Trapped in an Empire State of Mind


I love New York City. This isn’t the “I bought the $5 “I Love NY” T-Shirt in Time’s Square” type of love either; this is the “I’ve tried to transfer to the Big Apple every semester of my college career” type of love. Yet, God’s divine sense of humor has kept me in the rolling hills of southern Virginia. More “city forever asleep” than “city that never sleeps” I’ve spent the last three years in a town that can’t even count as a suburb because the closest major city is four hours away.

I have a lot of friends in Manhattan, so often, I’ll see a status update about how they’re eating a falafel at midnight while I’m munching a McDouble or how they went for a run and met Joseph Gordon-Levitt; while I’m feeling lucky if I run into Jerry Falwell at Starbucks. Some of my closest friends go to churches like Hillsong NYC or Redeemer with Tim Keller. They have titles with cool names and work in skyscrapers for fashion designers, think tanks and Broadway producers. I’m not naïve and I know them well enough to realize their lives are not all glitz and glamour but nonetheless I see what they have and I want it too.  I get anxious. My stomach gets all agitated and I think to myself “what could have been.” How could my life have been different had I transferred to King’s or NYU? Was attending Liberty really the right choice? I end up following this destructive trail of comparative thinking until I’m mentally and emotionally exhausted.

Those thoughts vex my very soul. The lies that sing softly, “the grass is greener on the other side” steal my joy and rob me of my peace. I get so worked up worrying about what could have been, or becoming destructively enamored with what lies ahead I become oblivious to what Christ is doing now in my midst. I compare myself to others, and my obsessive look at them ultimately wastes my present and compromises my future.

When I allow regretful comparison to become a defining piece of my life, it leads to depression, anxiety, spiritual paralysis and despair. Because, you see, in comparing myself to other people, I’m not believing what God says about me. Truth like, I am His and He is mine! A unique, beloved, talented son created individually by the God of the universe! It’s a trust issue; in the words of a friend, “my life is supposed to be a living sacrifice but I keep walking off the altar!” Comparison takes me from the throne room of His peaceful presence and into an anxious downward spiral of attempted self-sufficiency. If I’m the paper and He’s the pen, by juxtaposing my life with someone else’s, I’m yanking the ballpoint right out of His hands!

In order to get envy out, I’ve got to let more of Him back in. When my heart starts racing and I begin to think about all I wish I had, He reminds me of what He’s already given me. Bringing to mind Psalm 139, that I’m completely and utterly unique. There hasn't ever been a story like mine and there won’t ever be one the same! The highs and lows of my life are as special as fingerprints. I’m realizing it’s time to start concentrating on who God made me to be, instead of, in the words of Steven Furtick, constantly comparing my “behind the scenes” to everyone else’s “highlight reel.” 

If the little green monster within has taught me anything it's that comparison is the thief of joy and the most surefire way to ensure a miserable existence is to measure your own life against those around you. So as I climb back up on the altar for another go around and hand back the pen to its rightful owner, I don’t know if I’ll ever get to cross the Hudson River and call the Empire City my home and for the first time in my entire life… I’m okay with that.