I am terribly guilty of comparing myself to others. Comparison is something that I think everyone struggles with at some point in their lives. What do we compare? The short answer is—a lot!
We compare our personal appearances, bemoaning that we aren’t skinnier or fitter or more stylish than those around us. We compare our achievements, silently wishing for a better education, a higher-paying job, or a bigger house than our colleagues. We even pit our loved ones against each other in a mental game of “their kids are better behaved than mine” or “their friends are more socially connected than mine.” It’s constant and chronic in our culture, and in our lives.
And all of this can start as early as grade school. I’m aware of my young children already recognizing that some of their classmates are better readers than others, or that some of their friends have nicer toys than they do. For me, I recall comparing my report card to that of my sister and classmates from a very young age, while also coveting my friends’ looks or possessions. It started as early as the first or second grade and has stuck with me all these years—a thorn in the flesh.
But what’s so bad about comparing, anyway?
Theodore Roosevelt is famously credited with saying that “comparison is the thief of joy.” I would go even further and argue that comparison is not only the thief of joy, but of peace, contentment and gratitude as well. It robs us of much of the fruit of the Spirit—say them with me!—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23). Most, if not all of these, go out the window when we begin to compare ourselves to others.
What’s worse, comparison leads to broken relationships, which is the exact opposite of what God intends for his creation, and what the kingdom of God looks like.
Comparison leads to a broken relationship with God. When we look at those around us and wish we looked like them or had the abilities or quality of life that they do, we are ultimately questioning whether God has short-changed us. Whether or not we pray aloud, “God, why didn’t you make me taller or smarter or give me a better job?” just thinking it means we are questioning God’s provision in our lives, and that inevitably hurts our relationship with our Creator.
Similarly, it’s hard to live out God’s plan for community if we are constantly comparing ourselves to others. There are more than 50 “one another” commandments in the NewTestament—a how-to guide to healthy relationships that includes comfort one another, encourage one another and forgive one another. Not a single one of these suggests that we compare ourselves to one another. It’s just not there, because it doesn’t result in healthy relationships.
Jesus teaches that the greatest commandment is to love God and to love others as we love ourselves (see Mark 12:30-31). And honestly, when we are comparing ourselves to others and implying that we don’t measure up, we aren’t loving ourselves very well.
Ultimately, comparison is rooted in shame, the lie that tells us that we aren’t enough. We default to comparing ourselves to others because we think that we aren’t smart enough, pretty enough or capable enough.
I think if we’re honest, we often find ourselves drifting in the direction of comparison. So how do we escape the comparison trap?
Sandra Stanley, wife of pastor Andy Stanley and co-founder of North Point Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia, suggests that we escape the comparison trap by shifting from comparison to celebration. We celebrate that God made us wonderfully and loves us as we are. When we see God as the good Creator, and ourselves as a very good creation, our relationship with God and with ourselves is renewed.
And we celebrate the achievements and accomplishments of others. When we intentionally focus on celebrating others through sending an email, making a phone call or planning a party for someone around us, our tendency to compare is greatly reduced, and relationships are strengthened.
So, embrace celebration, in the good times and in the hard times, for when we focus on the lovely, commendable, excellent and praise-worthy things in and around us—truly celebrate them!—the shame of comparison will fall away, and be replaced with enduring love, peace and, yes, even joy.
Captain Laura Van Schaick is the corps officer at Barrhaven Church in Ottawa and the divisional secretary for women’s ministries in the Ontario Division.
Illustration: Natalia Darmoroz/iStock via Getty Images Plus