Taking Back Our Joy From The Comparison Game
Comparison is a cancer in our society. -Pastor Jack Schull
This phrase struck a harsh conviction inside me the night I heard this at church a couple of months ago. There was something about the scary truth of that reality that caused me to think deeper and look inward.
Cancer is an ugly word, because it is a disease that does a horrible thing - it steals life away from its victim. In a broad sense, this is truly what comparison does. A single, seemingly harmless thought of comparison can grow into self-resentment or arrogance, and these monsters never bring life. They sicken our minds and weaken our spirits to believe lies. In fact, Proverbs tell us, “A sound heart is life to the body, but envy is rottenness to the bones” (14:30). The graphic nature of this proverb truly depicts how envy, the essence of comparison, completely robs us of the life we have been given.
While comparison is a universal issue everyone deals with, it’s very much a personal battle. We individually have the capability to choose whether or not to live this mindset. To make this idea a bit more tangible, let’s stick with the concept of there being two types of comparison. Both sides of the spectrum are equally dangerous.
Type 1: Envy
There’s the envious kind of comparison, where I look at someone else and wish I had that type of body, that particular character strength, his career opportunity, or a man like her boyfriend who would look at me that way, and of course, this could go on forever. The problem here is I am seeing the other person through the filter of jealously and discontentment on my end. Everything over there seems more beautiful and desirable through that lens.
Type 2: Pride
On the other hand, there is the prideful kind of comparison. The one where I think to myself, well, at least I haven’t ever messed up that badly, don’t look that way, don’t have that job, or don’t struggle with those issues. Again, this could extend further than we would ever admit. On this end, we are only doing this little song and dance in our head to compensate for something. While it may not seem like it on the surface, it still comes from a place of insecurity. We think if we are at least better off than the next guy, then we can get some strange sense of satisfaction and reprieve from feeling the way we do.
For the love of being honest, we all do both of them, probably on a daily basis. I’ll be the first admit it. It’s so engrained in us, we don’t even realize we are doing this sometimes. It is one thing to admire and compliment someone, but another thing to secretly disdain that person because of the state of our own self esteem. We can pretend to be kind to someone less fortunate or just different than us, but are we actually celebrating that we aren’t in their shoes?
If you are going to admire qualities in someone else or are inspired by their life, then use this realization as a positive motivator.
If you are motivated to make changes in your life, check your intentions. Is this for you? Is this to please someone else? Because as far as I’m concerned, my only judge is God. The prophet Isaiah tells us, “Sever yourselves from such a man, whose breath is in his nostrils; For of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:22) This is not to say that I should dismiss everything others tell me, but, rather, that I am ultimately not accountable to any person, only to God. Therefore, I do not live to impress those around me, and in turn, I do not live to judge those around me either.
The root/problem of all of these issues is that we are using an inconsistent standard. Placing two humans side by side and seeing who is “better” doesn’t exactly work. There is no way to measure how each person “measures up,” because what are we basing this off of? Looks? Talents? Success? This seems a bit ridiculous, not to mention degrading.
Today’s society tries to claim that we are all just human, that we are all the same - and yet we are all willing competitors in this deadly game of comparison. If we looked at this authentically, yes, we are all human. But what does that even mean? It means we are all made in the image of God, meaning we have all been designed uniquely by the Creator. In His eyes, we are all equal. We have all been formed to be unique and different, yet equal. No one person possesses more worth or more beauty than another.
We look side to side and destroy ourselves over the opinions of fellow creations, instead of looking up and discovering true peace in the Creator, whose opinion is the only one that matters.
Comparison takes our focus away from our Creator and shifts it to people. It takes our attention away from the One that is constant in a world always changing its standards. I believe it was Theodore Roosevelt who said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Think about it. When you long for what someday else has or who somebody else is, how much time does that leave for building yourself up and becoming a better you? None.
While my purpose here is not to focus solely on comparing physical beauty, I want to share a little truth bomb I found floating around Pinterest a couple months back. It might just encompass this idea of why comparison doesn’t accomplish anything:
Just because you don’t look like somebody who you think is attractive doesn’t mean you aren’t attractive. Flowers are pretty, but so are Christmas lights, and they look nothing alike.
My apologies that I have no idea who to credit this statement to, because it really brings it all home. But I’ll speak a little about my own struggle. The apostle Paul and saints alike who lived pious lives would all confess that they were still sinners, and would go as far as to say they were the chief or worst of sinners (see 1 Timothy 1:15). In a similar fashion, I write this to you all saying I have been the chief or worst in the comparison category. I have told myself that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be in life, that I was falling behind, that I didn’t look as good as I should, and on and on. I base these things on friends I am jealous of or, ashamedly, what I see on social media. I know it’s wrong, and I confess that the more I have realized this about me, the more I understood that all this did was make me unhappy. I had the control to change my mindset. Of course I still have my days, but I have decided to fight this battle with everything I have, because thinking of myself as sub-par is no way to keep living (and no way to treat a daughter of the King of Kings!).
You (and I) were made to be someone that someone else is not, and in return, he or she was made to be him or her and not you. This is the beauty of the world that God made. This is the symphony of life. Just as music has melodies and harmonies, so we too as men and women are those different melodies and harmonies in who we are. Without it, our world and life itself would be monotone. So will we waste more time wishing ourselves away? Will we continue to rob our own selves of joy? Will we combat the cancer that is comparison? I say that we should dare to sing our own part and truly believe that this is what makes us magnificent. May we fight back against lies that want to destroy us. And let us, with all this mind, take back our joy.