I have been caught in the comparison game lately. You know the one. You start to look at what she has and what he’s doing and start to take up your brain space with questions like, “Well how can they afford that?” “Why do they get to do that?” “How did he end up with her?” “Why do they have ____ and I’m over here with _____?” You start to wonder why this other person is more deserving than you – why they get to have the new thing and you’re stuck with some older thing or no things at all. I find myself tangled in it the most when I see engagement pictures, wedding pictures, new house pictures from people younger than me. Gosh, aren’t they still 12? Do they let 12 year olds purchase whole houses these days? And, more importantly, don’t they have to do their time here in this waiting room? Don’t they need to cry a few tears first as they listen to someone else’s name called ahead of theirs? Or sit long enough to feel the backs of their legs start to stick to the chair?
I was listening to a sermon from Judah Smith not long ago and he posed this question: "Do you ever read the Bible to help yourself feel better?" You hold your Bible up and stick your finger randomly somewhere in the middle and open it up. Give me something, God! I need a fresh word here if I’m going to make it! I know you say you’re listening and you say you’re here, so just give me a sign. Speak to me! I was at Bible study with my sweet group of women and one of them said the exact same thing – they don’t know where to start when it comes to reading the Bible so they just throw a finger in the middle and open it up. Whatever you have for me, God!
I did that one time. Learned my lesson real quick.
Last year, one of my best friends got engaged. I knew it was going to happen – this was not my first rodeo as co-conspirator on a proposal. Her boyfriend told me when and where and how this would all go down as he asked her to be his forever, so my heart knew it was coming that day. I waited for the picture to show up on my phone – the one where they’re hugging each other and she’s showing off her ring. I knew it would be perfect, just as she deserved. When it finally came later that evening, I’M ENGAGED!, it was everything I knew it would be: smiling faces, celebration, surprise, peace. There is a sense of peace that must come with engagement, when it’s the right person. Just this sense that the search and the waiting is over. No more games or guessing or set-ups. What a sweet deal that must be.
I stared at the photo on my phone and texted back something like, “YAY!” with probably 48 emojis following it: flame, kissy lips, heart-eyed smiley face, wedding ring, bride. I watched as other elated responses came in on the group message.
And then I burst into tears.
I laid on the couch and covered my face with a blanket, silently letting the tears fall while staring at that photo. It wasn’t the photo making me sad. I was thrilled for my friend. Over the moon. I was so happy that it was her turn. But it just made me wonder, once again, when it was my turn. It's easy to leap to that question when someone else gets a thing you've always wanted - a baby, a dog, a scholarship, a car, a trip, whatever the case may be. And in those moments, the waiting room felt suddenly suffocating. The smell of the disinfected floors was stinging my nose and my ears were tired of perking up only to hear 'Lindsey' or 'Lisa' or 'Linda' called instead.
As I studied the photo, this feeling kind of settled into my bones. It was a deep-seated, heart-wrenching, sort of soul-twisting, sinking feeling (doesn’t it sound great?) where I just thought, “You will never have this. You will never feel this way.” Those are the words that honestly came to my heart in those moments, staring bliss in the face. “You will never feel this way – this intense love and belonging and sense of being chosen. You will never be enough for someone to stay.” Being single and casually dating in our current culture is mentally chaotic and I had never known any remote sense of calm in a relationship before. I never felt completely at ease – never knew his true intentions or thoughts or feelings. Oh, I heard what he said, but I never listened to his actions and they will always tell you who they are even if they aren’t saying it out loud.
Anyway, for a few years I had been asking (in the begging, pleading, crying, wiping the snot from my face kind of way) “God, what do you have for me?” I wrote one time about how I was always waiting for my Joseph-gets-out-of-jail moment. If you’re not familiar, there’s a story in the Bible about Joseph. Maybe your only reference is the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – it’s that guy. He was sold into slavery by his own brothers, thrown in jail for YEARS, then one day he got out and became second in command IN THE WORLD. Talk about redemption. So I always felt like surely God had a version of that coming for me – surely I suffered enough, waited enough, prayed enough, served enough. Surely he saw me down here slugging it out at a job I didn’t love (what about my passions, God?), going on blind dates that never turned into second dates, hitting up my ten year high school reunion where the only card I had to play was “Secretary in a basement in the same place I went to college, which is in the same town I went to high school. No, I don’t have a spouse or a kids, you know what, I’ve done nothing since high school, okay byeeeee.” But, what do you know, that’s the only card I had and while I loved my high school reunion (for real, so fun!) I left feeling defeated. I needed an attitude adjustment. With everyone seemingly moving forward without me, I was pretty convinced the dealer had this one rigged and I desperately wanted a new hand.
