You, Me, Us
So, this week we bought a second-hand bike. It is a nice bike, not expensive but nice. Taryn and I realized that so much of my time was taken up with walking that it would be better for my studies and our family if I could get from point A to point B a little quicker. I have cut my commute in half if not more. It is amazing.
Yet, at the end of my route into the office there is a short (at most a quarter mile) yet steep hill. Almost the entire route into the office is uphill just a little bit. For the most part, I am able to avoid massive hills until the very end of the journey. The funny thing I didn't remember about biking before I got on a bike was how much effort it takes at times. Cobble stones require a lot more concentration and can be quite exhausting. The most disheartening thing is when you are struggling and someone rides by as if nothing happened. At that moment, it is easy for me to start comparing myself to that person and getting down on myself. Honestly, I don't know how professional cyclists do it as they are struggling to get up a mountain, and they just start seeing competitors going by them.
As I was biking in today, I was thinking about this last chapter of Brooks' Precious Remedies. In the chapter he talks about the ways in which Satan attacks people of different positions in life (the 'great and honorable', 'wise and learned', 'saints'...). The thing that I kept thinking about was these people passing me and how frustrating it was. Honestly, there is a certain amount of just wanting to give up as you see someone fly by as if you are standing still. I was drawn to Brooks comment that one of the ways that Satan attacks believers is by getting them to look at others and compare themselves (for good or ill) to that other person.
It is so easy in life to start comparing ourselves to the people around us. To look around and say, 'Man, look at this or that person, they really have it all together. Their family is perfect. They are mature in their faith. My life is a mess and I am a mess. How can I ever measure up to that?' (Or we can say the exact opposite about someone and feel quite good about ourselves.) When we start to have these thoughts, it is easy to distance ourselves from each other, become embittered with one another, and ultimately to break fellowship with each other. Yet, Brooks reminds us that too often we look at one another and not at the graces that we have each been given. Rather than trying to compare ourselves (either for better or worse) with those around us, we should consider how God has brought specific people into our lives with specific graces. It is so easy to focus on the outward works of others and become discontent either with ourselves or that other person. Yet, when we consider the grace that those around us have been given, and how it touches our lives to build us up and brings us together, it changes everything.
The beauty of this new perspective is that it takes the focus off us and points us to the giver of grace, God. We are able to look at one another and see how we work to build one another up. We no longer look to ourselves and our own power to get through the day but to God who gives us grace. One of those graces we are given is the people around us. Honestly, this is a little like riding a bike. A really fascinating thing about the Tour de France, and in reality all bicycle racing, is that it is a team sport. No one person can win the Tour alone, they need a team around them. As they ascend a mountain they need other members of their team to push them and for drafting. Different members of the team have different responsibilities. Ultimately one person will win the race, but the entire team worked to put that one person on the podium. Paul uses the analogy of the body in 1 Corinthians 12:
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
I love having my bike. It is great to get home faster than before. It can be disheartening when I compare myself to others on it. However, I know that with continued hard work, I will get faster and be able to climb the last hill in without much problem. If I just keep doing what is in front of me, sooner or later it won't be as difficult as it is right now. The analogy holds, as we compare ourselves to others, we will either only find ourselves and/or others lacking. When we look at the grace bestowed on other people, we can celebrate how the Lord uses them in our lives, and with that, we will see our own growth in grace.