. “Must be nice that you have the money to do this or to do that….” “Must be nice….” those words slip right under my skin and irritate the very core of me. I know that I have worked at least two jobs since I got out of school to pay off my student loans, that I have been blessed with the kindness and sacrifice of others who helped me when I was unemployed and could not find any work. As a college graduate I have scrubbed toilets, babysat children, gerbils, dogs, and fish to make just a little extra. I have worked an overnight shift, gotten off work and gone straight to my next thing. I have spent sleepless nights in prayer begging God to provide and show me what was next for me & God has faithfully provided time and again for me through the hands of friends and through the hands of strangers whose names I may never know.
What I want to scream out when people say “It must be nice….” is “Must be nice that you don’t have to travel across the world to see your parents only once a year, if that – you get to travel across the street or across town or maybe across a state or two. Must be nice that your parents paid for your education and you started your adult life debt free. Must be nice that you have a husband to come home to at night and beautiful kids to raise that hamper you from my free lifestyle but fulfill the longings of your heart. Must be nice that you can watch the news without holding your breath and wondering which set of loved ones will be affected by it today as you have never gone beyond the border of your small little world and everyone you love is within an easy travel distance away.” MUST BE NICE….
But I don’t scream this out, because I know that my perception of their life is just as skewed as their perception of mine. I know that each one of us is yearning for something that we do not have. A book that was shared by a friend of mine recently pointed this out so poignantly – In my most blind moments, I think that women without children live luxurious, carefree lives, filled with nothing but cosmopolitans, bikinis, and well-maintained highlights. I find that the phrase “She’s let herself go” fills me with terror and guilt and panic as I look down at my jagged dirty fingernails and overly soft tummy. I am she, certainly. And then I realize that as much as I want my friend’s abs, she wants a baby, and we’re all yearning for something. – Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet
So the next time you look at my travel schedule and wish it was yours, know that I wish my mom, dad, brothers and dearest friends were close enough for me to just pop round to their house any ol’ time. And the next time I see your husband quietly reach for you while in conversation with someone else just because he simply wants you by his side, or your beautiful children scramble for your attention I’ll know that you quietly wish for some “me time” once in a while. As I glimpse past the perception into the reality I will pray for you, my friend, that He will fulfill all the yearnings of your heart, and ask that you pray the same for me….and maybe, just maybe we can stop looking at each other with sub-conscious or conscious envy and judging eyes, and see the wants, dreams that each of us holds so closely in fear that they might be crushed, and help each other fulfill those dreams and help banish those fears; and once and for all take the belittle, degrading words “Must be nice….” out of our vocabulary forever.