I have a love/hate relationship with yoga.
I remember the first time I went to a Bikram Yoga class. There was a studio across the street from the apartment my wife and I were living. The studio had a special – $20 for unlimited classes over 2 weeks. We signed up and gave it a try. (She had been once before with a friend).
Now, there are some things you need to know about me and yoga at this point. First, I had never done yoga in my life. Second, I’m terribly inflexible. Third, Bikram yoga involves a room which is over 100 degrees with over 30 percent humidity. It is intense. (About 75 minutes into our 90-minute class I had to lay down because it was just too much for me. I was too proud to walk out of the class and throw up.)
One of the first things they tell you to do in yoga is to maintain your focus. Focus on your practice, not what someone else is doing next to or in front of you. The teacher will say, “Pick a spot in the mirror and look at only that spot.” The only problem on the day of my first class was the dude standing next to me had stripped down to so little clothing there was NOTHING left to the imagination. In the contorted positions of yoga…let’s just say it was WAY too much information.
However, due to the TMI, I found the motivation to focus and not look anywhere else because I didn’t need to see…that!!
Over the 90 minute class, I learned that the poses got easier and the breathing came more naturally when I was just worried about what I was trying to pull off and not what other people were doing around me. The girl up front who looked like a human version of Gumby – I didn’t need to compare myself to her. My wife stretching next to me reminding me how inflexible I was – I didn’t need to compare myself to her either.
My wife stretches multiple nights a week – and at that point, the last time I had stretched was before my last baseball game in high school. Human Gumby girl – she had been coming to this studio multiple times a week for years. I was comparing my newbie struggles with their years of dedication to this habit. Completely unreasonable comparison.
We are really good at comparing ourselves to others in inappropriate ways. On social media, we compare our behind-the-scenes footage to other people’s highlight reels. One of my most popular posts on this site has to do with battling the voices of insecurity and comparison, especially online. We often talk about how dangerous this is online, but we do it in non-digital life all the time too. We compare our lifestyle to someone who makes a great deal more money than us. We compare our houses, cars, etc. to someone who is multiple life stages ahead of us. We compare our schedule to people who live according to different values. We compare our marriage to other people who are putting on a show publicly to hide their private dysfunction.
Comparison is inherently dangerous because it distracts us from the lives we’ve been called to live.
I love what Carey Nieuwhof said in his blog post, “20 Honest Insights on How To Make It to 25 Years of Marriage”. Carey writes, “If you’re comparing your real life to someone else’s posted life, you will implode.” Comparison takes our eyes of our own calling, our opportunities and our gifts from God and moves us into a position of scarcity, insecurity, and entitlement.
Recently, my wife and I were driving home on a freeway in here Phoenix after a family excursion. I was watching something next to the road and apparently, I started to drift as I was driving. Our car started invading the lane next to us. My wife snapped at me, “Pay attention! Stay in your lane!” I brought my full focus back to driving and resumed my presence in one lane – my lane. Unintentionally, my wife’s direction “stay in your lane” has become a mantra in our house since that drive. It’s become a constant reminder when we’re tempted to compare. Because the temptation is constantly just off to the side – the temptation to lose sight of who we are and who we are called to be for the sake of who we are in comparison to someone else and who they are called to be.
We start drifting when we compare other people’s responses to us with the response someone else receives. We leave our lane when we start comparing our calling to someone else’s. We are unable to stay in our lane when we are so caught up in who someone else is called to be – we stop focusing on who we are uniquely called to be.
In those moments, we all need to heed my wife’s words – Stay in your lane.
We need to run our race. Be who God has called us to be.
No matter how fast we run, looking to see how someone else is doing takes effort and energy from the race we’re running. Who cares about the race someone else is running when we have one to run ourselves? We’ll fail to deliver our best time if we’re rubbernecking to check in on someone else’s.
Insecurity plagues us all. I’ve heard some people claim they’re totally secure in who they are and never struggle with the opinion of others. The person who cares not one iota what other people think is not a mature, perfect person but a dangerous one. If we meet someone who is not concerned with the way others perceive them, this is not a model for us to follow. This is, in fact, a maniac we are to flee.
Now, we all battle varying degrees of insecurity and it manifests itself in our lives in various ways. Insecurity is part of what it means to be a human, living in a broken world. We are all in the process of a are moving from the insecurity of comparison to the security of confidence in who we are.
Four Responses to Comparison
As I was thinking about the challenge of staying in my lane recently, I identified four acts I can take when tempted by the comparison trap. I believe these four acts are courageous steps we all can take today.
I cannot claim someone else’s identity; I can only claim my own.
I cannot be faithful to someone else’s calling; I can only embrace my own.
I cannot drive in someone else’s lane safely; I can only drive in my own.
I cannot run someone else’s race; I can only give all I have to my own.
What’s funny is these four acts are not narcissistic or individualistic; they are communal. They cannot be done alone, as solo acts. They require a community of people. We claim and develop our God-given identities in the context of people who encourage and discern who we are alongside us.
The community which we all need doesn’t empower our insecurity and comparison addiction. The community we need tells us to stay in our lane and run our race. They call us to be who God created us to be and no one else.
Now, this doesn’t mean we settle when certain important qualities in us need to grow, change or develop. We don’t our identity become into an excuse for treating people below what they deserve or producing poor work in whatever position we hold. But, this mentality does free us from the impossible standards of being all things to all people – a perfect blend of ideal qualities which no one this side of Jesus is capable of possessing.
I stumbled upon a quote recently which was one of my favorites when I first read it in college years and years ago. The quote is by American poet and playwright E.E. Cummings. Cummings once wrote, “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.”
The greatest battle we all face is the one between our ears. This battle is to live from our truest selves. This battle is to show up daily in a world which seeks to force us into a mold and to push back on the forces of conformity. This battle is to let someone else be who they are without feeling the need to contort who we are.
The place where all this becomes terribly difficult is rejection. When one person or one group fails to affirm us in the way we desire, insecurity and comparison attack us with all their might. The temptation will be to become bitter towards the person or group, resent who we are and question our identity. Rejection stings – that’s just part of the human experience. But rejection by one person or one group is not a universal statement on the value or validity in who we are. Sure, someone else running in a different lane may get accepted instead. This doesn’t mean we need to walk off the track or change lanes. It simply means we keep running even if what we do and who we are is not for them.
One of the most famous lines in all of Hollywood history is from the Academy-Award winning film, Chariots of Fire. English runner, Eric Liddell, is preparing to run in the Olympics at the dawn of Second World War. Liddell, a missionary, raises some eyebrows and ruffles some feathers when he leaves his work to run. His response when questioned is appropriate when it comes to running (and comparing). He says, “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” You see, when we run our race and stay in our lane, when we are who God created us to be and no one else, we will feel God’s pleasure. And the statement of God in our lives – that He loves us and is for us – is greater than any vanity metric Facebook or Instagram can introduce. Besides, God’s pleasure will last longer than the life cycle of any app too.
If you’re struggling with insecurity and comparison today, this is my encouragement for you (and I’m preaching it to myself too.)
Run your race.
Stay in your lane.
Be who God created you to be.
Give it all you’ve got.
Life is too short to live out of insecurity or comparison.