I'm telling you the very truth now: When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you'll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don't want to go." He said this to hint at the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. And then he commanded, "Follow me."
Turning his head, Peter noticed the disciple Jesus loved following right behind. When Peter noticed him, he asked Jesus, "Master, what's going to happen to him?"
Jesus said, "If I want him to live until I come again, what's that to you? You—follow me.” – John 21:18-22 (The Message)
You have to love Peter. He is so very human like us. Immediately following his latest declaration of unwavering devotion and love, he finds himself stuttering in the face of reality once more. The issue that nailed him is one that nails everyone I know, including myself. He very naturally found himself comparing himself to someone else as a means of determining his lot. What about John? How’s he going to die? Is he going to be martyred, too? If not, is that fair? His human tendency to compare himself to others paralyzed him momentarily. He was comparalyzed.
Comparing ourselves to others is not in and of itself a problem. Social comparison is a studied issue. Comparison helps us form our identities as individuals and people groups. Sometimes, however, we may find ourselves comparing ourselves to others in a way to messes with us in ugly ways, especially if we have a sense that our culture values some qualities more than others, or if there is some sort of social competition involved.
Have you ever compared yourself with others in such a way that you were negatively affected?
Perhaps I’m the only one, but I have been comparalyzed along many lines. Comparing myself unfavorablywith others along the lines of physical appearance, relational health, and personal success are just three areas that have paralyzed me in one way or another. Sometimes the paralysis comes because I feel like a total loser, assessing myself as worse off than others. Sometimes the paralysis comes because of arrogance: I assess myself as better in some way than another. Both stall me out in their respective ways.
Of course, I’m not alone in this at all. How many women are merciless toward themselves regarding their physical appearance based on comparison with whatever happens to be the current cultural definition of beauty? How many men feel inadequate because they aren’t where they thought they should be in terms of success?
Theodore Roosevelt famously quipped, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Eventually, Peter came around and saw his martyrdom as a great honor rather than a rip off. Legend has it that when it came time for his execution by crucifixion, he requested to be hung upside down so as not to be equated with Jesus. No more complaints about John by that time. Peter worked out his marching orders, growing through it, even, as we see reflected in his letter to the churches much later in his life:
Friends, when life gets really difficult, don't jump to the conclusion that God isn't on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner. If you're abused because of Christ, count yourself fortunate. It's the Spirit of God and his glory in you that brought you to the notice of others. If they're on you because you broke the law or disturbed the peace, that's a different matter. But if it's because you're a Christian, don't give it a second thought. Be proud of the distinguished status reflected in that name! – 1 Peter 4:12-16 (The Message)
Regardless of who we are or how we are shaped, we can learn from this teaching moment between Jesus and Peter. As Leader Keck noted:
It is in the post-resurrection community’s love for Jesus that he continues to be fully known. To love Jesus is to know Jesus, because, as Jesus’ words to Peter make clear, to love Jesus is to shape one’s life according to Jesus’ life… When Peter three times answers, “Yes, I love you,” he is not simply giving lip service to his love for Jesus, but is in essence pledging his life. Peter is who Jesus calls his followers to be, a disciple who puts no limits on his love, who will, like Jesus, love “to the end”.
When we compare ourselves with others, we fail to appreciate our unique story, our inherent value, and our potential. The context of the biblical story we’re looking at is a beachside breakfast hosted by Jesus. It all began with Jesus giving advice about fishing that led to an enormous haul. Such a catch required everyone’s help to pull it in. Everyone mattered and was needed. When they made it to shore, Jesus had breakfast waiting for them. All of them. Everyone was fed. All of them mattered and each of them needed to eat, which Jesus provided. We know that most of the 12 disciples were martyred, save two. Judas took his own life, and John died of old age on the island of Patmos. We know what happened to some of the followers of Jesus – most we do not. When we stop for a moment and think about, we realize that the overwhelming majority of the people who have helped propagate the Good News are unknown and unsung. Yet they were absolutely critical for bringing in the haul of fish who took that bait of the Gospel and chose to follow Jesus.
It's one thing to compare yourself to others to help distinguish your strengths and distinctive qualities. But beyond that, we’re better off just focusing on how God has uniquely shaped us and called us to our task. Jesus’ response to Peter wassimply, “You – follow me!” You are called. You are gifted. You are amazing. You are necessary. You are needed. You make a difference. So be you. Keep your eyes on what God is doing in and through you.
To help this idea stick, please enjoy this uplifting Ted Talk, and have a lollipop kind of day.
Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken. – Oscar Wilde
But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. – Galatians 6:4 (ESV)