I *love* how there are so many mirrors at the gym. Continually guys and girls check themselves out - sometimes unabashedly, other times with a sideways look as they walk by their reflection. Maybe you've noticed the LuLu Lemon variety with their headbands, exercise top and yoga pants all sporting the LuLu Lemon logo. These are the girls who often have gone to great lengths to do their hair, as if being at the gym is more about being seen than it is about the work-out they plan to do there. And we can't forget the macho men - the ones with bulging muscles who strain profusely and watch their biceps furtively in the mirror, as the veins in their heads pop out and they work to become greater, more powerful and mightier than their peers.
Then there is me. And who am I kidding? It would be wrong of me to describe the people I observe at the gym on a weekly basis, without being honest about myself.
I admit that I compare myself to the girl working herself to a frenzy on the elliptical trainer. I tell myself that she's thinner because she has a different body type, yet in some ways I still allow myself to become frustrated and wonder if I should work out harder. I also have fallen way to the sin of pride at times, as I run on the treadmill, stealing glances at the runner next to me and realizing that I'm faster. I compare myself to others. I shouldn't compare, but there is something in me that looks for a way to measure my existence and worth, and it is so easy to do so by looking at the examples next to me - using the real life people whom I know nothing about.
This dismal behavior doesn't seem to stop at the gym, but is so easy to carry into other areas of life. I can compare my clothing, parenting, cooking, education, home, and even my "wifeliness" (how great of a wife I feel I am). It's just that in the end, I feel short-changed and the temporary satisfaction I may feel by judging myself as "better" than someone else is quickly thwarted by the fact that I can easily find someone who looks and appears to be better than me. If I take it a step farther, there are even times when I can compare my family, marriage - and namely my kids to others, and I cheapen their individuality and God-given gifts by turning them into a commodity that I can rate to then provide myself with feelings of pride or disappointment.
I've been convicted over the last few years of the ugliness of comparison. As my oldest daughter grows into the awkward tween years, and has begun to be aware of the harsh, judgmental world around her (that has so many ideas of who she should be and look like) I've sobered up in realization of my own worldliness and unhealthy views of myself.
We often hear how important it is to have a good self-image. We are admonished to promote a pride and sense of identity, that everyone is special and unique. While I agree that it is important to have a sense of self-worth, I would question how one derives this sense of worth. Too often, I think we (mostly us women) spend far too much time comparing ourselves to others - or simply comparing ourselves to a bunch of made up rules and standards we hold within our minds, and we lack a focus on the individual that God has uniquely created us to be.
Imagine a school with no grade levels, and individualized classes and programs. Each student would be marked according to their individual effort and not compared to one another with standardized tests and percentiles. Grades would be achieved based on each student's personal best effort - not based on how they compared to others. This type of school may only exist in the realms of my imagination, however I do think this is an example of how we are measured in the grand scheme of life. 1 Samuel 16:7 tells us that "Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart." In everything we do, God isn't comparing us to how well others have done before us, or by how well those beside us are doing - God simply looks at our hearts. He knows exactly the challenges we face, and the emotional hurdles we battle. He knows our past, our pains, our successes and whether or not we have been granted a firm foundation in life. When He determines our success, He looks at what is going on inside our hearts and He has a all-encompassing view of whether we truly have put our best effort into life or not.
When we compare ourselves to others, we have no idea what is going on in the inner sanctum of their lives. We don't know the challenges they face, and it is not up to us to judge the productivity of others. Additionally, when we compare ourselves to others, we remove ourselves from the accountability to the One who truly knows us, inside and out. Ultimately, the only measurement we should use to feel successful, worthy and accomplished, is the kind of measurement that comes from being sincere and open before God.
I love what Paul says in Philippians 3:8,9. He had all the qualifications to credit himself as having a superior status among the people around him, yet he laid it all down to become a follower of Christ. Here's what he said, captured so poetically in the Message translation:
Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant - dog dung. I've dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn't want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ - God's righteousness.
While Paul may be talking specifically about holiness, and how "righteous" he could make himself out to be according to his actions, I think the same perspective can be applied to other areas of our lives. We measure ourselves by how "good" we feel we are, and by how successful we are at life. The problem is, our perspective of who we are and what we're worth becomes pretty empty if we measure ourselves by society's standards. Riches are fleeting - one tragic event can erase your net worth and put you in financial ruin. Beauty fades; everyone will grow older and more wrinkled in time! There is always going to be someone stronger, smarter and faster - adversely, you can always find someone whom you can outwit, belittle or show-up. That being said, it doesn't matter what other people think of me, and it doesn't matter how I feel compared to other people.
I want to be embraced by something more meaningful. I want to raise my kids to measure themselves based not on what their peers think of them - or even what I think of them! What matters is our hearts. What matters is whether you are doing your personal best, and placing all your merit and justification and hope in Christ.
"If you want to claim credit, claim it for God." What you say about yourself means nothing in God's work. It's what God says about you that makes the difference.
-2 Cor 10: 17,18 The Message