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“Eyes on Your Own Paper!”

During grade school spelling tests, my teacher often uttered a cryptic general warning: “Please keep your eyes on your own paper!” Without accusing any particular individual, that was her way of letting someone whose eyes were seeking help with the spelling of a difficult word know that she saw what they were about to do. She was also warning the rest of us not to be tempted to look for help in the wrong

But I’ve also seen this temptation arise occasionally in my writing career, and I was reminded of the lesson by an article in the latest issue of The Writer. In times of discouragement, when rejections seem to multiply like the proverbial rabbits, when acceptances are as rare as the proverbial hound’s teeth (whatever that means!), I find myself looking at the apparent successes of other writers and thereby being distracted from my own projects. I find myself envying those who seem not to have to struggle with their writing, who get dozens of great reviews and other publicity, who hold successful book signings, and who are inundated with invitations to speak. And then I look back at my own track record. Invariably, I get even more discouraged. The stolen glance at another’s work doesn’t help at all; it only hurts.

Every ministry, including writing, is a journey, and that journey is different for each person. Each person has his or her own calling with its attendant struggles, whether apparent or hidden. Each has discouragements. For some, success seems to come unbidden and effortlessly; for others, it’s a continual struggle. One writer struggles to complete a single project and get it accepted for publication; another has his work accepted as fast as he can crank it out. Despite one pastor’s best efforts, his church remains small, and growth seems negligible. For another pastor, his church blossoms and grows beyond all bounds, seemingly without effort on his part.

But we can’t look at what others are doing; we must keep our eyes on our own paper, do our duty, live our life as God has laid it out for us. And what might seem at a glance to be successful might in reality be only a sham. Comparing our journey to that of someone else is counterproductive.

When the Jews were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem under the direction of Nehemiah, each family group was assigned a specific portion of the wall on which to work. Every family did its assigned task without worrying about what other families around theirs was doing. No one tried to tell his neighbor how to do his job. Everyone had problems, both internal and external. But no one compared others’ work with their own. They just focused on their assigned tasks, and, as a result, the wall was finished. (See Nehemiah 3-6.)

In the New Testament, after Jesus had told Peter what Peter’s future ministry held in store, curious Peter asked him about John’s program of ministry. Christ answered him bluntly, “What is that to thee? Follow thou me!” (John 21:22).

Rather than looking at what others are doing or achieving, we should be so busy doing our own God-given work that we’re not tempted to compare ourselves with others. More specifically, if we should look anywhere else for instruction, guidance, or inspiration, let it be to Jesus Christ, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). We should “consider Him” (Heb. 12:3). It’s when our eyes wander from Him that we lose our direction, focus, and purpose.

Whatever your God-given calling, “keep your eyes on your own paper!”

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

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