I have to admit, I’ve always been a bit on the competitive side. Actually, “a bit” might be understating it. More like “quite” competitive. Why didn’t I play more sports? Because I was too competitive – and because I wasn’t good at them, which meant I’d never win. But put me in front of any board game (especially involving words or spoons), and the terror will shine in Lydia’s eyes.
Unfortunately, I’ve come to realize that this competition has leaked unknowingly into other areas of life, so that my mind will start competing for just about anything. Is that person being a better friend than me? Is that person building better relationships with kids than me? Is that person better at decorating than me? Is that person more hospitable than me? Does that person know more answers about the Bible than me? Does that teacher have a cuter classroom or better teaching strategies than me?
Am I consciously asking myself these questions? Not at all. However, it doesn’t take much to press the “competing” button deep inside me, and for me to invariably start measuring myself against others to find my self-worth, whether in mere feelings or through actual rationale.
I have written so many times about my struggle against loving the praise of man (here and here, for example), and my battles with competition are merely another example of this. And when you mix a prideful tendency to want to prove yourself the best at anything you do with a love of praise, it makes the perfect place for competition to thrive.
But as I’ve mulled over competition recently (the kind unrelated to games), I’ve come to realize three things about it.
First of all, competition destroys relationships. If I truly love another person, then I won’t be looking to outdo them in an effort to prove how much better than them I am. Instead I will want to celebrate the things they do well. Rather than defensively making some internal excuse about how “they’re just over the top, and really, my __________ was pretty amazing, too!” – I need to learn how to celebrate other people’s gifts, without needing to shove mine onstage as well.
Part of love “rejoicing with the truth” (from 1 Corinthians 13) means genuinely being happy for another’s success, and giving them encouragement for it. Withholding praise means that I don’t actually love them the way I say I do – I’m just being petty about my need to be just as good as them. When we take the time to give the praise, encourage them, and share in their happiness, we are building stronger relationships, not tearing them down. When we stop putting ourselves at the center of relationships and start putting others in the center, our joy will increase tenfold.
Secondly, competition reveals my lack of identity in Christ. If I need to have more “likes” on a post than someone else; if I need to be validated for each cute decoration in my house or outfit I wear to an event; if I need to be praised for my success in any given career I’m in – I have become dependent on other people for my identity. I have made the measure of human approval my meterstick for satisfaction instead of placing my satisfaction in who Christ says I am.
If I am secure in my identity in Christ, I will be satisfied if no one ever gives me praise for my accomplishments. I will decorate and plan lessons and love people and pursue my passions because those are all expressions of who God made me to be, and I delight in the sheer exercise of them – not because I’m hoping someone will notice (and maybe feel disappointed that they aren’t as wonderful as me). If I know that I belong to Christ and that what He says about me matters more than anything else, I can be content with plain walls just as much as I can with coordinated colors and cute quotes. If I have my heart set on Him, then even the failure to match up to others’ accomplishments won’t bring me down, for He is my rock and fortress.
And thirdly, competition will never be satisfied. If we stop worrying about competition in one area, chances are, we’ll start worrying about it in another area. And if we reach one level in our internal hierarchy of success, another level will quickly present itself until we wear ourselves out trying to accomplish more and more.
As a teacher, I feel this keenly because there is no end to growing and pushing yourself to get better and better at your career. On the one hand, it’s a great challenge and definitely doesn’t lead to boredom! On the other hand, the competition it can lend itself to can get wildly out of control. So rather than allow myself to feel discouraged because I’ll never make it, I just have to accept where I’m at and the small steps that I take every year to grow in my craft. This brings so much more joy – knowing where I’ve come from to where I’m at now – than looking ahead to the vast landscape of how much I still have to learn.
Competition can eat away at our souls if we let it. Especially if we scroll through social media too much. This is the perfect place for the world to post their achievements – well, look at my kids – look at my job – look at my house – look at my spirituality. Oh yes. I fall prey to it all the time. For just after I post something that I’m proud of, I’ll scroll down and see something even cuter that someone else posted about, and I immediately feel crestfallen, even though I had just been so happy.
Let’s stop competing, people. Let’s start resting in our identity in Christ and enjoying the good gifts He gave us – not jealously looking at the good gifts He gave other people. May we have genuine joy in our hearts for those we love and their success, and may we learn to curb our own appetite for praise from them.
This is a hard lesson to learn – but God is gracious to even the most stubborn of us.