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The Comparison Trap

I was having a conversation a couple days ago with a friend and somehow the subject worked its way around to musical talent.  This friend asked a question that I had never been asked before:  do you have musical talent?  I didn’t know how to respond, and I fumbled around for a while, finally sharing about the competitions I grew up in as a kid and teenager and the musical groups I traveled in.  So the conclusion was made:  “you do have musical talent”.  This simple statement sent a shock wave through my thought process, and I wondered why I had not come to the conclusion before that I had talent.

Perhaps it is because I thought that if I admitted that I had talent, I would be arrogant.  You all know those people who show up to the American Idol auditions saying that they’re the best singer they know and in all actuality they can’t carry a tune in a bucket?  I’ve always wondered if those people really believed these things.  Have they created for themselves an illusion of what their gifts are, only to see their dreams fall at their feet?  Surely they must know that their talents are elsewhere.

I’ve spent years of my life around some very talented musicians.  The first guy I dated went on to get his Masters in piano performance.  A few of my friends have gone on to be music pastors and professionals.  “How blessed am I that I have known such people,” I think to myself.  “I have seen greatness.”

This thought process carries over to other areas of my life, such as writing or public speaking.  I think, “Wow, this author/speaker really presents her thoughts well.  I wish I was as talented as her.”  Therefore, once again, I back off and leave the writing and speaking to someone who can do it better than me.

I heard a quote that made me laugh:  “No matter how good you are at something, there’s always an 8-year-old Asian that is better than you.”  All jokes aside, the truth is this:  No matter how good you are at something, there is always someone better.   Therefore, we come to another truth:  you are the only you that has ever lived.  Instead of going through the years of life longing to emulate the person beside you, why not strive for something higher?  Be the best YOU that has ever lived.

For me, that truth takes a load off, but sets on a whole different challenge.  How do I be the best me that has ever lived?  Each one of us has a unique set of circumstances and challenges to overcome.  What sets our heroes apart from the ordinary folk is that the heroes found a way to use their unique set of circumstances and challenges to be an inspiration rather than victims of things beyond their control.  Many who have beaten cancer become counselors to cancer patients; those who struggled with eating disorders have found ways to reach out to others who struggle the same way.  What makes these people great in our eyes is the understanding of a common temptation that we all share:  the temptation to give up and simply let be what will be.  It is this temptation to act as if our circumstances never happened or they never affected us.  Worse yet, we sink into a hole of self-pity, where we would rather complain about the way things are rather than work toward the way things could be.

Is it laziness that keeps us from making a difference in our world?  I think most people care, to varying degrees I’m sure, about the injustices and pain that take place all around us.  Perhaps it is fear that holds many of us back:  fear of vulnerability, fear of failure, or fear without a name.  Some are afraid they are not yet ready to fight the dragon, lest they be consumed by the fire from his mouth.  However, when faced, most things that we are afraid of are not as grand as they seem from behind the glass.  Most fear flees when recognized for what it is.  The most difficult step, therefore, is the first one forward.

If only life were that simple and all challenges that easy to face.  Life is hard, and some battles cannot be won.  Some mystery remains and sometimes the path is hidden.  What if I can never be Mother Teresa or Amy Carmichael and save hundreds of children from the streets?  How do I measure significance in my own life?  What is a life well-lived?  When standing beside these two great women, how will I fare?  Although I might not come right out and say these things, they have become my measuring cup.

Those questions really are not the ones that matter.  In the grand scheme of things, we are all people with our own sets of circumstances and challenges to overcome.  Who can compare one person’s pain to another?  Who could ever know the deep struggles that each person faces besides God?  Who are we to decide who is better?  The questions that really matter are these:  who are you called to be?  How are you growing toward that?

Then I must be the seaman picking up the starfish and throwing them one by one into the ocean.  I cannot save them all, but I know that my time on the shore matters to each one that God places in my path.  As mere humans, we cannot measure great actions nor define accurately what is good.  Sometimes the greatest act of love is a crayon drawing given by a student to her teacher, and the greatest good a difficult circumstance that must be experienced.  The comparison trap can rob us of the joy of simply living in love and becoming who God made us to be.

God created us in His image, with a plan and a purpose for our lives.  It is the enemy that floods our lives with questions of our value, our beauty, or our significance.  If we allow it, the truth of God can be drowned out by the noise of doubt and fear.  We must learn to focus in on truth.  We must recognize it, embrace it, and follow it.  Here is the truth:  we are loved, we are forgiven, and we are being redeemed.  Although God may correct us when we are walking down the wrong road, His voice will never tell us that we are worthless or failures.

I spent years in the comparison trap, and I am often discovering ways in which I am still climbing out.  Here is what I have discovered:  this trap will keep you from God’s best for you.  It will stunt your growth.  It will tear you down, hold you there, and render your life and ministry ineffective.  Don’t let it.  Run after Christ.  Read the Word of God and embrace the truth you find in its pages, regardless of how you feel.  Be obedient to the call of God on your life.  Although the path might be dark and difficult, Psalm 119:105 assures us:  “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”
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