When I was in high school there was a girl in my class who was both a good friend and an arch rival.
The problem was we were too much alike- we were both good at music, we had similar interests, we liked the same guys… It meant we got on well because we had a lot in common, but it also meant that everything became a competition.
When she was promoted to the senior band before I was, she gloated, even though I knew it was only because less people played her instrument. When I joined her there a few months later and was given an important solo I felt that I had got ahead. She gained a place at a prestigious music academy; I won a prize for music performance. On and on, back and forth it went for three whole years.
Looking back, I’m sorry we allowed our friendship to be damaged in that way.
Why couldn’t we have celebrated one another’s success and supported one another?
It’s not a new problem. As we continue this series looking at questions people asked Jesus, today we come to a question from Peter. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples. He has a conversation with Peter, dealing with his three-time denial and reinstating him as his follower and, in the course of this conversation, Jesus gives Peter a glimpse of what lies ahead- a death that would glorify God: “when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” (John 21:18 NLT)
Peter’s immediate response is to look around him: “Peter turned and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved… Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?”” (John 21:20-21 NLT)
It’s as if Peter wants to compare his assignment to John’s. His destiny doesn’t sound so great. What about John? Is he getting a better deal? I think it’s a natural tendency to look to others and to compare ourselves- we want to get a sense of how well we’re doing and, if we’re honest, to feel that we are doing better than others.
It’s a natural tendency, but it’s not helpful, and Jesus puts a stop to it straight away:
“Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.”” (John 21:22 NLT)
If we want to truly follow Jesus, our focus has to be on him. He is the one we should be looking to please and, rather than being distracted by what others are doing or how we are measuring up, our efforts should be focused on doing what he wants us to do.
With that focus, we can get rid of jealousy, competition and comparison, and when we do, it is powerful. I definitely don’t always get it right but in a recent work situation which could easily have given rise to competition and comparison, two colleagues and I chose solidarity and support instead, and it was interesting to see how much of a surprise that was to certain people around us. It is a much, much better way.
It’s a challenge though, and if this is a topic you would like to look into some more, I’d recommend a new book, which comes out tomorrow (March 6th): Why her? by Nicki Koziarz.
In it, Nicki shares some of her own battles with comparison, she digs into the biblical story of Rachel and Leah and looks at their struggles with comparing themselves to one another, and she identifies six key truths that can help us gain a better perspective.
Her writing is honest, filled with humour and real-life examples, and always points back to truth.
Here are a few of my favourite quotes:
“This uniquely beautiful, unexplainable life that God is building in each of us was never meant to look exactly like someone else’s, regardless of the message our culture shouts at us.”
“We need to remember, when looking at people’s lives that appear perfect to us, there’s probably a not-so-perfect story happening there that’s never going to be told.”
“We have to trust God so much that if He doesn’t give it to us, we don’t want it.”
“God’s purpose isn’t a battlefield for competition. It’s a safe haven of calling.”
Proverbs 31 Ministries is also running an online study working through the book, beginning on April 9th. You can find out more about that and sign up to take part here. I have taken part in a few Proverbs 31 studies in the past and have always enjoyed the chance to work through a book in community.
I’m grateful to B&H Books and Netgalley for access to a complementary digital copy of this books in exchange for an honest review. I only share books here that I believe will be genuinely beneficial to my readers.
Amazon links are not affiliate links, but simply provided for your convenience.