Never Compare Your Valley To Someone Else’s Mountaintop

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“Oh my god! Did that just go in?! I think that went in!”

I was fifteen years old and I had just hit the golf shot of a lifetime.

Set deep in the trees with over a hundred yards to go and just a six foot window to put the ball through, I was in what us hackers affectionately call a “swing and pray” situation, as in swing hard and pray the ball misses all of the trees directly in front of you. Normally I’d simply utilize my trusty foot wedge and conveniently relocate the ball somewhere less deadly, but just as I located my ball a family walking down an adjacent road spotted me in the forestry and stopped to watch the show.

I spent the next few minutes nervously trying to figure out my shot while pretending not to hear the muffled voices of my own personal shame gallery standing directly behind me.

Flustered, I prayed a short and desperate prayer, nervously stepped up to the ball and swung.

The shot was perfect. It threaded the six foot window, cleared the rough, making its way onto the fairway, where it bounced a few times before rolling up onto the green and towards the pin in the back left location where it eventually slowed to a trickle and fell into the cup!

The family ERUPTED with cheers and congratulations. Truthfully, I was just as shocked as they were! Did that really just happen?!

What I really wanted to do in that moment was strip naked and do a victory role in the bunker, but for reasons I can only blame on television, I instead very cooly sheathed my club and tipped my hat like it was just another day at the office. Nothing to see here. Business as usual. Like a BOSS.

Then I threw my clubs over my shoulder and walked towards the green never to see them again.

Every now and then I like to imagine that family and the conversations that must have ensued as they continued on their walk. Sometimes I like to picture them years later sitting around the campfire with their grandkids who unable to contain their excitement plead, “Grandpapa, tell us the one about HIM!

“Ohhh,” he would say as he took the weathered pipe out of his mouth and leaned in, “you mean the boy in the absurdly large Wu Tang t-shirt with the mysterious brand of clubs? Some say he never missed a shot outside a hundred yards.”

I imagine for years they gathered in front of the tv every night to watch Sportscenter, searching for the face of the young golfing prodigy who would no doubt be the next great golfer of our time.

Of course the truth is I have no earthly idea what happened to that family. Perhaps they kept on walking and after that day never again thought about me or that shot ever again. Perhaps they were a family of cloggers who thought rudimentary games like golf to be a complete waste of time.

Or maybe, just maybe they’re a lot more like you and me.

Maybe somewhere along the way they thought about picking up golf but felt at this point they were too far behind to begin. Maybe they even gave golf a try for a while but grew frustrated when each shot fell so painfully short of the perfection they witnessed that day.

Regardless of what did or didn’t happen after that day, here’s what that family doesn’t know:

One, the reason they’d never heard of the brand name on my clubs is it doesn’t exist. A friend of my dad’s made them in his garage and each weighed approximately fourteen pounds, if I remember correctly.

And two, I have never hit a shot like that previously and almost 20 years later, I have yet to hit a shot like that again. It truly was the best shot of my life and they just so happened to be there on just the right day, on just the right hole, for just the right shot to witness it. The odds of things playing out the way they did are so small its almost laughable.

But things have changed since my miracle shot almost two decades ago. One no longer needs to be physically present to witness the shining moments of others. We now are able to share them digitally with the world, and share them we do.

Everyday we face an endless barrage of people’s best moments. We see them on Twitter and Facebook. We see them in the carefully curated moments of Instagram. We see them on awards shows and bestseller lists. They are everywhere and they are relentless, each one reminding us of all of the ways in which we don’t add up.

And when we are in a dark place (something I know a thing or two about), it can be hard to bare.

What we sometimes fail to recognize is that much of what we see online is the carefully cropped and edited version of life that people choose to share publicly. Few go out of their way to share their worst moments with the world, but most of us will inconvenience ourselves momentarily to share our best. When we miss this, it can feel at times as though everyone is doing so much better at this “life” thing than we are.

But allow me to let you in on a little secret: even supermodels take really bad pictures, even best selling authors struggle with insecurity, and even pastors think bad thoughts about slow drivers.

We all have bad moments. LOTS of them. And every now and then we have a great moment and we love to broadcast them to the world precisely because at times they feel so few and far between.

So when you find yourself in that place where you’re tempted to beat yourself up because everyone else seems to be so much further along than you are, try to remember a couple things:

1. Most of us aren’t doing quite as well as our social media feed would lead you to believe. 

We are all tempted to present ourselves as doing better than we sometimes are. But the truth is we all have our days when life is downright hard. And sometimes those days extend into weeks, months, even entire seasons. If the bible is any indication, this is an unavoidable part of being imperfect people living in a fallen and broken world. There are going to be times in which life is exceptionally hard. And any blog, Facebook page, or Twitter feed that suggests otherwise isn’t telling the whole story.

2. It is in the low moments that you are going to be most tempted to play the comparison game.

When you’re tired, when you’re stressed, when you’re down, when you’re just coming off another moment of frustration or failure, when you are most in tune with your own shortcomings is often when you are going to be most susceptible to comparing yourself with others. Don’t take the bait. Comparing your low moment to someone else’s high moment is like comparing apples to orange Volkswagens. They are not the same and treating them as if they are will always (ALWAYS) leave you discouraged. Stop yourself the moment you feel yourself going there. Simply refuse to play that game. And lastly, remember:

3. Standing atop the mountain and walking through the valley are two parts of the same journey.

Have you ever wondered why the Apostle Paul spent so much time writing to encourage believers who were struggling to live out their faith well? Or why Jesus went out of his way on multiple occasions to warn of the inevitable hardships that await all who would choose to follow after him? The truth is struggle has always been a necessary and important part of the journey. I’ve found that keeping this truth in mind is strangely freeing. It helps curb my tendency to shame myself in the hard moments, while at the same time enabling me to joyfully celebrate the beautiful moments for what they are: rare and wonderful.

I think sometimes we all need to be reminded that just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.

So with that, I’ll let the Apostle Paul take us out:

“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.” – Galatians 6:4-5 (MSG)

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