If I’m being completely honest with myself, much of my misery comes from wanting to live out someone else’s story.
Yes, I am a single woman, living on my own, with a job I enjoy. I have a terrific sister who allows me the latitude to play a large role in my nephew’s lives. I like that I can play the piano and worship God through music.
But comparison seeps in and the lovely aspects of my life lose their luster. What gives me life and light grows dim in the looming shadow that is Comparison.
It’s more than comparing my life to someone else’s. The comparison that gets to me are the “what could have been” and “what should have been” narratives.
I should have been more loving.I could have been a lovely wife.
I could have been a great parent.
I should not have to carry this burden alone.
I could have been more if I had more money, time, space, etc.
Sometimes I want to be all of these things, have all of my wishes, live my best life. And in the depths of my desperate thinking, I protest God because I don’t like the story he’s writing for me.
And I audaciously ask for different one.
To have a story more like my sister’s.
To have a talent more like my friend’s.
To have a family more like his.
To have a relationship with God more like hers.
It’s maddening to think this way, but I can’t help it. I am given the kingdom, and yet, my heart is prone to wander away from His riches to seek other’s treasures.
One of my favorite stories is at the end of John’s gospel. Some time after Jesus’ death, Jesus’ disciples had been fishing all night and have caught nothing. The following morning, Jesus comes to scene, eager to have a beach-side brunch with his exhausted friends. (My favorite stories after the resurrection are some of my favorite. Jesus, the Resurrected Savior, is repeatedly seen hanging out with his friends over a meal. It’s lovely.)
Peter, the emotionally-driven disciple who earlier in the story, jumped out of the boat just to meet Jesus on the beach, is still carrying the shame of his denial (John 18:15-18, 25-27) of his now-resurrected King. In John 21:15-19, Jesus speaks with Peter, and kindly reinstates him along with the charge to take care of and love his sheep. This is a beautiful and precious moment of forgiveness and redemption.
But the verse that speaks to my current soul condition is found in verses 20-21:
“Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them…when Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
I adore Peter’s ability to just ask Jesus anything. He says what’s on his heart and lets it flow from his mouth. There’s not a stitch of hesitancy in his interactions before and after Jesus’ death.
When I read about Peter, I see him as one who says what I would normally just keep hidden.
In my imagination, I picture Peter’s envy over John. Peter knows the love Jesus has for John. He watched John recline at the table with Jesus. He witnessed Jesus, before he died on the cross, give sonship of John to his mother Mary (John 19:26-27). John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, is living a life that Peter doesn’t get to experience. And maybe Peter wonders if it is partly because of his reactionary tendencies or the sin he carried.
In this story, Peter reacts in a genuinely human way. Jesus had just forgiven him and lifted the burden and grief over his shameful sin and yet, the first thing Peter wants to know is “what about John?”
I don’t know if this moment is pure curiosity or simmering jealousy, but I relate to Peter’s question and heart condition. I have been given everything through Jesus, but I can’t keep myself from wondering about the person’s life experience and comparing it with my own.
How many times have I asked God about why another person has what my heart desires?
How many times have I accused God of giving me burdens when I see others thriving?
How many times am I convinced that the world is against me instead of living in the truth that God is for me?
How many times will I stand before Jesus but look to the side at someone else?
Jesus’s answer to Peter’s question is the same answer he gives me when I follow the trail of “what could have been” and “what should have been.”
In John 21:22, Jesus says, “If I want [John] to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”
The charge is simple but not easy. The way I read it is: “Don’t look at John. You don’t follow him. You follow me.”
This is where the comparison trap falters. If I want my life to look like other people’s, then I follow them. I could mimic their style, adopt their methods, think their thoughts. I could follow the rules that social media dictates and live my best life.
But that is not what I am made for.
Jesus calls me to follow him. The only life I need to set my eyes on is His.
Following Jesus won’t take the comparison narratives away. The wishes and desires for more or the other will still plague me. But Jesus reminds me to focus on him and he will lead me to true living.
For the story he’s writing for the two of us is beautiful and lovely, difficult and redemptive.
But more importantly, it’s ours.