I am constantly surprised when, throughout my adult life, the lessons taught during my high school years provide deep insights and practical solutions to problems.
It’s interesting how the keys to mitigating complex struggles often lie in a return to simplicity. As I reflected on a particularly messy struggle I had been through with dear friends, the words of every educator through the ages rang in my ears like an elementary school choir, half singing and half shouting their warning. “Keep your eyes on your own work.
It is easy to dismiss this simple instruction as having no application beyond academic exercises. After all, isn’t the main reason to keep an eye on your own work to avoid cheating?
And after enduring the experience of a teacher literally pulling a spelling test from under my pencil because she caught me sneaking a peek at my neighbor’s journal to ensure the quality of my work, I can confirm that cheating prevention is a key concern. But may I suggest that’s not the only concern?
As a student, I was a physical education teacher in a small private school. One of my responsibilities was to supervise the students during the tests. I found myself regularly repeating the aforementioned refrain: “Keep your eyes on your own work.
While my initial concern was cheating, a different issue arose when I observed the class at work. Often, students whose eyes wandered were not copying their neighbor’s work. On the contrary, they did not work at all. They were so busy concentrating on what everyone in the class was doing that they completely neglected their own work.
The temptation is strong to compare and contrast our life experiences and expectations with those of others around us. We see the reflection of success and blessing in the lives of those around us, while feeling the difficulty and exhaustion of our own struggles and begin to ask ourselves, “Why me? and “And them?”
This has only been made worse by the advent and proliferation of social media, but looking back on life before, the temptation has always been there. In fact, there is an excellent example in the Gospel of John in a conversation between Jesus and Peter.
Before ascending to heaven, Jesus gave Peter a difficult task. John 21:18-19 reads: “Jesus said, ‘Truly I say to you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you pleased; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then (Jesus) said to him: “Follow me”. Peter picked up what Jesus was laying down and it was understandable that he was not enthusiastic about the mission.
We read his answer in verse 20-21. It reads: “Peter turned around and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them… When Peter saw him, he asked: ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus’ answer? “You must follow me.” Perhaps we could rephrase Jesus’ words as follows: “Keep your eyes on your own work.
We make a mistake when we focus on the experiences and outcomes in other people’s lives. We only see a small fragment of the reality of their experience. Our understanding of the struggles and successes of their lives is extremely limited.
But beyond all that, focusing on the lives of others does not help us to live our own more faithfully. Instead, our “what about them” mindset serves to distract us from what we can and should do in our own lives and leads to discouragement, bitterness, and frustration. that does nothing to improve our own situations or the world around us.
The truth is, life is tough for all of us. We all have our proverbial crosses to bear. It may seem unfair, but it shouldn’t be our primary concern. Our focus should be on faithfulness to the life God has given us. Just like when we were in school, sometimes it’s best for us to keep our eyes on our own work.
Reverend Jeremy Myers is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at jeremysmyers.com. Send feedback to [email protected]