I sat around the table with a group of friends and felt sorry for myself.
They all ate fabulous food like bagel & egg sandwiches and western omelets and deep-fried hash browns. Real breakfast food. Delicious breakfast food.
Me? I peeled two sad little clementines and tried to convince myself that I didn’t care, but I knew it was a lie.
I’ve always envied those who can seem to eat whatever they want and not gain an ounce. I get weary of ordering salads, with dressing on the side, please, while others indulge in steak and mashed potatoes. The thing is, if I want to remain healthy, I can’t eat a lot of the things other people do.
And I heard myself ask the Lord, “Why do they get to eat those things and I don’t?”
And then I heard the Lord ask me, “What is that to you?”
I recognized that phrase, straight from the mouth of Jesus in John 21 after Jesus had just prophesied about the kind of death Peter would experience. Peter immediately looks at John and says to the Lord, “What about Him?”
And Jesus answers with the following: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me,” (John 21:22, emphasis mine). I’m thinking a modern-day translation might have Jesus saying, “Mind your own business!”
I wonder how many times I’ve asked the Lord these kinds of questions. I wonder how many times you have, too. Does any of this sound familiar?
“Why do they get to marry when they are young, and I am in my 40s and still single?”
“Why did their business prosper and mine continues to limp along?”
“Why are their children all walking with Jesus and mine are not?”
“Why do they get to do the important things at church, and I’m stuck serving coffee?”
“Why do they get to enjoy good health while I’m living with this chronic illness?”
“Why is their marriage so fun and life-giving and my spouse and I are always fighting?”
Oh, let’s be honest. We might be too mature to say these things out loud, but we think them. And the reality is, our assessment of someone else’s success may be accurate, or it may be straight up wrong, because we don’t know the backstory. In either case, the answer is the same. It always has been.
“Mind your own business. You must follow me.”
Jesus said these same words to His disciples when they first left their occupations as fishermen and tax collectors (Matthew 4:18-20 and Matthew 9:9). He said the same thing to the rich young ruler who wondered how to attain eternal life (Matthew 19:21). And He said it again in in John 12:26 where He admonishes that anyone who serves Him must follow Him. At first glance, Jesus’ words to “follow me” feel unrelated to the question at hand. What does following Jesus have to do with looking at the life of another and feeling some level of comparison and, therefore, envy?
Matthew 16:24 offers this perspective on what it really means to follow Jesus: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” According to Strong’s Concordance, this idea of denying yourself means to “lose sight of one’s self and one’s own interests.” Ah, now we are getting to the root of things. It’s a shifting of our focus. This is why Jesus told Peter not to concern himself with whatever happened in the life of his friend, John. Peter was mostly fixated on, well, Peter, but his only requirement was to follow Jesus, and this inherently meant not being so focused on and absorbed with himself. And this is why Jesus also told me not to focus on what my friends were eating, to mind my own business. Like Peter, I am only to follow Him.
The truth is, following Jesus means we share in both the life and the death of Jesus Christ, and that makes us really uncomfortable at times. Or like the rich young ruler, maybe it just makes us sad. Or mad. We don’t like dying very much. We are always clawing our way to the surface, determined to live. Dying to us is just plain hard.
Sometimes we have to die to the script we’ve written for our own lives. Sometimes we have to die to happily-ever-after endings. Sometimes we have to die to timing that is beyond our control. Sometimes we have to die to our understanding of what is fair. No matter where you are called to deny yourself and what you want or wish for, it’s always a death that positions you toward life. And that’s why Jesus can say to us, “Follow me,” because He alone knows how this thing will all turn out. He alone knows that following Him is always the best path.
We need to embrace the fact that sometimes God’s timing is much better than our own because He sees the big picture. Sometimes giving up control leads us to a freedom we couldn’t possibly have found if we had remained in charge of all the details. And sometimes the areas where we feel hurt or disappointed become the places where we chase hardest after God, where we are changed into His image. He asks us to follow Him knowing it will cost us something, and knowing it will gain us everything in the end.
I may spend the rest of my life eating clementines while everyone else eats omelets, and there are plenty of other parts of my 52-year-old life that look nothing at all like I envisioned they would be. But I get to choose, today and every day, to focus on following Jesus and let Him mind everyone else’s business.