If you’ve been reading Waxing Gibbous for a while, you may recall a post or two about a quote from The Chronicles of Narnia that graces the wall above my kitchen sink:
“I am telling you your own story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”
During an especially difficult time in my life, these words from The Horse and His Boy helped me understand that the things that happen in the lives of other people are part of “their story,” and it is neither our responsibility nor our business to know why God allows them to happen.
Even now, many years later, this realization frees me up to live my life and trust that God is directing my steps, without continually getting bent out of shape by comparing myself to someone else.
It’s a powerful lesson, to be sure.
But in the weeks after I posted my little series about the comparison trap, I kept having this nagging thought that I wasn’t quite done with the topic. I had expressed my ideas about comparing ourselves to other people, but I knew my work on this subject wouldn’t be complete until I wrote about one more thing: my disheartening tendency to compare myself to myself.
Let me explain.
I love to hear stories about people who have been through hard things and come out on the other side transformed and outspoken about their faith. They seem peace-filled, joyful and thankful, and watching how God uses them as a result of their trials is nothing short of inspirational.
But what about those of us who look in the rearview mirrors of our lives and feel sad that—because of how our struggles have changed us—we may never perform or feel a certain way again? We may never be asked to do that big thing again. We may never get to exert that amount of influence or be looked to for that type of help again.
We look at how we are now, compare ourselves to how we used to be, and grieve the loss of our old selves.
It’s the saddest kind of comparison, because it’s all based on a lie.
The lie is that how we were before—before loss, before disease, before the wilderness, before age, before disability, before the Mack truck plowed into us and wrecked our previous existence—was better. That we were more complete then, more desirable, more effective, more useful.
I wish I had the perfect quote about this that I could paste on the wall over the front door to inspire me every time I left the house. But I haven’t found one yet.
Truth be told, it’s almost easier to stop comparing my own story to someone else’s than it is to stop comparing the current chapter of my life to some chapter from the past.
I’m not talking about surface comparisons such as pounds on the bathroom scale or the number of gray hairs I see in the mirror. Most of us will never look or feel at 40 or 50 exactly how we did at 20 or 30, and part of growing older includes accepting that fact.
No, I’m talking about the reality that difficult seasons and earthquake events in our lives can sometimes alter our ability to minister, permanently lower our energy level and even radically change our personalities.
This very thing happened to one of my favorite authors, Tricia Lott Williford, after the sudden death of her husband, Robb.
“I spent the first thirty years of my life as a hypersocial extrovert—we’re talking off-the-charts, people,” she wrote recently. “But then … I became an introvert. The blinds closed, the porch light flipped off, and I just wanted to be a l o n e.”
Tricia might be an extreme example, but the principle is universal: trials change us.
Some of these changes are for the better. As Romans 5:3-4 says, “Affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.” Who wouldn’t want all that?
And yet, when we look at the trial-altered versions of ourselves and examine all our scars and weak spots, it’s tempting to think we’ll never measure up again, that our best days are behind us, that we’re well past the point of making a difference for the Kingdom.
But even though we feel less useful, in God’s eyes, we are not.
According to Ephesians 2:10, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Those jobs God has assigned to us? They might be different now, but they don’t dry up just because we think we’re washed up. As the 18th-century English evangelist George Whitefield put it, “We are immortal until our work on earth is done.”
In other words, if we’re still here, God has something for us to do.
Here’s the thing. None of us gets an advance copy of our life story. We aren’t even privy to sketchy outlines. But we do know the Author of our stories. More importantly, the Author knows us.
And as He weaves the chapters of our lives together, every chapter—however difficult—lays the groundwork for the chapters to come. If even one were missing, our stories would not make sense.
It’s tough to break the comparison habit, especially when it comes to comparing yourself to yourself. But please—don’t believe the lie.
We weren’t better before. We’re more useful now.