The Comparison Trap by Jon Tyson

Have you fallen into the comparison trap? Are you burdened by someone else’s call or expectations rather than God’s? What whispers in your soul have you been silencing out of fear or shame or pressure or expectation? What would happen if you amplified rather than silenced that call and embraced it with reckless abandon? Thomas Merton reminds us, “Each one of us has some kind of vocation. We are all called by God to share in His life and in His Kingdom. Each one of us is called to a special place in the Kingdom. If we find that place we will be happy. If we do not find it, we can never be completely happy. For each one of us, there is only one thing necessary: to fulfill our own destiny, according to God’s will, to be what God wants us to be.”

Running Your Race

I quit running when I was a wounded child, but in my early thirties I took it up again. I was looking for a way to stay healthy, and my best friend talked me into running the Chicago Marathon to raise money for a charity that works with children. I was nervous at first. Running 26.2 miles seemed about as possible as swimming the Atlantic, but everyone has to start somewhere. So I bought some running shoes and began. When I first began training, it was humbling to realize how out of shape I had become. I couldn’t finish a single mile without stopping. Yet I would faithfully get up early to run laps around Central Park. The park is the lung of Manhattan; it lets the ambitious and driven residents breathe in a few moments of freedom from the pressures of urban life. And if you get there early enough, the park is almost deserted and you feel like the whole place is yours.

I started running the lower loop, trotting along at an embarrassing pace. At first I would feel content and happy with the morning solace. But people, one after another, passed me. My soul flinched a little as people sped by while I was giving it all I had yet making so little progress. My innate desire to summon my body to faster speeds had been tempered by the passage of time, but I recognized in my soul the root of something that I didn’t like. One time, when a woman who appeared to be in her sixties overtook me, I tried to increase my pace—but I couldn’t keep up. The tank was empty. Discouraged, I slowed to a walk, breathing heavily, outdone by a senior citizen. I contemplated abandoning my plan to compete in the marathon. But as I was walking, I was seized by a new thought. I had no one to compare myself to. I was undertaking this race to do good for children, not to compete against forty-seven thousand other runners. I knew then that I had to run my race and that unhealthy comparison could lead to serious injury, burning out, and possibly even death. A sense of freedom washed over me. It was as if a heavy burden I had been carrying since childhood fell onto the loop around Sixty-Fourth Street and Central Park West. This revelation changed my training. I began comparing myself against my own goals and pace, and I was making real progress. Months went by, and though sixty-year-olds still left me in the dust, I simply smiled and marveled at their discipline.

One humid Chicago morning, I lined up with thousands of other registrants, eager to test my training against the course. I ran with a friend, Stieney, who had spent many late nights doing laps with me and was committed to helping me finish. The gun went off, and rather than sprinting, I jogged along in a delirious shuffle. The temperature was ninety-nine degrees the year I ran the marathon, and at mile seventeen I hit the wall with tremendous force. But with determination and grace, I kept going. Any thoughts of comparison were pushed from my mind by the sweltering heat; I just had to finish my race. The next few miles were excruciating, and every step felt like the last I would take. At mile twenty-five, the roar of the crowd kicked in. A man leaned toward the road, glanced at my name tag, and then looked me in the eye and said, “Go get your medal, Jon—you’ve earned it.” A lifetime of emotions rose in my heart, and I began to weep. It would be a medal not for winning but for running my own race. A medal not for finishing first but for finishing the race I was called to run. And when I crossed the line and the finisher’s medal was placed around my neck, I laughed so hard that it hurt, for even though I was exhausted, I had left comparison in the dust, and I found that the burden of my race was remarkably light.

Excerpted from The Burden is Light: Liberating Your Life from the Tyranny of Performance and Success by Jon Tyson. Copyright © 2018 by Jon Tyson. Published by Multnomah, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.