I could feel the corners of my smile starting to quiver, and I quickly drew them up into an event bigger grin. The words my friend was speaking were fading as I turned inward, increasingly concerned that my face betrayed me as my enthusiasm appeared more and more forced. I faced my internal conflict: good news was spewing from her lips as she adamantly and excitedly told me about the job offer she had just received. And I was happy for her; sincerely, truly happy for her. But between the lines of joy and elation I could only hear one voice: you have failed.
It’s a strange reality that I think many of us face. Somehow, in our most sincere attempts to celebrate the successes of others, we face the beast of comparison that insists that because they have succeeded, we have failed. As my friend told me about her new job opportunity, every job that I applied for and hadn’t gotten rose quickly to my attention, and every area of discontentment with my current position was readily called to mind. Even while I know that my friend’s success is not mutually exclusive to my own, I feel the weight of comparison that chronically steals my joy.
This reality edges its way into every area of our lives, doesn’t it? A video of a friend’s little one crawling turns your mind immediately to the face that your babe isn’t even scooting yet. A picture of a dear friend’s engagement reminds you that you are discontentedly single. A social media post of a friend completing their first half-marathon only serves to point out that uncomfortable section around your middle. Somewhere between the news of their accomplishment and the congratulations that we should be giving, we lost ourselves in a slew of our own insecurities.
This is all so very anti-Gospel, is it not? Paul writes to us in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up…” and again in 1 Corinthians 14:26, “Let all things be done for building up.” This call to encourage others is a far cry from my gut-response to my friend’s new job. So how do we get there? How can we move from where we are to where we know we should be?
Practice selfless listening
The moment my friend started sharing her excitement, my thoughts turned immediately inward. Almost automatically, I interpreted her career shift in light of my own (or vice versa). This is fundamentally an act of selfishness. Sigh, self-centeredness is root-deep for me, displayed perfectly in that conversation. But Gospel of Jesus Christ insists that we as believers be other-centered. Paul writes in Philippians 2:33 that we are to resist this kind of rivalrous thinking and, instead, “in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
One way to practice this is to practice focusing your mind fully on the other person who is sharing their successes. If I would have done this in my conversation with my friend, I would have recalled the many conversations we have had about her discontentment in her job, the length of time she has been praying for and waiting on God to call her elsewhere, and I would have been able to rejoice with her (after all, God was answering my prayers, too, because we prayed for these things for her together). The next time someone is sharing good news with you – even if via social media – practice selfless listening. Catch your mind before it wanders to your own situation or your own self. Focus your mind on the person who has succeeded, and respond in kind.
Know your place in the Body of Christ
I think we often feel threatened by other’s accomplishments because we instantaneously know that they did something that we cannot. I recently attended a women’s event and was stunned by the meticulously decorated hall, the beautiful handiwork of the woman coordinating the event. The place was stunning! Every table had a meaningful and elaborate centerpiece, and every open counter space held some hand-made item that tied the space together beautiful. I am pretty sure that Pinterest was taking notes from her! Those who know me well know that I love décor, but as I walked in the room I found myself sinfully unable to enjoy the environment that had been so carefully crafted for my enjoyment because I felt as though it illuminated my area of weakness. Immediately, I called to mind a women’s event that I am planning, and scoffed at my own abilities to curate such a space.
Weeks from that experience, as planning my own women’s event progresses, I am reminded that while décor is something I can appreciate, it is not my gift. The other event’s host had a knack for turning scraps of paper and a shoe string into a five-star event. Creating is a gift of hers, but it is not mine. Does that mean I don’t have gifts, though? Absolutely not. God has gifted me to write and speak and teach. But rather than knowing my place in the Body of Christ, I believed the lie that her success was my failure, that her strength was my weakness. Our God chose to entrust her with those creative gifts, and He did not bless me in the same way. Without any arrogance I can also say that my gifts are the gifts He chose to give to me and not to the other host. And our differing gifts are not a threat to each other, but are purposed to be used together for God’s glory. I have a responsibility to use my gifts, and she has a responsibility to use hers. Why is it that her gifts felt like a threat to my own when they are so very different? First Corinthians 12:21 tells us that we have different gifts, and because of that we need each other: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feed, ‘I don’t need you!’”We are variously gifted so that we can work together.
By knowing what your spiritual gift are, you can better see how God has created you to bless His people and build His kingdom. If you don’t know your spiritual gifts, consider taking a spiritual gifts assessment; study up on what your gifts mean and how you can use them to contribute to God’s work in the world. By knowing your place in the Body of Christ, you can collaborate with others who are different from you, knowing that those who are gifted differently are not a threat to your own gifts.
Foster Christ-centered confidence, and pass it on
God made you. It’s one of those fundamental realities of the Christian faith that is easy to simplify to a doctrine while forgetting the awe of it all. God formed you, and He was intentional about the way that He did. Because God is good, He made you and called it “good.” Because God is creative, He made many of us creative. Because God is a moving God, He created many of us to make moves in society. How did God make you to uniquely reflect His image and character? Considering these things shouldn’t make us focus more on ourselves, but more on our God who made us in His image! Consider the ways of our God, be moved to awe and worship, and ground your self-identity in the reality that God made you to reflect His image and character.
Once you’ve done this, pass the same blessing onto others. Look intentionally for ways that your friends are uniquely made to reflect our God, and then celebrate them! Encourage her that she reflects God’s truth-telling nature as her paper is published. Tell her she reflects God’s kindness as she takes meals to seventeen moms with newborns in one week. Tell her that she reflects God’s care as she is promoted to a management position at work. Find your own confidence in God’s character, and foster the same confidence in others.