Slow to know your role: a note on comparison.

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We dressed up, shared an $11 appetizer that was really just a dolled-up version of pork rinds, and walked down the busy street, hand-in-hand, to the theatre together.

It was date night and I’d been waiting all month to see the show RENT. I’ve never seen the musical before but it’s on the musical bucket list I keep in my brain. Some people want to skydive or make it to the Grand Canyon before they die. I simply want to see Hamilton, the Book of Mormon, and Les Miserables.

At intermission, I touched Lane’s arm and said, “We are in the company of some serious RENT fans.” It was obvious five minutes into the show. These people were hardcore. They knew when to stand. They knew when to clap. This was an audience that had definitely seen the show once before if not 5 or 6 times. They knew when to laugh. They knew when to rally.

I listened to conversations of the people around me during intermission. They bantered about how they really preferred this actor in this role or that actor, the one they saw in the New York production, playing that character.

These people knew the play. They knew what to expect. They knew the words by heart.

 

As we watched the second act I had a strange thought. I kept thinking about how these people sitting to the right and left of me would absolutely know it if all of a sudden someone did not play their role. If someone sang a different song altogether or chose to never enter the stage on cue. People would notice something was off, someone was not playing the role they were called to play.

(Sidenote: This is what it is like to go a musical, show, or movie with me. I can barely stay present to whatever is happening on the stage in front of me because I am too stuck in my heading having an existential crisis about life that will eventually morph into an essay I publish on my blog. Yes. Here we are.)

Admittedly, I felt a little lost the whole first act. I felt like I was floundering to understand the plotline while everyone around me was already revving up for the next song. But in act 2, things began to click. I began to see the plot and feelings emerge. I even knew the words to two of the songs. I was pumped to join the chorus of voices singing low to the right and left of me. Together, we all hummed.

 

Lately, I’ve been digging into the issue of comparison when God and I get together in the mornings. I ask some questions. I dig for answers. I take notes. I am curious about what comparison does to our souls.

I’m naive to think comparing ourselves to others is a relatively new concept. I think it has always been there, the issue is just hyper-intensified because of social media.

Ten years ago, you didn’t know what everyone else in the world was doing on any given Wednesday morning. You compared yourself to people in the neighborhood or people in your classroom. Now we’ve got this chance to compare ourselves to millions of others. It’s a little terrifying to think about for too long.

I read a story about Peter the other morning. If you don’t know anything about Peter of the Bible then let me just give you the nutshell synopsis: Peter is a gutsy fisherman who Jesus places a lot of stock in. Jesus, upon meeting Peter, basically says to him, “Hey, I want to give you a different name because I don’t think the name you currently have is bold enough for you. I am going to call you ‘Cephas,’ which means ‘rock,’ because I want you to be the rock I build my future church on.”

No pressure.

But Peter is pretty confident. Annoyingly confident. His confidence gets him into trouble a lot and I think that is because Peter tends to rely on his own strength above everything else. Our own strength only gets us so far. He ends up doing the one thing he told Jesus he would never do– denying him right before he is crucified– and one would imagine Peter was heaped with shame, guilt, and grief because of that denial.

But here’s the better story: Jesus uses him anyway. Because that’s the kind of guy Jesus is. He meets up with Peter after he has died (we can dig into that one another time) and re-commissions him. He doesn’t take the mission away from Peter because of faltering. He forgives him and then basically says, “It’s time to get back to work, Peter.”

I can just hear God saying that so gently to me, “It’s time to get back to work. It’s time to get back to work.”

I was blown away the other day when I noticed what happens directly after Peter is re-commissioned. His slate is wiped clean by literal dead-but-not-really Jesus and Peter, likely not 5 minutes later, asks Jesus, “Master, what’s going to happen to him?” I see Peter pointing his envious little finger at another man Jesus was investing in.

I want to shake Peter. Really, dude?! You just got this clear go-ahead from Jesus and you are worried about someone else?! What is this?!

It’s proof to me that we all struggle with comparison sometimes, even these figures of the Bible who we wrongly think were untouchable struggled with the heart stuff. Clearly, this comparison meant something to God to be included in the text.

Even when life is good, even when we’ve gotten the clearest message from God that we are okay and we are on the right path, we still look for excuses to size ourselves up to other people and their callings.

 

I’ve learned that comparing yourself to other people just sucks the joy out of your own path. To live in constant comparison mode is to live imprisoned to a false target. It has nothing to do with those other people. Your aim was never to arrive at someone else’s destination so why bother focusing on it?

People notice when you are not playing your part. They know when the script is off.

We all miss out when you don’t show up to play the role custom-made for you. But there is magic– untouchable magic– that emerges when you step out into the world dedicated to being yourself. People can tell when you’re walking on the right road. They see it.

I want to believe the more we live out what we know we are called to steward, the more we give other people the courage to do the same. We stop living such a small existence, hyper-focused on things we have no control over.

We start to grow. We start to see each other. We start to be real characters in the story, not two-dimensional people governed by fear. We evolve and we step into what we were made to do. That sweet rhythm that might not show up until act 2.

And there, in the middle of act 2, things to start to click and people start humming anthems all around you. This strike of confidence hits you in the heart. You whisper under the breath, “Yes, I know the words to this song.”

