Vicar’s article from the Bridge Magazine, May 2019
How to get better, not bitter
I was catching up with some old friends at a conference recently, and they started talking about all the great things going in their churches: growing youth and children’s ministries, soup kitchens, Food Banks and so on. All good stuff. And yet for some reason, I struggled to be really happy for them. If truth be told, I was more than a little jealous. Later, as I reflected on the conversations, I found myself wondering, why is it that when you compare yourself with others, you always end up feeling bitter?
This isn’t a new phenomenon. Writing well over a century ago, long before Facebook and Instagram or other forms of social media, Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th US President, said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Which rather begs the question, why do we compare ourselves with others at all?
Now at one level comparison is helpful. The business world has long had a practice called Benchmarking: a process by which a company can compare itself with other similar companies to identify opportunities for improvement. At its best, it’s a scientific, data-driven process that can be an incredibly helpful tool for growing an organisation. But done badly, without due consideration to the differing circumstances of the companies, and without access to all the data, it can be really harmful.
And it’s this lack of access to the data that makes comparing ourselves to others so damaging. After all, we might be experts on how we feel on the inside, but if all we have for comparison is how others look on the outside, we’re going to reach some dumb conclusions. As church leader Steve Furtick puts it, “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel”
Jesus tells a story in Matthew 25 about a rich man who gives each of his servants some money and tells them to put it to work. Later, he assesses what they’ve done, and in a scene, not a million miles removed from Sir Alan Sugar in the Apprentice, one of the candidates is discovered to have done nothing at all with the money and is fired.
But where Jesus’ story differs from the Apprentice, is the liberating way in which the master treats the remaining candidates. Instead of ranking them to find a winner, he rewards each of them. It’s his way of saying that our task in life isn’t to sprint to the finish comparing ourselves with others to see who comes first, second or third. Instead, we’re to run our own race, in our own lane. The goal is not to win, but to make the best use of the gifts God has given us, by becoming the best version of ourselves we can possibly be. As someone once said, “No one in the entire world can do a better job of being you, than you.”
So next time you’re chatting with friends, or you’re jealously watching the highlight reel of their lives on Facebook or Instagram, remind yourself that God hasn’t called you to run their race. Instead, he wants you to focus on running your own. And when you do that, not only do you run your own race better, but it sets you free to enjoy the success of others. It makes you better, not bitter.