I’m not sure exactly when we all start playing the comparison game, but very early on we get this idea that we are supposed to look at the people around us, see what they are doing well, and then strive relentlessly to become better than them at it. That doesn’t even make sense. Yet, that’s what we do.
Maybe it starts in school when we spot the smart kid and think, “I should be smarter than him,” and so we start striving for the A’s and teacher awards. Or we see a girl who is exceptionally beautiful and think, “I want to be prettier than her,” and so we tease our bangs and buy multi-colored scrunchy socks (child of the 80s here people...).
I don’t know how it starts, but I suspect it doesn’t take much prodding. I have seen my daughters wrestle with comparison. I will compliment one and the other says, “What about me?” They are 3, 6, 7 and 9. Doesn’t that seem too young to be caught up in competing? And yet they are, no matter how carefully I try to sprinkle praise around equally. We grown-ups do it too. It’s ugly. But it’s real.
Comparison has been a very deep-rooted issue for me. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t comparing myself to other people. I’ve compared grades, body type, athleticism, clothes, smiles, eyelashes… I could list several more pages worth.
I remember reading a particular baby book while I was pregnant with my first that said I wasn’t supposed to compare my child’s progress with other children. So I determined I wouldn’t. But I did. I watched as my friend’s babies spoke and crawled earlier than mine and despaired that my child appeared inferior or less intelligent. I fretted at the doctor’s office as the doctor compared her growth process with the other percentiles. I wanted so badly for my child to be in that average range, unless she was exceptionally developing, of course. But, lawd help me if she was below average!
Yesterday, I hosted my twenty-fifth children’s birthday party. Twenty. Five. I have decorated and planned twenty-five birthday parties, just for my kids (when you have four, it adds up quick.) And children’s birthday parties really have a way of throwing you into the ring as far as competing goes.
Can I tell you something really, really horrible? I grumbled the entire time I was decorating. I was completely annoyed that I had to throw this party. Images of other kid’s birthday parties were flashing through my mind, and I knew that I had neither the energy nor money to compete. I kept thinking, “Why can’t we just get a cake, give a gift and be done?”
Now, hold on. If you are one of those people, who truly delights in throwing these huge parties out of pure love for your kid, you are amazing and beautiful, and in no way am I condemning your gift of fabulous celebrations. Please feel free to invite us to your next one-we love cake. But, if you find yourself begrudgingly strolling through Party City, filling your cart with overpriced, thematic, plastic trinkets that will be broken and in the garbage bin by Monday, because you’re worried what Miss So-and-So will think, then you, like me, might be struggling with comparison.
I have incredibly amazing and beautiful friends and family members in my life. All of them gifted with different talents and abilities. Some are incredibly gifted in ways that I can never hope to be. Sadly, when my heart is striving to compete with these lovely people, I automatically build walls that don’t allow that person access to who I really am. As a result, my friendship with them becomes very shallow. Conversations rarely get beyond chit-chat. I hate chit-chat. I’m an introvert and apparently, introverts want real and deep conversations. But when you are soaked in jealousy, the real and deep conversations don’t include nice words so…you have to resort to chit-chat. Those conversations are draining. I walk away from them feeling like I have just finished a performance. Which, I have. Instead of honestly saying, “The way you are so organized/pretty/smart/good at cleaning/parenting/writing/singing/ad infinitum, makes me feel like a total loser and so I kind of don’t want to talk to you right now,” I have to say, “So do you have plans for the weekend?” because it would be awkward and rude for me to be so honest. So, I make up lines about very benign things so they won’t know how resentful I am feeling towards their awesomeness in areas where I am inept.
As a result of all of this competing and comparing, I have been face-to-face with sins like envy and even hatred towards people. I know it would be kinder if I used soft words like “struggles” instead of “sins” and “dislike” instead of “hate”, but I’d rather use truthful words that shine light in those dark areas of my heart, offensive as they may be.
So I’ve had to talk to Jesus about this. I knew if I did not repent, I would be doomed to a lifetime of bitterness and resentment instead of growing in love and unity with others. And here’s what I’ve learned thus far.
1. When we are comparing ourselves to others, we are creating disunity in our relationships. There is no such thing as healthy competition, unless your playing ping-pong. It is very hard to love and be united with someone with whom you are competing.
2. When we are comparing ourselves to others, we are making them lord over our lives. We measure everything we say and do by this perceived perfection we think others have achieved that we have not. We become enslaved to striving to be like them instead of striving to be like Christ-who by the way is the only one who is perfect.
3. When we are competing with each other, we hold tightly to the gifts God has given us like it is the secret sauce of our success that we don’t want the competition to steal or beat out with something better. This is selfish and keeps the glory of God from being displayed through us.
So, I knew the way I saw myself, and others needed to change. I have sought to recognize who I am, created in the image of God, share the gifts he’s given me, and celebrate the image of God that is being displayed in the gifts of those around me.
As I have been studying and praying for God to change my heart, I have found that Scripture has much to say about the body of Christ and how we relate to each other. In Ephesians 4:15-16, Paul tells us, “we are to grow up in everyway into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” So you and I, as believers in Christ, are like ligaments of the body of Christ. We are held together at the joint. The joint is Christ. He is what holds us together (I may or may not have just started singing, “Bind us together, Lord, bind us together in loooooooove” Sorry ‘bout that.). So that means that we relate to each other through Christ.
Dietrich Bonhoffer, a pastor and martyr during Hitler’s Third Reich said it this way, “What determines our brotherhood is what that man is by reason of Christ. Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us. I have community with others and I shall continue to have it only through Jesus Christ…We have one another only through Christ…” (Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community.)
Here is the truth. As believers we are in Christ, which means we are no longer competitors or enemies, but rather brothers and sisters. Being a part of the body of Christ changes the way we see each other, for we now see each other in light of what Jesus has done to reconcile us to the Father, and to each other. We are family.
For us to look at one another and covet who the other is created to be, or what they have, is like our nose being jealous of our elbow. We are part of the same body (family of God), created for the same purpose (to bring glory to our Father), but used in a different function (by God’s intentional design). Each of us was designed by an infinitely creative Artist, who is so profoundly varied, that the expression of His image has been and will continue to be originally displayed in billions of different people throughout the course of all history to the end of time. I cannot be better than you and you cannot be better than me because that’s not what we were created to do. That’s not even a conversation worth having in light of who God is, and the image of him we bear.
It is through our individual gifts, drawn out of us as we are living in community together, that He is made known to the world. When we get together, we have an opportunity to capture a more complete picture of who God is, because each person is displaying a part of his image in a way that only she can.
What if we stopped competing with each other, and instead enjoyed each other’s company? What if we stopped comparing homes, kids, spouses, body type, fingernail shape, and all the other stuff? What if instead we put all of that energy into stewarding the gifts and talents God has given us, and share those things with others for the glory of God? I suspect we would enjoy what we already have a lot more, find ourselves a great deal less lonely, and would feel abundantly more loved.
My prayer for you today is that you will not compare yourself with Miss So-and-So, but that you will compare yourself to Jesus, recognizing that you can never be better than Him, and rest in the fact that His best is all any of us needs anyway. I pray that today, you will enjoy the people you are friends with, seeing them through the grace of Christ, rejoicing in their gifting and abilities, and be satisfied with who God has created you to be, glorifying Him through your gifts.
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves as one who serves by the strength that God supplies-in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:8-11 ESV