The Wrong Competition

It’s the time of year where our competitive spirits come out. You would think I’m talking about football, where we wish the worse for one another teams because it often means the best for our own. But football, and sports in general, can be a great kind of competition. Men, covered from head to toe in battle gear, lining up to compete muscle to muscle, brain to brain, play by play. Those men are often competing with all of their hearts while on the turf, but as soon as they come off the field, and the pads and helmets are removed, they are friends. They speak highly of one another and respect one another’s skills and performance.

The wrong competition, the one I want to talk about in this article, is the competition that has no boundaries. Competition works in sports because there is a clear battlefield. Men and women know as they compete athletically, that it is all about what happens on the field (or court, or diamond, etc.). They work hard to defeat one another. They exhaust themselves in effort. But then they are done. Even in fighting competitions, after they have literally beat one another black and blue, they will walk away from the arena laughing, joking, and enjoying one another’s friendship.

The wrong competition has no boundaries. It has no clear battlefield. There is no purpose to it and it has no clear beginning and end. For instance, when fans of teams bicker about their teams, there is no boundary for this. The players on two opposing teams might understand the boundaries of their competition but the fans of those teams often do not. They will despise each other, get offended, and often quit talking during the season of competition. These fans become enemies of opposing fans.

Often this undefined competition happens with young mothers. They will speak to one another about their children and all of the sudden, the conversation becomes a battle of “one-ups.” One mother is tired. The next mother is more tired. One got only 5 hours of sleep. The other got four, and had to get up twice. One’s kids got a good grade and the other’s got a better grade. This undefined competition becomes the grounds for a ruined relationship.

This is also the spirit of “keeping up with the Joneses” style of living. While no one expects the newly wed couple to own a $300,000 5-bedroom home, they will do so to keep up with others with whom they have a competition. They will want to drive a better car, have a better job, have a nicer yard, and have better behaved kids. This undefined competition leads to financial disaster, often a failed marriage, and ultimately a ruined life.

The Bible is clear that we Christians can escape for such an unnecessary pattern of life:

4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5 For each will have to bear his own load (Galatians 6.4-5).

We are not to compare ourselves to our neighbors. We are to compare ourselves with ourselves. We test our own work by our own abilities. Did we do our best? Then we succeeded. Did we do less than our best? Then we failed. Life is not a competition with others. Life is a competition with ourselves. If we all work on growing ourselves, then we will win every time!