The Burden is Light: Liberating Your Life From the Tyranny of Performance and Success
: A NYC pastor and global influencer inspires readers to find their most meaningful and purposeful life. Surprising to many, this life is not measured by success, comparison, or accolades. Rather, free and joyful living stems from a God-centered celebration...
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:A NYC pastor and global influencer inspires readers to find their most meaningful and purposeful life. Surprising to many, this life is not measured by success, comparison, or accolades. Rather, free and joyful living stems from a God-centered celebration of our union with Christ and the lives of those around us.
Jon Tyson's exploration of the reverse economy of the kingdom frees his readers from merit-based living...not just in terms of salvation, but daily, earthly value. Life is not meant to be a series of competitions or a survival of the fittest rat race. Yet so many of the messages around us, so many of the voices bombarding our hearts and minds tie up our value and package it with our accolades.
This book gives another way forward. It shows readers how to value their individual lives based on what God says about them, rather than how they measure themselves against the world. This is a must read for each and every person trying to find their voice and purpose in a loud and frenetic world.
Jon Tyson is the Lead Pastor of Trinity Grace Church in New York City. Originally from Australia, Jon moved to the U.S, 12 years ago. He works, lives, and serves in one of the largest cultural and future missionary contexts of the world, the urban center. Trinity Grace has 5 churches in New York City. He lives in Manhattan with his wife, Christy, and their two children. Twitter: @JonTyson
Chapter 1: Comparison / Calling
I have struggled deeply with comparison my whole life, and I can pinpoint the moment its idolatrous shadow was cast over my heart. When I was in elementary school, I enrolled in a local track-and-field club. Much to the surprise of everyone around me, I ended up excelling as an athlete and breaking all kinds of state records. I was a fierce and dominant competitor, and I would come home to my parents with a chestful of blue first-place ribbons. I loved the feeling I got from lining up for a race and overhearing my peers say things like, “I don’t even want to race. I know Jon is going to win.” I would run around that track like a junior Olympian god, head held high, unrivaled. I didn’t struggle with comparison then because, in my mind, I had no equals.
Then one morning a new kid came and watched me race. I can still see him there, standing next to his dad and looking straight into my eyes. I overheard one of my friends say, “What is he doing here? He’s the fastest kid I have ever seen.” At that, a new kind of emotion swept over me, one I could not articulate. It was a defense-based anxiety, and I didn’t like it. I won that race, but something had awoken within me. Comparison. The next week, to my surprise, that “fastest kid ever” joined our club, and the security of my world was invaded. As we walked up to the starting line for the first race of the day, everyone paused to watch. The gun went off, and I began to pump my small arms and legs like mighty pistons. I broke away and for the briefest of moments felt comparison melt away. But then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something speed past me, the fastest kid ever. I spoke to my arms and legs, summoning them to new levels of performance. I gave that race all that I had, but it was not enough. For the first time in my young life, I was second. Embarrassed and ashamed, I went home in tears. Soon after that, I lost interest in athletics. Baffled, my parents tried to talk with me about what had happened. But how could an eight-year-old articulate the feeling of an ancient and primal force taking hold of his still-developing soul?
Peter and Comparison
I am thankful for the honesty of the biblical accounts and the raw and vulnerable picture they paint of Jesus’s disciples. In these records, among the grace and glory, the failure and pain, we find a man who struggled as we do: Peter, the rock of the church. Saint Peter, the apostle of comparison. From these early accounts it is apparent that Peter was concerned with his position among the Twelve. He was among the group of disciples clamoring to be the greatest. At the Passover table he was determined not to fall away like the rest and was passionate to prove that his commitment was tried and true compared with some other disciples’. But comparison is fickle. Despite Peter’s intimacy with and proximity to Jesus, his resolve melted away by the fireside when confronted by a teenage girl. Just like that, it was over. Peter denied Jesus and called down curses on himself. And there we read one of the most cutting verses in the Scriptures: “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.” 
Heartbroken and racked with guilt, Peter returned to fishing. He took up his net, and as if Jesus had never called him at all, Peter went back to the lake. He must have had lots to think about, sitting in the boat. Strange reports came in from some of the women who had followed Jesus, saying that his body was missing from the tomb. They said he had risen from the grave. Some even said that Jesus had explicitly mentioned Peter’s name.
Then, in what must have seemed like an apparition, Christ himself appeared on the beach. When Peter realized it was the Lord, he jumped out of the boat and swam to the shore. Many have seen this as a sign of Peter’s devotion, but I don’t read it that way at all. I believe Peter was desperate to apologize to the Lord before the rest of the disciples showed up. “Hey, Lord, about that thrice denial…” The next scene contains details that can only be described as profound. In a courtyard by a fire, Peter had denied Jesus, and by a fire on a beach, Christ restored him. This conversation is recorded in John 21, and it reveals the tragic result of insecurity and comparison in the human heart.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; 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 he said to him, “Follow me!”
Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 
In the middle of Peter’s gracious restoration, he was gripped by comparison with John. “But what about him?” he asked, but Jesus wouldn’t have it. In reply, Christ shot these powerful words across the bow of Peter’s insecurity: “What is that to you? You must follow me.” Even in what should be the best moments of our lives, comparison lurks in the shadows, always seeking to exert itself and secure our worth at the expense of others.
