One thing middle schoolers are great at is trying to be someone else. They want to be like their favorite celebrity or like their big sister or simply more like everyone else around them. They are constantly comparing themselves to their peers and I catch them regulalry scanning the room to see if they’re blending in.
This is frustrating to me because as their small group leader, I like to at least pretend that I am a little more spiritually mature, or at least socially adept than they are. Yet I have no ground to stand on here.
You see, much of my own time is occupied by comparisons. I compare my unruly curls to other girls’ straight locks. I compare my performance at work to my coworkers’ efforts. I compare my house, my possessions, my job, my talents, my passions, and my personality to any and all who are different from me. And to add to that list, I realize that I also compare my faith to those around me, and along with it, my giftings, passions, and service.
I look around and find that others are serving more in the background; that some are entering the mission field or moving across the country in obedience to God’s call. And here I am sitting in rush hour traffic day after day and trying to keep my mind engaged in the midst of piles of paper work and data analysis.
But C.S. Lewis reminds me that I have no business being so wrapped up in the lives of others. In the third of Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, The Horse and His Boy, Lewis unfolds a beautiful story of Aslan’s work in the life of a young boy named Shasta.
“Who are you?” he said, scarcely above a whisper.
“One who has waited long for you to speak,” said the Thing. Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep…Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face. “There,” it said, “that is not the breath of a ghost. Tell me your sorrows.”
Shasta was a little reassured by the breath: so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman. And then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis. And also, how very long it was since he had had anything to eat.
“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.
“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.
“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.
“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and-”
“There was only one: but he was swift of foot.”
“How do you know?”
“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”
“It was I”
“But what for?”
“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”
I don’t know what is driving Shasta’s question – curiosity perhaps, or confusion. But the answer rings true for me as well – I am only meant to know my own story.
And yet when I stop looking around and actually stop and see where God has placed me, the Truth begins to shine through. I use my bumper-to-bumper commute to maintain relationships with friends all across the country. My data analysis is revealing the true story of the incredibly broken world we live in. And my job affords me shocking levels of flexibility to love on high school students and act as a small counter balance to the world they have been raised in where schedules rule their lives.
It is often said that comparison is the thief of joy, and in this season of life, I too often allow that to be the greater truth. But I hope to re-enter the fight and reclaim joy from the clutches of the thief that has held it so tightly. As Christ explained to Peter, so may it be true for me:
If it is my will that [John] should remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.”
– John 21: 22