By Leah Fuller
Is it easier to compete with others or to unite and cooperate with them? Much of American culture centers around competition. From a young age, kids learn to compete to win through team sports or to achieve top honors in an academic setting. While the educational system champions leaving no child behind, we cannot deny the classroom hierarchy that naturally develops as some students excel and others struggle. Even if our culture weren’t preaching this gospel, it is practically ingrained into the very fiber of our humanness. Even in biblical history, examples of jealous comparison and competition abound: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, competitive squabbles amongst the disciples, and the list could go on.
One afternoon last summer, I was leading campers as they tackled a battery of group initiatives. Group initiatives are puzzles or games that encourage a group of individuals to work together to find a solution. Earlier in the day, I had worked with the first half of the group and now led the remaining students. As they neared the end of the first initiative, one of them looked at me and asked, “Did we do this faster than the other group?” I gave them a quizzical look, grinned, asking “Why does it matter?” The response was classic “We just want to know if we did better than them.” Their interest led to a conversation about comparison and competition—the places where they are of benefit, such as in sports, but also the ways that comparison and competition actually can create disunity in the body of Christ, stealing what God actually might have in store for us.
This scenario is not uncommon, and while I would love to say that this is a message for everyone else but me, this is not true. It is difficult not to want to compare and compete for God’s love, measuring my maturity and growth by the maturity and growth I see in others. I often find myself comparing my value to someone else’s, fearing that when a co-worker receives affirmation, my value has been judged and found lacking if I don’t also receive affirmation. I find that spiritual comparisons are some of the most detrimental. When a friend receives a word from the Lord in prayer for someone and I don’t, I wonder if God favors them more than me. When another is quick to serve others and meet needs in a group, I feel like I’m not being servant-hearted enough. I hear friends who are mothers make statements comparing their parenting based on how disciplined their children seem to be. Deep down, I struggle to live from the truth that my value and “belovedness” are not diminished by others’ success or bolstered by others’ failure. Maybe you have thought this, too? You see, we long for a tangible measurement of the love we ache to feel, but are afraid we will never have.
Henri Nouwen in his book Life of the Beloved says “It is impossible to compete for God’s love…It is only when we have claimed our own place in God’s love that we can experience this all-embracing, non-comparing love and feel safe, not only with God, but also with our brothers and sisters.” Scripture abounds with this truth, urging us to remember that “we have different gifts, according to the grace given us” (Romans 12:6). God made us different on purpose, to complement one another, and to make us aware of our need of Him as we acknowledge areas of weakness. We know this truth in our heads, but often it is difficult to believe it in our hearts. It is difficult to remember the truth that “my salvation and my honor depend on God” (Psalm 62:7) and that no matter what, He loves me with the deep, unconditional love that I long for. What would happen if I focused the energy I use comparing my value to others’ on thanking God that He has gifted me and He has gifted them, even as our gifts are different? And in that place of thankfulness, wouldn’t I remember that my value does not depend on another, but solely on the love of Christ freely given for me?
It requires effort to live from this truth. Why else would Paul urge us in Ephesians 4:3 to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”? Unity in the body of Christ requires effort as we each learn to receive God’s love for us. It is not an effort of striving or grasping, but an effort of continuing to return to the truth that God has chosen and gifted me and that He has chosen and gifted you, too. In an effort of surrender and death to self, we relinquish our reputation and value, trusting that God loves every bit of us, the weak parts and the strong. As I make the effort to surrender and receive God’s love for me, He fills my cup full. His love begins to overflow, and I find I can speak the truth of your “belovedness” and “chosenness” with a heart of gratitude. This is what Paul meant in Romans 12:3 when he said, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”
Perhaps today you can take some time to take an inventory of your relationships, noting places where you may unknowingly have been comparing or competing? Bring these relationships before the Lord asking, “What does God think of me?” Next, take time to renew your mind, remembering the truth that your value is not diminished by others’ success or bolstered by others’ failure. Now turn your heart to God in gratitude for the ways He uniquely loves you and has gifted you. Finally, thank God for the ways He uniquely loves and gifts others. Return to a posture of trust that “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.