Comparison and the Soul
Comparison is the root of most of the misery we feel in life. Comparison makes it impossible to view ourselves from any sort of godly perspective. It is an absolute snare for the soul. Consider what comparison does to our view of others. First, when we compare ourselves with those we perceive to be better than we are in any given area of life, the comparison produces a sense of inferiority and insecurity. Whenever we see those people, they become reminders that we don’t have what it takes and are falling behind. We feel we must toil and strive to keep up. Yet the harder we try to do that, the more we’re caught in a cycle of despair. Comparison erodes our sense of worth and self-esteem. And it has a flip side. When we compare ourselves with people we perceive to be inferior to us, we are filled with a sense of superiority. The people around us become constant reminders of how good we are and how well we are doing, and judgment and pride creep in. Those controlled by forces of comparison have unstable and insecure souls. Alain de Botton puts it this way:
The attentions of others matter to us because we are afflicted by a congenital uncertainty as to our own value, as a result of which affliction we tend to allow others’ appraisals to play a determining role in how we see ourselves. Our sense of identity is held captive by the judgements of those we live among. If they are amused by our jokes, we grow confident in our power to amuse. If they praise us, we develop an impression of high merit. And if they avoid our gaze when we enter a room or look impatient after we have revealed our occupation, we may fall into feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness.
Living by comparison produces a fragile soul.
Comparison and Community
Comparison not only creates an ulcer in the source of our self-worth but also makes it impossible for us to love deeply in community. As followers of Jesus, we are called to lives of sacrificial love, but it’s impossible to give our hearts and lives away to those whom we must better in order to determine our worth. Comparison is the enemy of compassion.
In James 3 we read about the consequences that are unleashed when we use others for our own security. “If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”  Have you ever experienced the shock of discovering this at church? Expecting to find love, you find people treating others as commodities, manipulating and using them to feel good about themselves. And have you felt this sense of disorder and brokenness creating insecurity in you? Have you ever allowed your own practice of comparison to do this to others?
In their book Friend and Foe, social psychologists Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer cite a study by Emory University scientist Frans de Waal regarding comparison. De Waal trained capuchin monkeys to use stones as a sort of currency, learning to trade one of the stones for a slice of cucumber. The monkeys were perfectly content with this agreement as long as they were all getting the same thing—a slice of cucumber—in exchange for the stone. Then de Waal changed the social dynamic. One monkey was given a sweet grape instead of the cucumber slice, and the other went berserk. Now comparing itself with the other, the monkey became irate, refusing to trade the stones for the cucumber and sometimes even throwing the cucumber slice back in the face of the trainer. In one instance, the monkey went to the back of the cage and sulked, refusing to eat the cucumber. Meanwhile, the first monkey stole the slice and ate both the cucumber and the grape. Gilinsky and Schweitzer conclude, “Just as monkeys eating cucumbers care about comparisons, so too do modern humans.” When we are controlled by comparison, our God-given dignity is reduced to animal instinct and the community of love is poisoned by a need to measure ourselves against others.
The Causes of Comparison
Where does this need to compare ourselves with others come from? Where does this congenital affliction of the soul find its roots? Looking closely at ourselves, at our hidden thoughts, deepest affections, and usual behaviors, we can identify several underlying causes of comparison.
One cause is our misplaced sense of identity. All of us have been confused at one point or another about where we derive our identity from. We receive part of it from our parents, part of it from our peers as we grow and interact, part of it from friendships and romantic relationships, and part of it from our workplaces. Small parts of us have been deeply shaped by the experiences and encounters we have had in life. But our culture makes it hard to rightly order our identity so that we know, at a foundational level, who we truly are. This lack of a solid center results in our putting identities on and taking them off depending on whom we are around. We feel the need to continually reinvent ourselves to keep up. We want to appear successful in the ways our culture demands, and it can be exhausting. Pretending to be doing well; posting only images of fun, glamor, and excitement on social media; and telling only the parts of our story that preserve our glowing image are a kind of modern armor, protecting our fragile hearts. We are terrified to be seen for who we are, where we are, and what we are actually struggling with.
We can often acutely feel the pressure of comparison in our careers. I once clicked on the LinkedIn profile of a friend and almost laughed out loud when I read how he described his career. In real life, he simply says, “I work in finance.” But online he is “a leveraged specialist in emerging markets, working on derivatives to leverage maximum profit for investors with minimal risk.” Choosing an identity, performing that identity for others, and then measuring our performance against others’ cultivates comparison and insecurity in its most insidious form.
Fear of Missing Out
Another cause of comparison is our fear of missing out. Because we live in a constantly connected world, we are continually aware of the lives others are living around us. We are bombarded by a stream of images depicting leisure, travel, escape, sabbaticals, early retirement, cruises, road trips, graduations, promotions, parties, and fun. To compare the monotony of our ordinary existence with this litany of the spectacular creates a deep sense of unrest and dissatisfaction with our own lives. When we take our eyes off eternity, we are swept into a frenzied effort to keep up with others. We try to cram eternity into our dash. Alain de Botton identifies the impact of this lack of eternal perspective:
The dangers of disappointed expectation must further be increased by any erosion of a faith in a next world. Those who can believe that what happens on earth is but a brief prelude to an eternal existence will offset any tendency to envy with the thought that the success of others is a momentary phenomenon against a backdrop of an eternal life.
But when a belief in an afterlife is dismissed as a childish and scientifically impossible opiate, the pressure to succeed and find fulfillment will inevitably be intensified by the awareness that one has only a single and frighteningly fleeting opportunity to do so. In such a context, earthly achievements can no longer be seen as an overture to what one may realize in another world; rather, they are the sum total of all that one will ever amount to.
If we fail to contrast the long arc of eternity with the urgency of the moment, we lose perspective and feel the need to cram eternal joy into momentary fulfillment.
When we live for the present and not for the eternal, life itself can become a heavy burden to bear.
 Luke 22:61–62.
 John 21:15–22.
 James 3:14–16.