Comparison is an easy trap to fall into. We can be happy for God’s blessing on the lives of others. It doesn't take away from His plan for ours.
Growing up, I was one of the smartest students in my class. When it came time for 8th-grade graduation, though I didn't have the straight A's needed to clinch valedictorian, my hard work put me in contention to be salutatorian of my class. The popular opinion was I had a pretty good shot at winning. Practice day for graduation arrived. We walked to the church next to my school and waited for directions. I was very excited when the principal approached the altar to announce the salutatorian. As expected, the student with the best grades received the honor of class valedictorian. Therefore, when my principal announced salutatorian, I fully expected to hear my name.
Another student's name was called, and I heard a collective gasp. 23 necks craned to look at me. Sitting at the edge of the pew, I was devastated. I didn't want to break down and cry in front of my friends, so I held it together until we returned to school. The last bell rang for dismissal, and I descended the stairs, backpack in tow, to find my mom to pick me up. On the way, the student who won salutatorian looked at me, "Good job Michelle. I really thought you had it." As I continued down the stairs, my eyes erupted with the tears I'd been trying to hold back and stuff down. Mom questioned why I was so upset. After I revealed the day's drama, I expected her to console and encourage me. I needed her to assure me I had done great work throughout the year and that it didn't matter if I got salutatorian. Instead, she berated me the entire car ride home, complaining about the cost of school and my lackluster grades. Surely when my mother told my father, I assumed he would comfort me. But instead, he joined in berating me and shaming me for not making the grade (pun intended).
I hardly remember crying with as much volume and weight as I did that day. I cried until I ran out of tears. The memory still haunts me. At that moment, I, myself believed my effort was not enough. It was the first moment where I truly felt stupid. And as I look back, I realize that old 8th-grade memory still tends to fuel the negative self-talk I battle today. When I became a Christian a few years later, God made me understand I was entirely accepted and loved just as I was. He didn't care that I lost the 8th-grade salutatorian. My true title as a child of God matters more than any other I could win in this world. Not until many years later, and much maturity had settled in, I stopped comparing myself to others. In my journey to shake the "not good enough" mantra, I picked up some strategies to avoid the trap of comparison that I would like to share here today.
Perfectionism is a myth.
First, I had to stop believing life required me to be the best. Perfectionism is a myth. Although I struggle with perfectionism, striving to be perfect is actually an imperfection. We will never be perfect in this life; we only serve a perfect savior. When we can rest in the love of a perfect savior, it helps us understand we don't have to be the best at everything to be loved.
Let go of gossip.
Second, I stopped caring what people thought of and said about me—conforming to another's expectations of who they think we should be is an endless cycle in this world. Just when that person is pleased, another finds fault. The only person we have to answer to is the Lord. When our focus is on him, the chatter of life fades into the background. If we strive to become more like him, we don't need to worry about what others need us to do or want us to be. Remember, gossip is often the result of insecurity. God tells us to pray for our enemies; as the saying goes, hurt people …hurt people. That's why it's so important to focus on becoming the best version of who God has uniquely made us to be. It's impossible not to be hurt by the pressure and critiques in our lives, but we do have the power in Christ not to conform to their will.
Third, I redefined what success looks like for me personally. In 8th grade, I believed getting straight A's was a sign of success. Anything less was a failure. Since entering adulthood and following the Lord for many years, I've realized my obedience to God defines success. God has asked me to do many risky things for him, and I have yet to say "no." God honors my obedience by opening doors and blessing me in ways I never dreamed of in 8th grade. We are all successful in the Lord's sight when we obey his word and yield our lives to him.
Fourth, I must let go of things out of my control. This is by far the most challenging concept for me to grasp. As a person who struggles with anxiety, controlling my environment makes me feel safe and gives me peace. Yet, God wants me to trust him even when situations get super risky. The bigger the risk I take for God, the more he blesses me and honors my efforts. Not only this, but I bask in the grace of my salvation. Knowing that there's nothing we can do or don't have to work hard to earn our salvation gives us an incredible sense of peace in the knowledge that no one can boast in their work regarding salvation. Our lives are in the capable hands of God, and our job is to stay laser-focused on his next steps for us.
Remember God's sovereignty.
Fifth, I realized that God chooses whom he will bless and by how much. Peter struggled with the comparison as well. In John 21:20-21, we see Peter’s weakness when he asks the Lord why John doesn't have to go through difficulties, but Peter would. Jesus loved Peter but corrected his thinking by replying, “If want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." Jesus ordains our steps. We must realize each of us has a specific race marked out for us by our sovereign God. He is all-knowing and everywhere all the time. He has known us since before we were born, designed a specific purpose for our lives, and given us the talent we need to develop to complete it. We are responsible for our own race, not anyone else.
Comparison is an easy trap to fall into. In the wake of social media, it may appear that people are doing more and better than they are. Even if the accolades we scroll by are, in fact, true, we can be happy for God’s blessing on the lives of others. It doesn't take away from God’s plans for our lives. We must focus on what God has for us, not for anyone else. When we do God’s will to the best of our ability, in his eyes, we are a true success.
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Michelle S. Lazurek is a multi-genre award-winning author, speaker, pastor's wife, and mother. She is a literary agent for Wordwise Media Services and a certified writing coach. Her new children’s book Who God Wants Me to Be encourages girls to discover God’s plan for their careers. When not working, she enjoys sipping a Starbucks latte, collecting 80s memorabilia, and spending time with her family and her crazy dog. For more info, please visit her website www.michellelazurek.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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