If you know me well, you already know my emotional dirty-little-secret is this: I am far too sensitive and arguably, over sentimental. It is because of that fact that I find myself taking stock of my life as a whole quite often, to the point where sometimes I have to stop myself from reminiscing or examining too much so that I don’t drive myself crazy. However, lately, that taking stock of my life and recalling past events has been a hard thing not to do because nearly everybody in America has been doing that for the last several weeks– Particularly so during the last 48 hours.
Over the last week I’ve been thinking frequently about the season 5 finale of Parks and Recreation in which Leslie Knope addresses the city of Pawnee and says:
“I’m here today to ask you one question: Are you better off now than you were a year ago?”
For the life of me I can’t figure out the exact moment when I started thinking about that exact moment, but it’s been playing over and over in my brain: Anna, are you better off now than you were a year ago?
In thinking about this, I finally googled the quote so I could remember exactly what episode it came from. To my surprise, I realized that Leslie Knope was paying homage to President Reagan because she didn’t come up with that question, he did.
In 1980 during a the last presidential debate between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, during closing remarks soon-to-be-President Reagan asked the nation this:
“Ask yourself, ‘Are you better off now than you were four years ago?’ Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was?”
I’m not here today to talk about politics because there’s too much of that out there today (literally actually today because we’ve barely been post election for more than 36 hours). But, if what I have to say today gives you a little perspective about it, then I will be very glad.
Am I better off today than I was a year ago? Am I better off today than I was four years ago? Four years ago I was 18 years old, so it would be relatively easy for me to just say ‘Yes’ because obviously I am not a teenager anymore, making me older and wiser to at least some degree than I was four years ago. But, better off? What exactly makes a person better off?
Four years ago I was 18 and in my first semester of college. I weighed about 25 pounds less. My Gramma was still with us… A lot of people were still with us. Four years ago I didn’t have any student loans. I was driving a 99 Ford Taurus; but, I also didn’t have the car payment I have now. I could still fit into my high school jeans four years ago. I lived at home and had never left. I was barely one month out of a relationship. I didn’t know how to fill in my eyebrows. I didn’t have an iPhone four years ago. I had enough expendable cash that I got my nails done every two weeks.
Four years ago. Am I better off? It’s hard to tell on paper, I have to be honest. The pros and cons are pretty even.
So what really makes a person better off? How do you measure success within your life? The things that came to mind that I listed all leave me coming up empty. Does me having an iPhone now when I didn’t four years ago make me better? Does the fact that I had more money four years ago and can’t get my nails done every two weeks make me worse off now?
Four years ago I hadn’t endured all the hard times that have come my way during the last four years (and there have been a lot of them, believe me). These hard times have turned me into a kinder, softer, and more understanding person; at least, I hope they have. I feel like they have. I hadn’t been let down by all the people and situations that have left me brokenhearted over the last four years, either. I hadn’t yet fully experienced grief. I hadn’t yet fully experienced love.
I realize that both of the questions posed above were presented by politicians, one fictional and one non. In that way, it makes the question even more valuable. Can anything a politician does change whether you are better off as a person? As a soul? I don’t believe anything they do can. Only you can do that. Only what God has meant for you in your life can change you by how you choose to let it.
“…the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” I Peter 1:7
“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” Job 23:10
I’ve been tested by fire during the last four years and I am certain that over the next four I will be tested more. I hesitate to say that I have come forth as gold, because my faith still proves weak at moments along with my love toward others, my compassion, and my selflessness. I hesitate to say that four years from now after enduring more trials that I will come forth as gold, either. But I pray I will try because that is all that I can do.
Four years from now when all of America comes together again to fight and divide over who the next President is at that time, I resolve to ask myself this question once more. Am I better off than I was four years ago? Did anything about who the President was for those four years stop me from doing that? Did I treat each person that came in and out of my life like Jesus would have over those four years?
So, am I better off than I was four years ago? I think so, yes. I feel certain you are, too.
If you yourself are uncertain of this fact, I have good news. If you have endured even one trial and have come out on the other end positively: You are better off. If even one person treated you unjustly or unkindly and you did not return their evil for evil: You are better off. If you have given love selflessly to a partner, a friend, family member, or even a stranger: You are better off. If you have given control of a situation over to God and let Him take care of it: You are better off. If you have sought to forgive instead of holding a grudge: You are better off. If you have ignored a nasty Facebook post or tweet instead of responding in retaliation this election season: You are better off.
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9
It can be exhausting at times to do good, I know. At points over the next four years I’m sure it will be even more so: But do not give up. Please don’t give up.
You will be better off for it.