My wife and I recently ran a half marathon.
I use the word “run” quite liberally.
The idea was to sign up, get her whole family to sign up, and then we would be peer pressured into training and running the race. Well, we signed up, got her whole family to sign up, and then, we somehow all “forgot” to train.
The morning of the race—dew still blanketing the grass, the sun yet to rise—our alarms went off, we woke up, and then we made our way to the buses that would take us to the starting line.
But, as it turned out, the bus couldn’t get to the very top due to narrow roads, and we were dropped off a mile downhill. By the time we got up to the starting line, we were already winded.
As the race progressed I started going slower and slower, striving with everything I had to keep up with the last pacer. But I just couldn’t do it.
I slipped behind the main pack, and as more and more people passed me, I felt like I was failing.
Then I had an odd realization: as I saw people stopping for water or going into a bathroom, I began feeling excitement that I could pass them, if even for a moment, before they ran by me again! I found myself actually wishing people would have to drop out so I could beat them.
It dawned on me what a stupid wish this was.
It was a race, but a race with one finish line that everyone would cross. There were, of course, the few who prepared for the race with a goal to win, but the rest of us were just trying to finish.
How often do we do that in life, though?
We feel bad because others are “er’s”: better, skinnier, prettier, funnier, richer, married-er, family-er, Instagram-er, spiritual-er, the list goes on and on. The problem with this is that what we really mean by saying that others are better than us is that we believe we aren’t skinny, pretty, funny, etc., etc., etc.
Elder Jeffrey R Holland said that our culture has an “obsession with comparing [and] competing” (“The Tongue of Angels,” Ensign, May 2007, 17).
Here’s a test: What is a trash can? Something you can put trash in. A desk? Something you can study at. A plate? Something you can eat on. We classify and describe objects in relation to how well they do the task they were designed to do.
We’re constantly looking at what we are not capable of or were not designed to do and search for others’ talents in our weaknesses. We are relentlessly reminding ourselves of all the things we can’t do. The most insidious and surreptitious expression of this societal disease is toxic comparison.
As Sister Joy D. Jones said, “How many of us struggle, from time to time, with negative thoughts or feelings about ourselves? I do. It’s an easy trap. Satan is the father of all lies, especially when it comes to misrepresentations about our own divine nature and purpose. Thinking small about ourselves does not serve us well. Instead it holds us back…We can stop comparing our worst to someone else’s best. ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’” ("Value beyond Measure," Ensign, November 2017)
And that leads us to, when we see others fail, feeling a tinge of false happiness (pride maybe?) that makes us feel like we are better.
But let’s all get real.
None of that matters. And that way of thinking definitely doesn’t make you better.
Look to others and appreciate, learn, and grow from their examples, but make sure that you stay true to you, because God needs you. He needs the best version of you just like He needs the best version of everyone else. God doesn’t care who is ahead of us or behind us on the path of life; He cares if our toes are pointed in the right direction and if we are on the path where we should be.
So as we each run our personal race of life, whatever our starting point, whatever our rank—we all have the same finish line ahead. As President Monson taught, “From the very beginning to the present time, a fundamental question remains to be answered by each who runs the race of life. Shall I falter or shall I finish? On the answer await the blessings of joy and happiness here in mortality and eternal life in the world to come" ("Finishers Wanted," Ensign, June 1989)
Our family group didn’t do very well (one family member came in dead last place), but the point is that we all ran 13.1 miles and that makes us all “er’s”: finishers.