The Struggle of Competition and Comparison

In the age of social media, we are bombarded with messages that make us think we aren’t measuring up.  I find myself asking questions like: 

How does she make it look so easy?

Why can’t I keep my household that organized?

 Why can’t I be that skinny?

 Why can’t my hair look like that?

I can tell my daughter that we don’t need to try to measure up, that I know that we can’t measure up, that this is the reason we need Jesus in our lives. And yet, as I am bombarded with images of people seemingly doing it all, I can’t help but ask why I can’t. It’s interesting that our President keeps talking about “fake news” so flippantly in response to news that he perceives as one-sided and critical of him. And many can see some truth in that. While I don’t prescribe to the idea that “fake news” permeates our media, I can appreciate the idea that there is always more to the story than we can see.

I so appreciate kids for their candor. A couple of weeks ago, I was driving a friend’s kids to school and underneath the seat in our messy car, we found a toy my daughter had been looking for. I mentioned to my daughter, that’s what happens when our car gets messy and her friend said “Your car isn’t messy. Our car is messy. Imagine the messiest car you can imagine and then imagine it’s worse than that. That’s how messy our car is.” At this point, I admitted to her that before I left our house to pick her up, we had cleaned our car quite a bit. There are some women who do this too – own their own messes and feel okay not doing it all. But so many strive to try to measure up.

I’ve been listening to Jennie Allen’s new book Nothing to Prove and in it, she shares about the moment she got on stage in front of a group of women and admitted that she is not enough. It was scary but freeing. In her book, she says:

“The truth that we are not enough and Jesus is enough isn’t just good news on the day that God saves us. We need to preach the truth to ourselves and each other every day. We have been rescued from a life of striving today.”

I’ve always struggled with striving. This was something that brought me to Christ in the first place. My constant search for worth in achievement felt hollow and led me searching for something more. Jeremiah 29:13 says “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” and my seeking led me to Him almost 20 years ago. As I’ve grown closer to Him, I’m learning to rest in knowing that I was fearfully and wonderfully made and He loves me.  Some days it feels like I don’t recognize that girl who strived so much to be enough and others I struggle to remember that I don’t need to do it all.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been researching the spiritual gifts for a workshop at our church. The striver inside of me wanted to – no needed to – emphasize that our worth comes from God not from the gifts. I love the Casting Crowns song “Who am I” and the lines that say:

Not because of who I am but because of what You’ve done

Not because of what I’ve done but because of who You are

I know for me, it’s all too easy to get that backwards so I need to be continually reminded of this.

Yesterday, during my first spiritual gifts workshop, someone brought up the idea that some may be afraid to use their gifts because competition and comparison.

Competition and comparison.

 Competition and comparison.

My mind kept churning these two words all day yesterday, trying to grasp something that God was trying to show me that was just outside of my reach.  I have a love-hate relationship with competition…. well… if I’m honest it’s just a hate relationship. I avoid it at all costs because it brings out the worst in me. My family likes to tell a story of a family monopoly game night in which I lost (unfairly of course!) and demanded we play again until I won. I’d like to say this happened when I was a little kid, but in reality, I was in my 20’s. Many can’t imagine me doing this but those close to me wouldn’t be surprised. Some can handle competition in a friendly manner and then there’s me… And those like me… I know you’re out there – please don’t let me be the only one! I take things too seriously and expect myself to master everything I put my mind to. And that’s without competition in the mix – when you add in the factor of someone winning and someone losing, the worst of me comes out so I avoid it at all costs.

As Paul talks to the Corinthians in the twelfth chapter of his first letter to them, he’s addressing people dealing with some of these very issues. The people in the church have been given the gifts they need to build each other up and bring glory to God. And yet, they are struggling to do so. They are like a kindergarten “beehive” soccer team – not working together cohesively and instead all trying to do the same thing, chasing the ball around in circles and stumbling over each other. They are desiring gifts they don’t have and not using the ones they do have. But for the body to function properly, all parts need to work together as intended.

When we try to take on a part that is not ours to take, we hurt the whole body.

When we decide that we are not the part God made us, we hurt the whole body.

Women, in particular, are bombarded with messages about how we need to do it all. I wonder if the women’s movement has had an accidental side effect of making women believe we need to do it all instead of just what we were designed to do. In the process of seeking the rights to do things we were gifted to do in the workplace, we somehow ended up with the message that we not only needed to seek the career we were gifted for but also make sure we were measuring up in every other area of our lives. Fitness, breastfeeding, spending time with our kids, getting our kids involved in lots of activities, making our houses look like they could be in a magazine, cooking healthy meals… the list can go on and on. And women are collapsing under the weight of things they were never meant to carry.  We are not enough and we need to stop trying to be enough.

I like to tell my kids that God loves them more than I do. I think it’s a reminder to myself as much as it is to them. I know I can’t be enough for them. Without a doubt, I will fail them. More than once. I lose my temper.  I forget about a friend’s birthday party. I feed them less than healthy food – all week. And so, I want them to know that He will never fail them. He will always be there. And He knows what’s best, even when we can’t see it.  It was never all in our hands in the first place. We need to learn to rest in our knowledge of the goodness of the one who does hold it all.

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