Thomas Jakes spent his teen years caring for his ailing father while working in the local industries in South Charleston, West Virginia. He felt a call to the ministry, so he enrolled in classes at West Virginia State University, but soon dropped out. He took a job at a local factory and started preaching around town occasionally. He married in the summer of 1982 and was invited to pastor a small church with just ten members that same year. The church was in disrepair and he made little money, but he set aside what he could from his factory salary to fix it up. The church grew over the next few years, but despite the growth, he still couldn’t afford to buy the nice suits and shoes other pastors wore. He had so little money that he often wore the same suit everywhere he went, a practice that earned him the nickname “One-Suit-Jakes.”
Although he smiled at the jokes on the outside, they hurt him deeply. He had big dreams and an incredible gift for preaching, but the voices in his life and mind spoke against what he felt in his heart. He tried to laugh off people’s mean-spirited comments, but they pierced his soul in a deeply painful way, making him wonder, “Am I really meant to do this?” From everything he could see, success looked like something that alluded him when compared to others. But, one day, while sitting in feelings of complete discouragement and defeat, he determined to never again allow what he saw on the outside of himself to distract him from what he knew God placed on the inside of him.
He completed BA and MA degrees in 1990, the same year he felt God leading him to move his church to Charleston, West Virginia. Then, in 1995 he completed a Doctor of Ministry in Religious Studies, changing his title from Pastor Thomas Jakes to Dr. Thomas Jakes. In May 1996, the “one suit preacher” who had endured the ridicule and jokes of so many moved his family and fifty other families from his church in West Virginia to Dallas, Texas, where he purchased a church building and renamed it The Potters House. The man now known around the world as Bishop T.D. Jakes had gone from a ten-member church with holes in the roof in 1982 to thirty years later leading a congregation of 30,000 people with a global ministry that touches the far corners of the earth.
Of his journey, Bishop Jakes said, “The acorn contains the entire oak tree, but you can’t see the future oak tree from looking at the present acorn. I had to learn to value the acorn that was inside of me, even when other oak trees laughed at me. That which we are to become is already within us. We just don’t see it yet.”
Rising from the pain that lies behind us requires focusing on the purpose that lies within us. Think about all of the people in your life that you compare yourself to as a measuring stick for your worth: that sibling who got married first, despite being younger, that coworker who always comes into the office looking flawless when you’re just trying to not show up with your baby’s spit up on your shirt, that college roommate who just won an election to the Office of Governor when you were the student body president, but now process payroll for a doctor’s office. Write their names down on a piece of paper, or in the notes app on your phone, along with a narrative about the part of your identity that you have been comparing to them and why. Then, out loud one by one, surrender your insecurities to God and ask God to help you focus on yourself in order to discover the truth that you are enough.
In the case of the younger sibling who got married while you remain single while everyone questions you, this could look like the following:
“Lord, I love my sister. And I want the best for her. But seeing her happy and building a life with her husband makes me feel like something is wrong with me for me to still be single. It feels like everyone else believes something is wrong with me, too, because they keep asking me when I’m getting married like it’s my decision. Father, help me to release myself from the expectations that have created the disappointment I’m battling with. Help me enjoy watching my sister’s happiness as much as I would enjoy sharing in it. I accept that I am enough as I am. May your grace cover my desires so that I can focus on the purpose and plan you have for me and me only. Amen.”
Set aside time to seek God daily for freedom in the area of comparison. With every post we see on social media, with every awards show on television, with every feature story on the cover of your favorite magazine, there is going to be the temptation to view your life through the lives of others, but when you begin to hear the thoughts ramping up in your mind saying "why can't I do that," surrender them to God with gratitude for who you are and the purpose you have.
Lord, you created me on purpose with purpose. Help me to stay focused on my purpose every day. Amen.