I hosted my first ever “family meeting” for my adult children (though my youngest who is still at home was, of course, included). We met and, after receiving their good-natured jabs at me for hosting one to begin with, we dived in. My sons are both millennials, 24 and 21 respectively. My daughter is 15 and part of what is being called Generation Z by the mass marketers of the world, to give some context. They sat patiently as I shared the whys behind what I was trying to do, didn’t get too glassy eyed when I tossed out words like “legacy” and “continued family structure.” They even listened politely when I delved into things like leadership and personal growth, though my boys reminded me they had already learned all of that “stuff” in the military. They perked up a bit when I let them know they were in charge of our annual meeting next year, but they didn’t truly engage until the very end.
We had just finished discussing the pros and cons of our first meeting, what worked and what didn’t, what we’d want to do next time, etc. As we were wrapping up, one of my sons leaned forward very intently and asked, “You’ve mentioned pursuing excellence more than once. Honestly, that stresses me out. I look at my friends and they’re already started in their careers and getting on with their lives. I’m a year and a half behind most of my peers (my son was deployed to Washington D.C. in the middle of college), and I feel like I’m being left behind.”
“Why do you equate excellence to comparing yourself with others?” I asked curiously.
“How else are you supposed to know how well you’re doing?” he quipped.
I couldn’t help but notice how his brother and sister were now both leaning forward in their chairs, listening intently, curious to see what I would say. For the first time of the entire event, I had their undivided, rapt attention.
I knew a great teaching opportunity was being handed to me, so I said a silent prayer, took a deep breath, and jumped in.
“Think of a runner,” I began. “They have the lane they’ve been assigned to run in. No one else can run in that lane. It’s theirs alone to start in. In life, you are running on your own unique path. No one can run the path God has marked out for you but you. No one has your exact combination of talents, gifts and energies. They are unique to you.”
“Okay …” he interjected skeptically.
“Hang in there with me. The goal in this life isn’t to beat the guy to your left or your right. It doesn’t matter if someone is ahead of you by what seems a large distance, or behind you by quite a bit. To God, He looks down and the differences are so miniscule. It’s like one ant bragging to the other ant about how quickly its moving when looming above them both is a giant human who can outpace them in ways they can’t even conceive of. Except in this life, Son, we’re the ants and God is the vast universe above. So, it really doesn’t matter what the people around you are doing. What does matter, what always matters, is how you are ‘competing’ with yourself.”
I continued. “As you run out this life’s race in the lane that’s been marked for you, are you giving yourbest effort? Are you inviting God into that process so you can be sure the lane you’re running in is where He wants you to be? We’re not aiming for perfection, Son, or to be someone else’s idea of who we should be. We’re striving to become the best version of ourselves, to step into all that God has called us to be. And it’s through relationship with Him we find the strength and the courage to keep moving long after our muscles grow tired and the obstacles make us want to quit. It’s the motivation that continually propels us forward.”
After a few clarifying questions and the sharing of some personal examples, my son ended with, “Wow, Mom. That’s the first thing you’ve said that actually means something to me. No offense.” My other two nodded in silent agreement.
I just smiled and said, “None taken. What we just experienced together here is the whole point. Meeting adjourned.”
For Further Thought: I think the temptation to compares ourselves to others is HUGE. And while I’d love to say I’ve grown past it, my guess is I’ll struggle with it on one level or another throughout my life. I love Hebrews 12:1-2 which says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…” The implication is clear: use the examples of others for inspiration and challenge (or warning), but the big goal is to focus on Jesus and let Him guide us along in our own unique “race.” He protects us from tearing ourselves down or becoming complacent. The next time you struggle, read this scripture and remember—stay in your lane!