Note: This post is from guest blogger Nicole Manges.
About a month ago, the math department at my high school chose this year’s recipient of the Math Medal Award, an honor given to one senior who has excelled in his or her high school math career. Someone told me that my friend Lydia and I were the top contenders. The possibility of winning greatly excited me. In the end, though, the department gave the award to Lydia.
On one level, I was happy for her. She’s a very hard worker and one of the smartest people I know. At the same time, I was sorry I hadn’t won. I couldn’t shake my disappointment for a couple of days, even while I inwardly laughed at myself. Why should I care so much? After all, I had known for the past year or so that I wanted to major in English, my true passion. Despite my love of numbers, my chosen career path had nothing to do with derivatives or theorems. This logical reasoning was reassuring, but my bad mood and self-pity continued anyway.
Unfortunately, these feelings were not new to me. For the past few years, Lydia and I have been in academic competition due to our similar work ethic, ambition, and mental ability. We don’t try to compete; it just so happens that we often do. Even though she is one of my closest friends, Lydia is, in some weird way, my greatest enemy.
At least I tend to see things from that viewpoint.
I recognize that I’ve spent too much time worrying about how to outshine Lydia. I tend to use Lydia as my measuring stick, a way to determine how well I do on tests, GPA, and projects. I even compare myself to her in orchestra, but what does it gain me? Other than class rank—and I decided my freshman year that class rank was not my top priority—Lydia’s actions should have no bearing on my own. Although I know this, I still deal with feelings of failure and disappointment.
What, then? Am I to deal with discontent my whole life? By God’s grace, the answer is no. In fact, God wants His truth to extinguish the lie that I have readily believed—that I must be good enough to earn favor, that I must find my true worth by measuring up to others. Recently, I’ve discovered that this is a step-by-step process, that requires continual prayer and hard work.
First, I must realize the true problem. While I may be inclined to believe that Lydia is the issue, God wants to look at my heart. Turns out, the problem is not that I have someone like Lydia in my life; it is that I am using the wrong measuring stick. No matter how hard I work, whether I graduate with a 2.9 or a 4.0, I will always remain unhappy if I only compare myself to others.
I’ve been chasing after the wrong goal. Instead of working to the glory of God and trusting His grace to cover all of my imperfections, I’ve decided that man’s praise is more important than all else. God’s glorification leads to eternal life, but mine can lead only to despair.
Psalm 49 describes a man who has become rich and powerful. The psalmist points out that the man’s riches can only last for this lifetime.
Though while he lives he congratulates himself—
And though men praise you when you do well for yourself—
He shall go to the generation of his fathers;
They will never see the light (vv.18–19).
As Christians, we live this life in light of the coming one. Because of this, we must realize that men’s praise and earthly accomplishments aren’t worth our time. This is what God has been quietly speaking to my heart when I am disappointed because Lydia got a higher test score.
Finally, God is showing me that my unhappiness is damaging to Lydia’s and my relationship as well. When I compare myself to Lydia, I end up becoming critical of her. I refuse to see her as a unique young woman created by God. Instead, I reduce her to an obstacle, something I must conquer. This line of thinking only leads to hurt feelings. She’s my friend, and I should love her as God intends.
If God chooses to give me fame and fortune in this life, then so be it. Those things will no longer be my goal, however. I cannot settle for temporary when I can look forward to an even greater eternity. With God as my helper, my imaginary measuring stick is cracking little by little.
Is there anyone you feel that you are in constant competition with? What “measuring stick” do you use to gauge your value?