The night my girl got engaged I threw a spectacular pity party for myself. I was stomping around in a puddle of sadness while also frantically looking for a way out. So when I threw my sorry self in bed that night, I opened the Bible to try and make myself feel better. Say something, God. I’m losing it down here. Hit me with sweet comfort like, “He’s near to the brokenhearted,” “For I know the plans I have for you,” “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow." Okay, I don’t even think that last one is a verse, but I fully expected something comforting and cuddly - something you see cut out in script-font vinyl and stuck to the family room wall. I wanted a “Top ten verses when you’re feeling sad” list when I opened my Bible that night. So I stuck my thumb in a random spot and I opened those thin pages, landing on John 21, and above verse 18 the heading reads, “Our Times Are in His Hand” and my head was like, Yeah, they are, God. Preach, man. You’ve got my times so just tell me the times are going to get better!
Well, let me tell you what. God spoke that night. He just didn’t tell me exactly what I wanted to hear.
John 18: 21-22: So Peter seeing him [John] said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!”
The exchange that happened there was Peter comparing his fate to that of John and Jesus basically said, “What’s it to you, man?” And as I sat there reading that night, and because I think God sometimes speaks to me in my love language of sarcasm, I heard the words as, “Hey Lyndi, if I want literally every single person you know on this whole green earth to get engaged and married before you, have kids before you, build three houses and own a yacht, and then live a life of unending joy and ease, what is that to you? You follow Me.”
I don’t know about you but when my siblings and I were younger and we wanted to do something or go somewhere with friends but my parents said no, my mom’s answer to our protest was always, “I don’t care what they’re doing. They’re not my kid.” This is the kind of moment I imagine God was having with me. He had pulled me aside and said, “It doesn’t matter what she got, what I give him, what I do over here. This is what I’m doing with you. You know what I asked. Follow me.”
One thing we know for sure is that God always promises to tell us the truth – about himself, about who we are, about our lives here. Instead of comfort, he gave me truth and I finally had the answer to my unending question, “God, what do you have for me?” In the weeks that followed he was steady to repeat, “This! This is what I have for you. Be here now. Follow me in this.” Stop waiting and wishing and daydreaming your way out of wherever you are. Stop comparing. Stop competing. Stop thinking there’s something else, something better. Look around the waiting room. There are other people here. Meet them. Talk to them. Bond over the crossword puzzle in the back of the waiting room magazines. Share the snacks in your purse. Love them well. “I’m giving you chances every single day to just be here. Can you do that?”
Sure, I can do that.
When I'm caught up in comparing, it's hard to see where God is leading me because I'm too busy trying to see if I can follow someone else. Assess your own life right now. Do you have everything you need to follow God today? If the answer isn't yes, I love you, but you're wrong. I was listening to Bob Goff speak recently and he was saying that sometimes we need to break it down and just see if we can follow God for the next 30 seconds. And if you get through that 30 seconds, add another 30 seconds to it. And another. Following God isn’t so much more than one foot in front of the other, ever forward toward him. Eugene Peterson calls it “a long obedience in the same direction.”
Lately I've had to go back to that lesson I learned last year. I've had to check my heart a lot recently and, if I'm honest, I’ll probably need the reminder about seventeen times a day until I return to dust. We have to remember it doesn’t matter what other people are getting or doing or having. You can celebrate with them, but their road is not yours. The people and things in your life are specifically fashioned for you. We might never know why someone gets one thing and we get another and maybe it’s not fair - in fact, most times it probably won't be fair. But be careful when you read the Bible simply to help yourself feel better about it. He won’t always tell you what you want to hear, but he does promise to tell the truth, and that's what you really need anyway.
The waiting room has been a lot less stuffy lately. I got my nose out of my phone and met a few of my neighbors. I asked to change the radio station and started humming along. And I don't know if you read my last post or not, but I think I (finally!) heard my name called.