My elementary school teachers often hummed about the classroom during a test, reminding us to keep our eyes on our own work. This reminder was for the purpose of re-directing any misguided temptation to cheat by looking to another’s work and stealing their answers. Aside from the obvious moral issues of cheating and stealing – what would happen if our teacher gave each of us a different exam? Stealing answers from our neighbor became an instant fool’s journey.
If this scenario is obvious, why do we try to cheat in our own lives? We are constantly looking over and comparing our lives and stories to those around us to verify that we are “on the right track” or meeting proper milestones at the appropriate time.
If you’re anything like me you’ve been lucky to have one or maybe a number of people who have had a significant impact on your life. As a high school student I wrestled with the idea of going into ministry as a woman, and so I shadowed women in ministry all around my city over the course of two weeks my junior year – these were women who held a variety of positions and all had a very unique, individual journey. For a few, they ended up exactly where they always thought that they would be, but for the majority this was not the case, they had other pursuits and plans. I desperately wanted to be just like each of them in my future — teaching, leading, and disciplining others. I held tightly to their stories as though I possessed the secret to success, the golden tickets.
One of these mentors challenged me to be sure to live my own story, to learn from other yes, but don’t try to copy or re-create someone else’s story. “You’ll fail every time,” she said. “We’ve all been uniquely gifted and created, God has a story for you and you only.”
These words of wisdom have stuck with me a decade later. In an effort to desperately make sense of the ambiguity of the future and to be prepared (I like to be in control and prepared…anyone else?), at times I’ve found myself trying to copycat others stories as I journey through my own. Our stories do not work that way; however, and instead of fighting it, I am thankful to be celebrating contentedness in this place where God has me right now for today. Not trying to rush ahead to the next milestone or looking over at my neighbor’s career path and comparing it to my own.
Don’t get me wrong, we should be evaluating our life and purpose, asking the Lord what he would have next and being obedient, but that’s it – we are accountable to God alone. Obey and do the next thing. A decade later, I am indeed teaching, leading, and disciplining, but certainly not how I pictured it years ago as a little 17 year old.
We have got to stop using our friends’ timeline for engagement, marriage, promotion, babies, graduate school, careers, moving cities, and buying a home as a measuring stick for your own story.
We have each been given our own unique story – stop comparing and keep your eyes on your own work…the tests are different.