It may come as a surprise to some of you that I used to run track in high school. Less of a surprise may be that I wasn't all that good at it.
Our school had just started a track and field program when I was a sophomore. Some of my friends and I decided we'd give it a try. It was harder than expected but I also discovered that while I may not be all that great at competing, I do love to run and even all these years later still enjoy jogging several days a week.
But the competing part got me. And by got me, I mean that I threw up before every single track meet my first year. And by every I mean..... e.v.e.r.y. Running behind all the buses parked in the gravel lots. Hiding behind the bleachers hoping no one saw. Praying to find a bathroom before it came up wherever I was at the moment. It just became part of the routine.
While I had to battle my nerves, I still gradually began getting better and better. I dropped 33 lbs. Began shaving seconds, then minutes off my time. There was one particular meet that first year that I finished next to last. Yet I was excited because I had beat my best time and because, well, I didn't finish last. I remember talking to my grandpa later that week and him asking me about the meet. I told him where I had placed and even all these years later (19 to be exact), I still remember his response: "Well that's not very good is it?!".
I had been proud of beating my time but then suddenly all I saw was the 11 people that finished before me.
I don't think he meant to hurt my feelings. Yet I also can't deny that there I was, a 15 year old girl crying over not being good enough.
I had gone from focusing on my race to focusing on someone else's.
And the truth is, while this is a literal example, it also happens every single day in our lives in a host of other ways.
I'm trying to live my life, but somehow my eyes keep wandering to everyone else's. And then the thoughts come.
I can have a breakthrough with a particular obstinate kiddo but then get on Facebook to see that someone did this incredibly elaborate thing with their kid and all of a sudden our breakthrough seems mediocre, at best.
I can get a great deal on a new pair of boots and then see that someone spent hundreds of dollars on a purse and begin feeling stupid for getting boots for 20 bucks, feeling like someone spending a ton of money on something suddenly discredits our finances or the great deal I got and the excitement I had because of it.
Why? Why do we do this?
It's madness. Yet we do it.
We can throw our kids a birthday party and then somehow feel like we've failed them when we hear someone talking about giving their kid $200 and renting out the theater for 50 of their closest friends (I mean, really, who has that many close friends), and topping it off with an elaborate cake. It doesn't matter that our kid was excited and loved their party. Now it just wasn't good enough.
But we do it on a deeper level too.
We can go to a conference and hear incredible speakers and instead of soaking in their knowledge we suddenly begin thinking things like "I wish I could teach like them. I mean, really, why do I even bother leading our group?"
Or like when you look around you and see people with more kids than you and begin thinking "She does it so well. I'm such a horrible mom. Why can't I be more like her?"
Or you'll begin to look at their cute family and say things like "I wish we could adopt. See how cute their family pictures are". Although, I'm betting, you have no idea all the struggles and battles they've faced and are facing to get where they are.
But suddenly, following Christ in obedience looks differently because you're looking at someone else's race.
"Why does he get to have that job?"
"Why can't I go on that mission's trip?"
"Look at her faithfulness. I wish I could be like her."
"I wish I could be back in the ministry."
"Look at them, always serving the needy. Why can't I have the time and resources to serve like that?"
"Why does he get the good wife?"
But isn't the reality that we always take the good but seldom ever look at the bad those people have had to endure? We somehow think that if we had whatever it is that they have that we'd be better, feel better.
But here's the truth.
We're never going to find contentment or joy when we're trying to run someone else's race.
So someone is on the mission's field and you wish you could do that. Run your race.
So someone has the family you'd love to have. Eyes forward. Run your race.
So someone has more resources than you. Keep on running.
So you feel overwhelmed with life, begging for the careless life of a friend. Keep the faith, one foot in front of the other, running your race.
So you wish you could adopt. Contact DHS, I assure you they'd be more than happy to get you started on the classes. Then run your race like crazy.
So you wish your spouse was different. Pray for them and run the race God has set before you.
Want to serve others more? Schedule it. Make it a priority. And then run your race.
Because friends, looking around only slows you down on your race. One of the things I remember from running track was to keep looking forward, lest you leave your lane and begin zig-zagging, adding unnecessary seconds to your time. But this is exactly what we do. We focus so much on other people that we don't even know which lane we're in anymore. And at the very heart of the issue is our lack of trust.
We don't trust that the race the Father has for us is truly the best race we can run.
We think someone else's race would be better, easier, more fulfilling. But I'm telling you, the older I get, the more I realize that true contentment and peace is only found in running the race the Father has set for you... however hard that may be.
So run like crazy and finish well.
Oh, and I ran a second year of track too and never threw up once. I also earned the Most Improved award that year.
My point? Eyes forward. Stay in your lane. And work on earning the most improved award. You'll be surprised how rewarding your race can be.