It’s a popular meme that’s been floating around for years…
The only thing to be better than is the you of yesterday.
(Or a number of variations with the same sentiment.)
This used to fire me up… Yes! I can do that! It speaks to my life as a golfer (though I don’t play much in these child-rearing, seminary-immersed days). As an individual sport, no human competition is required. I could go out by myself at 6 pm and still have a competitive goal in mind: beat yesterday’s score.
This can just as easily apply to life. Today, I can be better at taking care of myself than I was yesterday. Today, I can be a better husband and father than I was yesterday. Today, I can get more done and be more productive than I was yesterday.
This sounds SO GOOD. And at its essence, there’s nothing wrong with being ‘better’. I believe that we have an irresistible yearning for more and betterment in our DNA. But here’s the thing… As well-intended as this sentiment is, it leads to a life of non-stop competition. WITH OURSELVES!
Friend, I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of this constant slog up the contrived ladder of personal development. Getting ‘better’ might make me more loved and accepted in the eyes of my fellow humans (and in the tired eyes of the one looking back at me in the mirror). It can be great as long as I’m going up up up and winning against myself every day (at least on most days).
But we humans don’t live in an individualistic bubble as much as the ego would like for us to believe. We are designed as relational beings, whether we live in a remote cabin in Montana or an apartment in Chicago (I’ll take both, thanks). We can’t help but peek over to see how we’re doing against… them:)
And, more importantly, what happens if I have a crash? What happens when I’m not going up? What happens when I find myself in a season where every day seems like I did way worse than I did yesterday? This constant self-improving ideal only adds more despair to my misery.
This sentiment might be great for a personal trainer. But as a pastor-in-training, I’m not here to build spiritual bodybuilders. I’m here to bring the Gospel to the weary soul (everyone’s soul).
The Gospel is a leveling force. It’s not only for the spiritual elite. It’s a universal force that applies to all of creation.
This endless performancism is so exhausting. But as I said, it’s built into the human condition. The only thing that can save us from it is something from outside the human condition (yep, I’m talking about God). So here’s the meme that I’d like to replace it with…
Instead of trying to be better than you were yesterday, know that you are loved by God more than you could ever imagine.
I know… This probably won’t go viral. It doesn’t give the individual ego enough power to go out and ‘make a difference’. It doesn’t put us in control of the situation.
But if constant self-improvement is your goal, as I find mine to be so often, let me ask you this… How’s that working for you? This constant individual betterment that you’re chasing — is it softening your heart and unbinding your soul?
I can’t speak for you, but I’m tired of trying to (spiritually) one-up myself (along with everyone else). This might be appropriate for the gym or the golf course. But in the greater context of life, my soul just wants to know that it’s loved — not on the basis of my individual merit (which is almost always lacking) but on the basis of the creator’s love for all of creation since the beginning of time.
And being a human, I need to be reminded of this time and time again.