The Shame of Plenty

If you are reading this, it’s because you either know me and love me, therefore cannot judge me for what I am going to say, or because you found my writing through a channel in which we have plenty of things in common.

If the first one is true, “Hi mom!” If the second is true, then I’m going to be talking about something that might make you squirm a little.

I am going to talk about the guilt that comes with having more than enough. The shame that comes with being just slightly-above-average. It is as uncomfortable for me to write about as it will be to read about, so let’s just agree to not mutually judge one another, all right.

After that rather mysterious preamble, let us begin.

I come from a long line of fashionable women. This is Gigi.

The Bags of Gold

Do you remember the Parable of the Bags of Gold? It’s one of the stories Jesus tells that has always seemed really really harsh to me. A rich guy gives five bags of gold to one servant, three to another and one bag of gold to the last one. Then he leaves. He doesn’t tell them what to do with the bags of gold. He doesn’t warn them that he’s expecting anything from them. He just leaves.

And when he gets back to find that the first one doubled the gold, he congratulates him. Same with the second. But the third…the third gets punished for digging a hole in his backyard and hiding the gold so that he wouldn’t lose any of it. (Spoiler alert: he loses it anyway.)

The story always seemed so harsh to me, because the poor dude who got one bag and who ends up with nothing but gnashing teeth was afraid to lose what had been given to him. He knew the rich man was a tough guy. Maybe he knew that when the bags of gold were distributed it was done according to “abilities”. He might have looked at the other two guys, who seemed so smart and so wily and said, “Oof. I’m nothing compared to them. I better not screw this up!” So he went and dug a hole.

Comparaison (that’s French)

I’m going to unpack a joke that is in French, so you’ll have to excuse me. This may take a while.

“Il ne faut pas se comparer aux autres, parce que c’est con, et on n’a pas raison.”

Google translate won’t help you here. So let me. “You shouldn’t compare yourself to others because it’s dumb and you won’t be right.” Except, the word for “dumb” sounds like the first syllable of the word “comparison” and “won’t be right” sounds like the last part of the word “comparison”.

Did I lose you? I’m sorry. It’s just that this joke has always stuck with me. In large part because my coveting problem always led me to compare myself unfavorably to others. Other people were always smarter, always funnier, always had better ideas, always had more opportunities, always more beautiful, always had better clothes, always had nicer shoes.

The problem with comparing myself like this is that I would inevitably forget that I am smart. I am funny. I have ideas (oh boy, not that again!). I have opportunities. I am beautiful. I have lovely clothes. I have shoes (just never the right ones at the right time.)

Woh, Woh, Woh. Take a step back there!

Yes, you read that correctly. I just wrote a paragraph saying nice things about myself.

As I dig into the wonderful world of Gigi, my smokin’ hot grandmother whose photo you will find featured throughout this article) I am starting to understand where so much of my shame came from. Gigi was a gorgeous, vivacious woman who loved attention. She lived with a terrible dissonance about herself: she wanted to be the most beautiful woman in the room, and yet once she was recognized as being the most beautiful woman in the room, she got scared. She got cold feet.

One thing I remember Gigi saying about a neighbor was, “Oh, her? She doesn’t like me because I am beautiful.”

The little version of me who heard her grandmother say that, the little version of me who wanted to be liked by people, heard that and understood that it’s not okay to be beautiful, or else people won’t like you.

I am willing to bet that you live with some version of this as well. Some version of “Don’t talk so much. People don’t want to hear so much about all that,” or “Don’t make a big deal out of your new dress. You don’t want people to get jealous.”

Can we agree that these are beautiful people? Gigi and Grandpa Lew

The Shame Game

Somewhere along the line, some of us, not all of us, but some of us, people like me and I’m willing to bet, people like you, picked up the idea that our good fortune in life was something of which we should be ashamed.

We were not to make a big deal about the things we loved, because, for example, belting showtunes at the top of our lungs could be construed as annoying in certain friend groups. Writing notebook libraries full of stories that we wouldn’t let anyone else read by the time we were ten was a silly pastime. Loving clothes and fashion was shallow. Being pretty made us unlikable.

The things that made us unique and made us vibrate were things we learned to bury. Peer pressure, family dynamics, church guilt, adult responsibilities were all contributors to this.

As we grew up, the things we loved took on a bitter film of shame. We ended up floundering for a career path, not loving anything we would do, yet still secretly indulging in those things we used to love. I mean, we need clothes, right? Living in society means wearing makeup. I wrote at least four novels that I will never let anyone read. I did it secretly, shamefully, even. I gave up singing because I couldn’t make a career out of it.

It’s not too late

It is never too late to dig out that bag of gold you buried in your back yard, dust of the coins, and start investing them.

What are the things you used to love, the things that used to make you so happy, but have now taken on that film of shame?

At thirty-two I started singing again. This didn’t mean that I parlayed my love of opera into a career with the Met. It means that I have found my calling in music, and when I sing, my soul gets filled up with eternity. That’s pretty rich.

At forty I started taking my writing seriously and made it my purpose to finally get published. I may never make much money from it, but I am no longer ashamed of my intensely detailed internal life (uhm, lives. Many many many of them.) This makes me feel rich.

At forty-two I realized that my love of fashion is not shameful. It is something God placed within me because he wanted to take me on an adventure of trusting him. There is nothing as luxurious as the provision of God.

And lastly, at forty-three I have learned to love myself. Finally. Accepting who I am, what I look like. My body, my hair, my freckles and my reverse freckles. Loving myself makes me feel like the richest person in the world.

Gigi, posing for the camera

What are your bags of gold?

What are the things about yourself that you buried in your proverbial backyard? Is there any chance that God wants you to dig those out, dust them off, and offer them over to him to help you start investing them?

It isn’t so late that you should be gnashing your teeth yet. There is still time.

What makes you goofy? What makes you geeky? What do you love to do, or what do you dream of? There is still time to be you.

Later this week I will be sharing the stories of a few people who have dusted off their bags of gold and are making the world a better place for it. Stay tuned!

Join me on Facebook to continue you this discussion, or on Insta.

PS: This post is my 100th post on Lily Fields Challenge and I am going to celebrate. You should celebrate something today, too.

This article is part of a series called Bags of Gold. If you want to read more:
Part One: The Shame of Plenty (You are here.)
Part Two: My Bags of Gold
Part Three: What’s in a Name?
Part Four: On Heaven and Dinosaur Poop
Part Five; Just Blame Me, Okay?
Part Six: You used to Sparkle
Part Seven: She Sparkles, an interview with Izabela Rabehanta

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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