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The Trouble with Comparison

We live in a world of comparisons, full of brands encouraging you to compare their product with another brand’s because they want you to believe it’s just as good if not better. That’s all fine and good, that’s how the free market is supposed to work. The problem is when we start doing that with people.

I don’t know about a lot of you, but I often compare myself to others ─ especially and particularly when it comes to writing. I look at other writers and see that this person writes awesome books and composes music and draws really well and has a close circle of famous artist friends and doesthis and has this . . . Or I read newsletters where they’re listing all the amazing books and music and movies that they’ve read and listened to and watched, and I get so caught up in what these other people are doing and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it, feeling like I should be doing these things and consuming this media, too, because they are what and where I want to be. Then I get so down because I just can’t do all of it, and I wind up feeling shallow, uncultured, and ignorant.

The thing is, drawing has never been a passion of mine, and while I love music, I don’t actually listen to a lot of it, let alone have any real interest in writing it; and all these book, music, and movie recommendations, while perfectly wholesome and enriching, I’m sure, would likely never have caught my eye.

But because the people that I admire have passion of these things, I feel like I have to do and read and listen to and watch them too in order to be successful in the same arena called ‘being an artist’.

The thing is, that’s just not true. These people are not me. They are farther along the road than me ─ we are not in the same place in our careers, nor are we the same in our interests. And the truth is, I may never be where they are, because I am not them. God made us each and every one unique, so we all like different things, are good at different things, work in different ways and at different paces, and just because we don’t function like this person or that person doesn’t mean we’re not ‘good enough’ or a real [insert here].

Throughout this past week God has shown me much in this regard. This past Sunday the church celebrated the sanctity of life, and our pastor spoke on Psalm 139:14 (“I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows full well.”) His focus was on the ‘fearfully and wonderfully’ made part, how we are each an individual, handcrafted piece of art that is beautiful and significant. That we are fearfully made means we should regard both ourselves and others with reverence and respect (because believe it or not, folks, you’re more special than any painting or sculpture that came out of the renaissance). That we are wonderfully made means we should recognize that both ourselves and others were created with excellence and are wonder inspiring ─ just dip your toe into the complexity of the human body and you’ll see what I mean. And we are so much more than the body, for we are the only created thing that was made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27).

Even so, we are no standard of perfection because we live in a broken, sinful world, and so comparing ourselves to each other and seeking our value in relation to how we measure up to other humans is irreverent and disrespectful to ourselves, each other, and God.

The only person we should be trying to emulate is Christ, for we am his workmanship. He knows us like no other, and loves us so much that he shed his blood in order to redeem us from our sins before we ever were.

In Christ I have value and meaning and purpose. He made it so.

Another source of encouragement I had actually came from a video that Brandon Sanderson  uploaded of the first lecture of a writing class he’s teaching at a college. I watched the whole thing, and I tell you truly I would take that class. One of the biggest frustrations I’ve had in creative writing is listening to other people tell all the rules of how to do it right. All of the ‘have to’s. What this guy was saying is that there are as many different ways to write as there are writers. The process is going to be different for everyone, and what works for this person doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you in the same way.

To hear a professional, globally renown author of mind boggling science fiction and fantasy say that it’s okay to no follow someone’s advice, even though they’ve had huge success, and that I can still write good books was pretty awesome. The main goal is not how to write, it’s that you write, and that ninety percent of learning how to write is actually just writing and figuring out what works best for you.

Imagine that, a craft as unique as you are. It makes sense, really. Stories are one of the oldest forms of art ─ I’m talking about as old as creation, folks. The beginning. They are the backbone of history and culture worldwide. They are how we learn, how we communicate with each other, so it stands to reason, then, that stories are a deeply personal thing, and how we tell them is as unique as we are.

In 1Chronicles, David is beseeching Solomon to serve God will a loyal heart and willing mind, to do what God had chosen him to do: build the temple. David told Solomon to be strong, and do it. In the New Testament we’re told to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33), and to do whatever it is that we do heartily ─ which brings to mind ideas of diligence and enthusiasm ─ as for the Lord and not to men (Colossians 3:23). God made us for a purpose, and we should seek him in and through and above all else, to be strong and courageous to do what we’ve been given to do, and to do it wholeheartedly for the glory of God.

 If I do this, and keep my focus on it, then I won’t be weighed down trying to copy other writers, because my feet weren’t made to fit their shoes. I’ll never be able to write like Brandon Sanderson or Tolkein, but guess what? They could never write like me, either! They can’t write my stories; God gave them to me to write, because only I can write them the way they’re supposed to be written.

So, the moral of the story is, I’m not a robot. We aren’t mass produced like toothpaste and cereal, so we aren’t exactly the same. It’s okay to like making jam more than drawing, or that most of the music I listen to doesn’t have lyrics, or that I don’t particularly enjoy poetry. God gave me passions in other things, and if I pursue them for his glory, then that really can’t compare to anything.

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