After some hard weeks coping with the pandemic in general and moving our core workshops online specifically, I was more stressed a couple of weeks ago than I want to admit. Overwhelmed. Grumpy. Then I opened an email and did something that made me feel even worse. Something really dangerous for my serenity: I compared Bethesda Workshops to another nonprofit organization. I read about their great success and calculated the parallel for Bethesda.
I know better. For me (and I believe most of us), comparing is almost never helpful and, in fact, is often disturbing and discouraging. Even if the issue isn’t personal, I usually wind up taking it that way. Of course, if I were a better leader, businesswoman, colleague, writer, whatever ad nauseum, Bethesda would be as “successful” or “adaptable to the pandemic” as the other organization. Bottom line, the voices in my head scream that it’s my fault that fill- in-the-blank isn’t measuring up. Ugh.
Surprisingly, the other side of the comparison fulcrum has a negative result, too. If I judge Bethesda or myself to be “better than” the other, I’m prone to arrogance and unhealthy pride. Long term, that state is probably worse for me than discouragement. It fosters taking personal credit that belongs to God.
Knowing that I was sliding into a dank rabbit hole, I pulled on rain gear and went for a walk in a surprisingly cold May shower. As I sloshed up the hill near my house, peering through the biting drizzle that dropped off my hood, I suddenly remembered that it would be helpful to talk with a loving God about what I was feeling. Ah, as my spiritual director often points out, just that awareness was a gentle drop of grace.
As God and I discussed the competition I felt with another organization and what I was doing wrong (or a bit more graciously, what I could do better) to have a similar result, I became aware that God had changed the conversation.
Clearly I heard, “May I remind you how richly Bethesda has been blessed through the years? How faithfully, how consistently, I’ve provided for its needs since the beginning? Let me show you all the ways.”
Immediately, I saw a cascade of blessings spool across the wet pavement like a movie. As I slowed the film into individual frames, my heart lifted as I savored each one. The full list is incredibly extensive, but here are some summits that stood out. I remembered with gratitude:
The pastor who first heard my story, believed it, believed in me, and championed the crazy idea for a ministry for women who struggled with sexual addiction. The board of church elders who heard my pitch for that ministry and immediately asked, “How can we help?” The mentor who joined me in leading the first workshops. The friend since childhood who was on the first “kitchen cabinet” that initially oversaw the ministry and has offered unwavering support ever since. The retreat centers and hotels that provided meeting and lodging space, especially our fabulous current hotel, which has worked with us so graciously as we’ve been forced to cancel room blocks month after month. The church that continued to subsidize Bethesda Workshops until we got on our feet, then gave us free space for conducting workshops for several years. The lawyers who helped us navigate the daunting process of establishing a nonprofit and separating our finances from the church where the ministry was born.
I remembered with gratitude the people who specifically made the dream for our own ministry home become reality: The alumni couple who provided the $250,000 challenge gift to obtain our own space. The commercial broker who showed us property even though we couldn’t fully afford it yet and helped us hone what we really needed. The angel financier who bought the building for us on a lease-purchase arrangement when we found the perfect space but couldn’t complete enough fundraising in a short time frame to buy it.
I’m thankful for the contractor who met me (in tears) at the property and provided a doable estimate for renovations after the original firm came in over double the amount we had identified as our top budget, and then did an amazing job in completing the work. For those who contributed to the cause and thereby allowed us to make renovations, furnish the space, and move in. For the donors who continue to provide for the ministry’s sustainability and outreach to those in need.
I think of the alumni couple who gave the money that created our amazing garden that nourishes me every day. I picture the staff, administrative and clinical, who are the heart of the Bethesda DNA. The board of directors who shepherd the process. My husband who pitches in with whatever I ask and never complains about the long hours I devote to this ministry.
The movie frames show the faces of the nearly 5,300 individuals, couples, or families who have attended a Bethesda Workshop. I’m humbled and grateful to have served them and made a difference in many of their lives. Bethesda is supported by those who counsel and pastor and refer people to our rooms. I’m blessed by all of you who read these emails and further blessed when you drop me a response. You make a difference to God’s work in this place and to me!
I suspect I’m not the only one who calculates comparisons. During the challenges of COVID-19, it’s especially easy to feel less than the posted pictures of people baking bread and homeschooling children, or families playing games, or brave others carrying on dangerous work day after day. Hanging on through the pandemic with some semblance of sanity (on most days) often doesn’t feel like enough.
For many of us, heightened anxiety has returned with differing advice and confusing plans about reopening the country. However you’re responding to this crisis, I invite you to retire your comparison ruler and trust that you’re doing the very best you can today. Comparison is a harsh taskmaster; be gentle with yourself.
Perhaps it will help all of us to take a quiet moment and ask for the grace to be grateful. Breathe into the showers of blessings. Maybe even let someone or some organization know you’re thankful for their part in your life. Giving gratitude away helps more than simply feeling it.
At this moment, please know that I’m immensely grateful for you.
Marnie C. Ferree