*If you're wondering where I got the title of this blog, shame on you. Go watch this video right now.*
I'm really bad at keeping up with this writing thing. But with the encouragement of a couple of friends, combined with a fluttering in my chest that says 'Wheeler, you can't not write anymore,' I am going to make this a regular thing. Weekly, even. Hopefully.
So I don't know how it happened, but I'm in the midst of the last three weeks of the first half of my senior year of college. You guys, I still feel like I'm sixteen years old. People talk a lot about how time moves quickly, but it's not a cliché. It's a reality. I posted a life update on Facebook a few weeks back, so read that if you care to know what's up. That's not what this post is going to focus on.
I'm gonna dive right in and let you in on something I have been wrestling with since I can remember: comparison. In my Instagram bio awhile back, I had a quote that is attributed to Theodore Roosevelt: "Comparison is the thief of joy." What a paradoxical thing to have on my Instagram page, since social media basically exists to allow ourselves to compare our highlight reels to other peoples'. I put it there to remind myself and whoever looks at my Instagram for more than two seconds that while we are still comparing our stories, lives, things, looks, dogs, whatever to each other's, we will be severely lacking in the kind of joy we were created for.
So why do we still compare, when we know and experience that quote to be true? I found an article on CNN.com that said we do it to measure our own levels of happiness. But if Teddy was right, we are actually doing the opposite of what we set out to do in the first place. By setting our lives up against others' to see how much happier we are than they, we essentially take half a step forward and five steps back. How foolish. Let me talk about my own experience with comparison for a second.
I have an immense amount of trouble making decisions. I think it has something to do with the fact that I'm an ENFJ or a 6 on the Enneagram chart or something. Anyways, I've always looked to others to validate my decisions, or even to make them for me. I am always afraid that by making a decision one way, I'm going to be missing out on something on the other side. The grass is always greener, or whatever. So I often think about what someone else will do, not what I want to do or what I feel is right. This happens in literally every situation you could think of: when I'm deciding what clothes to buy, how to spend an hour of free time, whether to go buy Chick-fil-A for dinner or eat leftovers, ev. very. thing. That way, I have something to blame if I make "the wrong decision." In other words, I don't have to accept responsibility for my own failures.
Yikes. There it is. The root of the issue. I am terrified of failure. That is ultimately why I compare my _______ to others. Insert whatever noun you will.
As you might expect, this constant comparison/indecisive game has caused me an immense amount of anxiety, because I am trying to reap solid guidance and truth and counsel from places that are inconsistent, flawed, constantly changing (people). The fact that these people are inconsistent, flawed, and constantly changing is not bad, it's just a fact of humanity. And I know that. So why do I continue to put my whole weight on something that could crumble at any moment?
Oh, right. Because that option seems better than failure. There's that word again. Fun. The other day, I was driving home from work or walking or doing something and this phrase popped into my head, literally out of left field. I wrote it down because I thought, 'Hmm. Maybe I'm supposed to write about this later.' Here's the thought:
"My identity is not in my successes or what I can 'do.' And guess what. It's not in my failures - what I can't do - either."
Is that a breath of fresh air or what? So how come the sticky note version of that thought won't stick in my brain as well as all the other ones that say things like "You weren't as productive today as so-and-so. You should feel bad about that," or "That woman is more beautiful and fit and shiny-sparkly than you are. That's why she is getting married at 22 and you aren't," or things that are even darker and more sinister than that? This semester has been riddled with circumstances that have caused me to reflect on my actions and label myself a failure - being overwhelmed by leadership responsibilities and at the same time feeling like I'm not doing anything, ending a relationship after less than a month of 'official' dating and six months of trying to get to a place of being 'ready' (whatever that means), having to say "no" to a lot of people because senior year is like the craziest, dealing with old family issues that I thought should have been resolved by now - the list goes on. It feels like 'FAILURE' has been tattooed on my damn forehead.
Okay. Let's remember real quick that we have an Enemy. And his name means "accuser and deceiver." PEOPLE. Satan's name literally (essentially) means "I am going to lie to you all the damn time." And just because we have the Holy Spirit inside of our little hearts doesn't mean Satan just stops being Satan. If anything, it means the opposite. The devil freaking hates that we know and pursue God, so he'll do anything to get us to stop.
Also, we are human. By nature, we are imperfect. We don't do things the way God would have us even most of the time.
But we have weapons. They are called "the Word of the living God," and, "the Holy Spirit." All we have to do is consistently surrender ourselves to the truth about who God is and who He says we are.
Oh boy, here Wheeler goes again, talking about God stuff. I thought I was going to read about ways that I can stop doing the things I do and do them better. I want to have control of my life. What is 'surrender,' anyways? Boo.
I know, friends. I'm with you on that one. Because those are the same thoughts I have when I do things like search Google or desiringgod.org for advice that will make me feel better immediately. (We all do it. Don't pretend to laugh at me without laughing at yourself, okay?) But trust me, the surrender is worth it. We reap immensely from it. Here's just one example from scripture to prove it.
I was reading Ephesians 1 this morning - a wonderful chapter to dive into if you need to remember how outrageous the Father's gifts to us are. Verses seven through ten say this: "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth" (ESV). In other words, part of God's gift to us is His wisdom and insight, and understanding the mystery of His will.
Obviously we will not have full understanding of His purposes until we are with Him in heaven (Isaiah 55:8-9), but He gives us access to His counsel and understanding through His word and His Holy Spirit. The only person we should be comparing ourselves to is the person God says we are. Am I living as He intended, with joy overflowing and peace surpassing all circumstances? Am I finding satisfaction in who He is, not what others can do for me? Am I living as one deeply beloved, sins covered with the blood of Christ? Or am I letting Satan's accusations and lies and shame overshadow these things?
Listen, we are human. We are imperfect. We will forget these truths time and time again and return to our own filth. We are weak and vulnerable. And that is okay. That is why Jesus lived His perfect life and died His complete death and rose again in fullness of life. That is why His grace is immeasurable and enough, because we cannot be and we were never meant to be immeasurable or enough. We are finite and limited. But we have been given access by faith into this grace in which we now stand (Romans 5:2). We are meant to be childlike and dependent on our all-powerful Savior.
My challenge to you and to myself today is to let go. Stop striving and working to receive grace. Stop living your life as though God depends on you. News flash: That's not how it works. The next time you find yourself caught in a comparison cycle, stop and gently direct your thoughts to the One who already knows them fully. Know the Word so that you can replace those self-deprecating thoughts with truer ones. Don't buy into the lie that you need to worry or that you should compare yourself to others so that you can be 'better.' Remember the words of the great theologian A.W. Tozer:
"How completely satisfying to turn from our limitations to a God who has none."