Five of my friends and I were sitting in a row of chairs, trying to get in a comfortable position to take the Psychology exam (although how can anyone be comfortable when taking any kind of test?!). As I carefully looked over each question, one of my friends got up and walked over to the professor. I thought she was asking about the test, but nope. She was turning in her exam because she had already finished. She left the classroom, and now there were five of us in the crowded row. One by one, all my friends finished the test, but I was still sitting there, going over the questions and wondering why I was so slow.
Have you ever felt that way? Like everyone else has finished what you’re still working on? Maybe it’s a stage of life, or a project, or a friend group, or a place…but you feel stuck. Generally, this doesn’t lead to the best self-convos/thought processes. 😉 I remember thinking that my friends were just smarter than I was, or at least more productive. I mean, they were off working on other projects and activities, and I was still sitting in the small hard-backed chair reviewing my test answers.
I felt “less than” because I wasn’t “fast enough.”
But what is “fast enough”? For instance, when I left the classroom there were many other students still taking the test. But I still felt behind because my friends had already finished. I was linking my self-worth with the people around me, and I felt that the faster I performed, the better I was.
But faster doesn’t always equal better. There’s beauty in taking your time. There’s beauty in checking your answers and turning the pages a little slower and breathing a little deeper. Just as there are positive things about hurrying, there are positive things about waiting.
Jesus waited. He ministered for three years before he was crucified, and he lived for thirty years before he ministered. (Not to mention the fact that he created the world thousands of years before he was born…goodness that’s a lotta waiting!!) He was preparing for his future and waiting for the proper time. God waits—in fact he’s waiting right now! Peter reminds us that, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God hasn’t returned to earth just yet because there are more people to whom God’s giving the opportunity to come to him.
God waits for us. So why do we find it so difficult to wait for ourselves?
Maybe you’re a fast test-taker, and if so, props to you!! But maybe you get going a little slower in the mornings, or you take longer to fall asleep, or you like to take your time when you’re reading a good book. Don’t diminish your pace because you’re so concerned about matching your speed to the speed of those around you.
For a long time, I used the people around me as a measuring rod to see how I was doing at life. If I worked out as often, ate as healthily, studied as much, and had as many hobbies as they did, I figured I must be doing alright. But if I fell behind in any area and was less productive than those in my social group, I felt bad about myself in comparison.
Can I wager a guess as to why we do this weirdly competitive comparison thing? I think we feel like God wants us to be the same. I mean, think about it. Why do I feel bad about taking such a long time to get ready when my roomie is so fast? Because I feel like I should be as fast as she is. But…why? God didn’t make a bunch of identical people. He made individuals. If an NBA pro felt that she wasn’t as productive as a Broadway star because she didn’t sing, we would shake our heads and laugh and say that, of course, that didn’t matter because she was doing what she did well.
But when I choose to take a peaceful walk around the neighborhood with my family and puppy, I feel bad because I’m not working out like my friend is. But what if I focused on where God has placed me and enjoyed the time spent with my sweet fam bam? What would happen if I dropped the measuring rod altogether and grabbed onto Jesus’s hand instead?
It’s easy to talk about being confident in who God made us to be, but how do we actually do that when we’re taking the next Psych exam or fighting the next cripplingly competitive thought? Here are a few thoughts on the whole practicality side of it:
- Recognize our tendency to connect our feelings of productivity to those directly around us. The first step in solving a problem is simply acknowledging that the problem exists. The ironic thing is that competing with those around us isn’t even productive (!!!) because Jesus has entrusted different goals to us all. Sooo…make a lil list of some goals Christ has entrusted to you. Maybe that’s school, a job, a daughter or son, an aging parent…or all of the above (goodness gracious that’s a lot!) Now don’t stress it–you don’t need to have everything written down; just prayerfully jot down a few things that come to mind as you pray throughout the week. By having a visible list of a few of the major things God has allowed us to take part in, we can focus on what he has given us instead of what he has given the person next to us. So when you’re tempted to compare, pull out that sheet of paper with pieces of your heart written on it, and remember that you’re only responsible for what God has given you, not your neighbor. (And God has loads of grace for you each step of the way—check out 2 Corinthians 12:9-10!)
- Reorganize our planners. If you’re like me, you have long lists of things to accomplish, and the more things you check off, the better you feel. But that’s promoting the lie that quantity is more valuable than quality. Don’t get me wrong—there are plenty of times when you gotta just grab the caffeine and plug away to accomplish many tasks at once (looking at you, Finals Week). However, there are often times when we don’t need to accomplish every single thing on every single list every single day. So for those times, try to only schedule the most important things out, and write a key word like “margin” or “rest” on your task list that will trigger your brain to remind you of the importance of deep breaths and moments of stillness. Those small moments may end up being some of the most productive ones of your day, because they promote physical and spiritual health and allow your mind to catch up with itself and fix its gaze on Jesus.
- Respond to people in a healthier way. If I see a friend who’s doing something great, my first inward response is often, “Oh man I need to start doing that!” and my first outward response is usually, “Wow I’m so jealous!” or “How can I do that/get involved with that, too?” However, these responses are negative both to ourselves and to those around us because they promote comparison and the idea of sameness. Instead, what if we responded by encouraging those around us in Christ without any level of competition? What if we made our responses focused on what God is doing in their life instead of about how their life measures up to our own? What if we simply said, “Oh my goodness that’s amazing! Way to go!” and then continued doing what God has placed in front of us? If something catches our hearts, then of course we should inquire more about it and get involved. But those choices should generally be preceded by prayer and made from a heart of eager calling, not out of a sense of competitive obligation. By changing our responses from comparison-y to encouraging, we promote a focus on God and how life relates to him instead of a human focus on how the choices of others relate to us.
On the day of the last Psychology test, my friends and I all smiled as we arranged ourselves in the seats in the order of who would finish first. I sat closest to the middle, since I always finished last. If that day had happened a few weeks earlier, I would have felt ashamed of my pace. But that day was different. I wasn’t comparing myself with my friends; I was just focused on doing that test as well as I could. So I smiled and whispered “bye” as my friends wrapped up their tests, and as I cranked out those last few questions (aka the last half of the test…) I wasn’t worried about what my friends were doing, but was a bit more focused on what God had given me to do in that moment. Focusing on life one moment at a time is so much simpler and beautiful, and is all in all a much more peaceful way to live.
Will you join me today as we throw away our measuring rods and train our eyes to focus on Jesus?