Walking Our Faith: No comparisons, please (column)
Walking Our Faith
Though it happened nearly 25 years ago, I will never forget the moment I decided to go in search of my purpose in life. I was walking home from my corporate finance job with a Japanese investment bank. It was twilight and as I walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, the lights of lower Manhattan reflected in the river far below my feet.
Nothing special had happened at work that day. But epiphany is the only way to describe my certainty in that moment. I needed to leave New York and find what I was meant to do with my life. I knew it wasn’t working in a corporate environment, but beyond that I had no idea of where and what I should do next.
I wanted the passion my mother had for teaching children of all ages to read, something she did until the age of 79 and still wants to do at the age of 90. I wanted the independence my brother John thrived on as the owner of a business.
There is a parable in the gospel of Luke (Chapter 19:10-27), which became my touchstone during these searching years. It is the parable of the talents. Briefly, it goes like this: A landowner entrusted three servants with the investment of talents (a certain amount of currency of that time). When he returned, he asked each servant to report on the return on investment the landowner would receive for their wise investment of his money.
One servant doubled the owner’s money. The second made a 50 percent return. The third was so afraid of losing the money in a risky investment, he put it in a safe, so that he would be able to return the money without a loss. The landowner rewarded the first two servants and punished the third. I never wanted to be the third-place, fearful servant, who wasted whatever talent God had given me, so I pushed forward.
As I searched for my purpose in life this parable was the measure I used. I wanted to be the servant who came in first, who created the greatest return for his master. In whatever field I pursued, I dreamed of riches and glory. As I pursued my dream of being a writer, I often compared myself to other writers. As a former competitive swimmer, I had compared myself to other athletes during my swimming days. It may not surprise you to learn this approach led to more anger and frustration than success and happiness in both writing and swimming. My writing (and swimming times) improved when I stopped comparing myself to others and focused on becoming the best writer (swimmer, baker, business owner, insert your dream here) that I can be.
Yet it has only recently occurred to me that the race I am running today isn’t against anyone else but myself. Oswald Chambers, a 19th century Scottish pastor, authored what has become a classic in Christian literature: “My Utmost for His Highest.” This profound book speaks often of how we need to empty ourselves so that there is less of our own hubris and more of God’s greatness reflected in all we pursue. The title has become a mantra for me as I look at my life and realize that my goal is not to be the best writer of this or that. It is to give my best for God’s glory.
The same attitude should be one we pursue in our relationship with God. It is tempting to compare our faith life to others and wish that we were as holy or faithful or filled with the Spirit as someone else. But comparisons are faulty mirrors because we can only see what is reflected through our own perspective. To want to have someone else’s life or their faith, diminishes our ability to see God’s purpose at work in our own or our ability to work with him most effectively. In other words, it’s difficult to drive forward while looking in the rearview mirror.
Now I understand the parable of talents is about more than doing our best with our God-given gifts. God didn’t love the servant who earned the most, more than the one who earned less. God loves us equally, no matter our path in life, or how we have succeeded or failed. The reason God was angry with the servant who buried his talent was because the servant acted out of fear. Fear that stops us from pursuing our dreams after we have failed, fear that crushes our spirit when someone else receives the job we wanted, fear that we aren’t good enough for God to love us.
What God desires is that we give our “utmost for his highest.” Whether it is in pursuit of our dreams or, more importantly, in pursuit of a relationship with him. God asks that we put aside our fear, pursue him with the same passion we pursue our dreams. And as we do, we must keep our eyes focused on him, not on the progress of our neighbor. Keep our eyes always focused on God and run with all our heart toward him and for him. That wins the only race that matters.
Suzanne Anderson is the author of “Love in a Time of War” and other books. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/suzanneelizabeths.
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