 

When media stops being social. Pt. II

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Comparison is a sneaky thing. It’s like added sugar.
You think added sugar is no big deal until you set out to do something like a Whole30. Suddenly, when you are finally paying attention to labels, you realize sugar is added everywhere. It’s in everything. It’s even in bacon.
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I think that’s how comparison works, too. It starts small. You almost can’t spot it. Before long, it’s taking more territory. It’s taking the script of your life and stealing lines from it. It’s convincing you to play small. It’s trying to whisper in your ear, “I’ve got a better part for you. Just watch that person a little bit longer. If you just keep measuring yourself against other people then eventually you’ll find what you’re looking for.”
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I’m reading this book on Galatians by Tim Keller. In his book, Keller dissects the letter Paul wrote to the church of Galatia. Paul is usually a somewhat chipper dude but he is evidently not happy with these people in Galatia. He’s frustrated in the letter. He doesn’t understand why, after hearing the gospel, they would choose to go back to their own gods.
As he wrings his hands, he basically says, “Only crazy people believe they can step in and finish what God started.”
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But that’s what these people tried to do— they tried to take the salvation portion of the gospel and claim they would work for it. It’s something many of us have faced, this belief that God is going to love us if we add up and we do critical things on his behalf.
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Keller introduces this idea of “functional saviors.” Functional saviors are everywhere. Functional saviors are anything we believe might be able to save us, fill us, or keep us from the darkest parts of ourselves.
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A functional savior is anything we use to try and plug the gaping God-sized hole inside of us. 
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I have a list of functional saviors I’ve tapped into the ring on multiple occasions throughout my life. They are the things I readily choose over God.
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Comparison. That’s a functional savior.
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Comparison, as nasty as it is, keeps me from having to look at the real issue. I can become so fixated with comparison that I never think to acknowledge the root of it. Every little thing has a root, a starting place. So I dig for the bigger questions: What am I so afraid of seeing in my own life? What feelings am I trying not to face? 
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I think I was more afraid to find out what was at the root of my comparison issues. That was going to much messier and harder to assess than just sitting back in the lanky arms of comparison for one more day.
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I stopped watching my friends’ Instagram stories back in March. I’ve not been perfect since then but I decided to see what would happen to me if I didn’t indulge in those stories for a month. As long as I watched other people’s days unfold, mine felt stagnant.
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For the 30 days ahead, I made a better plan.
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I decided to take action. Every time my friend’s face would pop up at the top of my feed, prompting me to check their story, I would resist the urge and check in instead. I’d send a text. I’d write them a note. I’d say a prayer. I would do something other than watching them go to the Farmer’s Market or kill an ab circuit.
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It’s no surprise that the real story isn’t usually on social media. We claim to want it but we also know that we don’t show up to social media for people’s messes. We come for the curation. We come for the eloquent copy and the cute pictures. We come to be amused and receive what is the equivalent of a side-hug on the internet.
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When you stop checking in on your friends online and you start reaching out, you learn the real story. You see how awful their day has been or you get to join them in celebrating something new. You no longer participate in their story through a bird’s eye view. You are in the story. You are real to the story. You are suddenly a character, not a spectator.
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I eventually stopped watching stories altogether. I found myself not really needing to watch the stories of people I didn’t know. I followed some people because they inspired me but that inspiration wore off eventually and comparison stepped in like an understudy ready to roll.
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I think it is almost impossible to be the best version of you when you are constantly measuring yourself up to someone else. Other people cannot be my standard. Their success does not determine mine. If I am looking to people to serve as a benchmark for me then I have clearly missed the point of people. People are meant to be loved, not measured. I know this for certain. I would go out on a limb and tell any human they don’t need to try to reach a measurement to be worthy. So why can’t I tell myself that? 
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I got an email from a reader a few months ago who recently got engaged. Engagement is a fun season if you remember to have fun with it. This girl wasn’t having fun. She found herself stuck in the muds of comparison. She found herself becoming overly consumed with the weddings of other people and how hers was going to match up.
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This was never meant to happen. We were never meant to sacrifice our lives on the altars of comparison. We can’t even blame social media for this kind of comparison because it’s always been here. The second story in the whole bible is about a man who kills his own brother because of some deep-rooted comparison issues. Social media did not turn us into people who compare, it just provided a shortcut.
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So what would I tell the girl who isn’t enjoying engagement because she’s too busy comparing her life to other brides, and friends, and family?
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I’d tell her comparison is the easy road. It’s the default setting. The harder posture to reach in your heart? The posture of celebration. Secure people are able to celebrate other people getting exactly what they wanted. Secure people know there isn’t just one good wedding or one good love story, there are millions. We should all get the good things. Secure people know there is always more room at the table.
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I would tell her to guard her friendships more than she guards this brewing itch to outshine her friends. The weddings won’t always be there. You won’t always be talking about color palettes and dessert bars. There’s going to be a day when the fireworks fade and life tries to knock you over. In those moments, you’ll want real friendship. You’ll want pure, sturdy friendships.
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Invest in the celebration of your friends, I would tell her. Invest in the stuff that is going to hold you and keep you when the weddings end and the babies grow up. When the gray hair comes and the funeral songs play. 
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I would tell her to open her eyes and do her best to keep them open. If she doesn’t, she will likely miss a million moments that were meant to be all hers. They won’t be shared. They won’t be documented. We are so quick to say God isn’t here but his hands are suddenly in all the little details when we finally look up, take our eyes off the screen, and just vow to be here now.
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I would tell the girl that, sadly, it will be her loss if she wastes these precious moments watching other people and doesn’t step into her own story. I would tell her to fight like hell to keep fear away from her love story.
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When the lights cut out and the credits roll, you’ll either have watched someone’s story or you’ll have lived your own. The choice is yours. So what’s it going to be?
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TO BE CONTINUED >>>