Monday, March 14, 2016

Comparison Is

I run intervals once a week at the track near our home. It's interesting running on a track with other people, going around and around the same circle, passing people and being passed. I find myself speeding up when I shouldn't or running longer than I should because--people. They could be watching!

It's hard not to compare myself to the other runners on the track. It's hard not to judge myself in contrast to them--am I faster? slower? have I been running longer? does my form look awful? should I stop wearing the Man's reject t-shirts? can they see my post-twin loose tummy skin flopping around over the waist band of my shorts? My self-consciousness takes over.

Here I am with Bee after a long run.
Note the Man's t-shirt.
Also, Bee really liked my braids.

And then I have to start telling myself truth.

First, comparison is the thief of joy. Good job, Teddy Roosevelt. You got that one right. When I'm spending all my time comparing myself to the other runners, I'm not enjoying the feel of the track beneath my shoes or the way my ponytail swishes against my neck as I run or the fact that four kids and a knee injury later I am still running.

Second, comparisons are odious. I learned this from Madeleine L'Engle, but it was first said by John Lydgate and then by Christopher Marlowe and John Dunne and a whole host of other people. And it's true too. There is nothing good in comparison--it's repulsive.

The pets think I smell.

And then I recognized another truth: at the track, I have no idea how long anyone has been running (or how long they plan to run). I have no idea what kind of training plan they are doing. They could be doing a tempo run while I do intervals. This could be their cool down after a long run. I also have no idea if they are coming off an injury or working through physical therapy or just getting back to exercising after a long hiatus due to who knows what or taking a down week before a big race. There are so many factors I just don't know...and so I am wasting my time comparing myself to them and thinking that I am going to come out of the experience with some kind of valid conclusion.

This is a metaphor. Because life is like this.

This is my running inspiration and also my best blog commenter.
She has run in over 30 countries and here she is hiking in the Himalayas,
which is why her face looks so cold.

We are all on the track together and most of the time we have no clue what the other person is doing or why. We can waste our time comparing ourselves, feeling self-righteous or completely crushed as the case may be, or we can just stop it.

It's sickening, really. Or odious, if you will. So here is my message to myself:

Those are not my kids (so maybe long division can wait for now). That is not my family (so I don't need to schedule that thing on that night). That is not my husband (maybe he doesn't actually have the desire for me to make him breakfast every morning from scratch). That is not my specific set of circumstances. That is not my life. And I am not that woman.

Here I am with my awesome running coach
who makes sure I don't injure myself by running too hard and too fast
and lovingly routes all my long runs so I don't have to.

But I don't want to end there. If we end with "stop comparing yourself to others", we flounder. There is an empty space not being filled. When we take out something bad, we must choose to fill it with something else. So what do we fill it with? Grace.

Here's the thing, last week, on my last two intervals, I saw one of my neighbors and offered her a word of encouragement as she too jogged around the track. And lo and behold, my last two intervals were my fastest--and it wasn't because I just wanted them over with (although that is a distinct possibility). I don't think this is inconsequential.

When we choose to encourage others, to offer them grace, we stop looking at ourselves, we stop comparing, and then there is transformation.

There are others on the track with you. You don't need to know what they're doing. You also don't need to explain that you had surgery in November and that there are four kids waiting for you at home so if you run until you kill yourself, that might be bad. And most of all, you don't need to compare yourself to them. Just offer them grace, a word of encouragement, a high five, or maybe a really painful runner's smile to show that we're all in this together.


  1. I made it in the blog! And I notice you are wearing the hat I tried to give Josh for Christmas/bday. It's OK--because I know he likes the shirts and that IS a good hat. I gave mine to Repent. The longer I stay in South Sudan, the more stuff I give away. It is fun for me, but I was running out of clothes by the time I left. And I'm not sure that I have run in over 30 countries, though I have traveled in more than twice that amount. Because some of the countries were not run-able places and others were vacation times or I didn't have my shoes. But international running is fun. Love the photo of you and KK. And you and Josh and you and the pets.

  2. Good word! Me and the husbs had a similar discussion last night. He commented on how I base decisions on what other people are doing/ suggesting/ etc. I love his ornery honesty. I ALWAYS know what he is thinking :) Love repeat reminders on something God is showing me... Comparison really is the thief of joy.