In today’s world, especially with the prevalence of social media, Peggy Weber knows it’s easy to compare ourselves with other people’s picture perfect lives – and find our own lives lacking. The award-winning journalist and grandmother of seven even does it herself from time to time.
For instance, a few years ago, she was in church for Good Friday services when the priest talked about Jesus loving us and dying for us. She looked around and got the feeling that all the congregants there were holier than she was.
During an interview on “Christopher Closeup” (podcast below), Peggy recalled, “There was a tiny seed of doubt in my head that said, ‘Jesus died for all these people, but even me?’ I thought perhaps when I reach the Pearly Gates, I’m going to try and squeeze in behind others, like in a New York subway car. I’ll edge my way in…and hope no one notices.”
Afterwards, Peggy went to her daughter Kerry’s house for her grandson Cillian’s first birthday. Because it was Good Friday, the celebration was low key and the meal was simple. But Kerry asked Peggy, “Do you think I’m doing enough for his first birthday? Because some people hire ponies and clowns.”
Peggy realized that her own daughter was now doing the same kind of joy-killing, doubt-inducing “comparing herself to others” that she had done in church just a short time earlier. Peggy interpreted the situation as God telling her to talk about “being good enough, being enough as we are.”
She followed God’s advice and has now written a funny and insightful new book called “Enough As You Are: Overcoming Self-Doubt and Appreciating the Gift of You.”
Peggy explained, “Ultimately, I had to come to terms with who I am, and it’s a slow process. Age and wisdom have a lot to do with it, so I’m far more content with who I am now. But I want to look at younger people, or all people, and say, ‘It’s okay. You don’t have to have that picture perfect postcard on Facebook of your family vacation. You don’t have to have the exquisite meals that people post. God loves you, just as you are, [even] 10 pounds heavier with musty hair.'”
In the area of religion, some people may feel inferior to those who have earned theology degrees and seem to be experts on the subject. But Peggy shoots down the idea that only the highly educated can teach us about God.
As an example, she points to her grandmother, who “came over from Ireland at age 18 with nothing in her pocket but her rosary beads and her faith, and transmitted that faith to several generations beyond. She brought over all her brothers and sisters who had been orphaned – and managed to build a life for so many people. When I was sitting at the college graduations of my children, I was crying, thinking that this woman could bring over a love of education and a love of faith so that my children could live that life.”
Peggy’s mom also taught her some valuable lessons: “My mother often said, ‘I don’t go to church for Father So-and-So, or for this meeting, or for that group. I go for God.’ And she always had her eye on the prize. She always had her eye on the Eucharist and her prayer life. Every afternoon, she had a Ziploc bag full of prayers that she’d pull out and pray, and she’d pull cards for the deceased. She let me know that it’s the spiritual life and the focus on God that matters the most.”
One of the biggest saintly influences on Peggy’s life was the patron saint of journalists, St. Francis de Sales, which is appropriate considering that Peggy has worked in the Catholic press for nearly 40 years. Many of her book’s chapters begin with a quote by him, including, “It is wonderful how attractive a gentle, pleasant manner is, and how much it wins hearts.”
In an age of angry, divisive voices in our culture, this is an especially important idea. Peggy said of St. Francis de Sales, “He was Mr. Rogers before Mr Rogers was here. He went to the Calvinists with pamphlets, and he went with kindness. If you go on Twitter, which I think is more mean than even Facebook, and you look at all these people just trying to prove they’re right, it’s so frustrating. I think my message is, ‘Chill everyone. You can like this and you can like that, as long as we have the basic tenets of our church in place. Let’s try and look at the bigger picture of loving our neighbor, loving ourselves, furthering our faith.’ I think my book reminds people to not go after each other and to accept each other in a good and healthy way.”
Peggy notes that she didn’t always feel accepted, describing herself as an “odd duck” when she was a child. “I liked the Glenn Miller band and reading World War II history,” she recalled. “Those are not conversation starters for eighth grade girls, you know.”
She made a close group of friends in college, however, who were incredibly welcoming and loyal, bringing out her naturally warm and gregarious personality. She said, “I will talk to anybody. My father used to say I could talk a dog off a meat wagon. If I’m ever somewhere and see someone alone sitting at a table, I’ll say, ‘Hey, how are you?’ I never want anyone to feel unwelcome.”
Being welcoming is another dimension of being “enough as you are” because it is a real gift. Some people are book smart, some are good with their hands, and some are naturally friendly. But they each might feel inferior because they can’t do what the other person does. Peggy encourages her readers to recognize and appreciate their individual talents – and she points to St. Andre Bessette as an example.
She said, “He’s holy, but he’s very uneducated, he can barely read. He’s a lost soul of sorts, but very faithful. So the pastor in this small town in Canada sends him to a monastery and says, ‘I’m sending you a saint.’…So for 40 years, he was a porter at a college, just opening the door, closing the door, taking messages. He worked in the laundry. [You might think] ‘This guy’s not going to amount to much in terms of our world?’
“Yet when people came to the door, he would talk to them, he would comfort them, he would listen to them. And a million people filed past his casket in Montreal, at the Oratory, after he died, because he became known as such a healing, wonderful, saintly man. He ultimately left the door and started founding a chapel and did other work. But if you said, ‘Well, here’s a formula for success. We’re going to send a guy that can barely read to a monastery and he’s going to be a saint.’ – that’s probably not what you’d think. I don’t even think he thought that either, and that’s the beauty of it, the humility. Anthony of Padua has humility. He thought he was going to be a missionary and ended up doing other things. So I think you just have to be content and recognize, ‘I have something to contribute to the world.’ Think about what it is and be happy with that.”
(To listen to my full interview with Peggy Weber, click on the podcast link):