Have you ever felt caught in the comparison trap? Do you know what I mean? It’s where we constantly compare ourselves to the rich, the famous, the successful or the beautiful and slowly start to despise and devalue our gifts and abilities.
President Teddy Roosevelt famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” While it almost sounds biblical, this truth still confronts an ugly problem we all face.
The apostle Paul put it like this to the Corinthians:
“Oh, don’t worry; we wouldn’t dare say that we are as wonderful as these other men who tell you how important they are! But they are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant!”2 Cor. 10:12 NLT
Comparison is unavoidable
Let’s just admit this upfront. Comparison is unavoidable.
Our brains automatically create categories and definitions based on differences and similarities. Here are a few examples: Black and white. Light and dark. Good and evil. Profitable and unprofitable. Tall and short.
Can you imagine Adam telling God, “I can’t tell the difference between all these animals, so let’s just call them all Bob.” That would have been silly.
Abigail Dodds, author at Desiring God, rightly observed that comparison serves us by revealing some of the ways we are not holy. This knowledge can cause us to wallow in shame or lead to repentance. So, we have a choice in how we’ll respond to the truth revealed through comparison.
The ugly side of comparison
Comparison can lead to distorted views of ourselves. For example, dysgraphia afflicts many teenage girls as they compare their bodies to the pictures they see on social media. As a result, many young women develop a low self esteem.
While comparison serves a valuable role in causing us to want to improve and excel, it can also lead to an unhealthy discontentment and even jealousy and envy (as we discussed on day 34 of this challenge). Watching sports reveals the different ways competition can fuel athletes to excel. Some do it at the expense of everyone else (can you say DIVA?), while others seek to make everyone around them their best.
As we explored on Day 24, selfishness is the fundamental enemy to gratitude. Without Christ we want to be the best, but God tells us that if we want to be first we must be last.
To expose our comparison mentality, Jesus taught the parable of the vineyard workers in Matthew 20. In this story, a landowner hires workers throughout the day and decides to pay them all the same rate no matter how long they worked. As you would expect, those who worked all day long thought they deserved higher pay and even though they agreed to the rate, they complained and became jealous.
5 ways to resist the comparison trap
Whether comparing our skills, experiences, education, advantages, or opportunities we can all fall prey to the deathly comparison trap. Here are five tips on resisting this:
#1: Remember differences are good
In talking about spiritual gifts, Paul reminds us, “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well” (Romans 12:6). Elsewhere, Paul points out how silly it would be if we all tried to be a hand, a foot, or a mouth.
The body of Christ needs everyone using their gifts. If you decide that you’re not a very good hand and stop trying, the body won’t work very well. Trust me, I’ve lived for 6 months without the use of my left wrist and it severely impacted my life. Please use your gifts for the sake of us all. We need you!
#2: Acknowledge that God doesn’t make mistakes
In Psalm 139, David acknowledges that God makes each one of us with a unique blueprint. And God LOVES how he made you. He didn’t make a mistake in how he made you.
Steven Curtis Chapman wrote a great song about this called “Fingerprints of God.” Consider adding it to your morning playlist.
#3: Remind yourself of truth
Many coaches encourage the use of a daily manifest or affirmations to help remember what’s true. One of the things I tell myself frequently is:
- I am more than enough for everything life brings. God has given me more than enough talent, wisdom, strength, finances, education, and resources to do this life for his glory.
What truths do you need to remember each day?
#4: Express gratitude for the gifts of others
This is easier to do when someone is significantly more gifted or successful than you, but I encourage you to stop yourself every time you start to feel jealous of someone else. Pause and spend a moment thanking God for creating that person with their unique gifts, skills, opportunities, and successes. If appropriate, thank that person for something specific they have done for you.
#5: Use comparison to fuel your growth
When viewed healthily, comparison can cause us to keep growing. Tim Grover, author of Relentless, coached elite athletes like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Dwayne Wade. He observed a trait in top performers that can help all of us. They all take an honest look at their skills and constantly find ways to get better. There is always room for improvement.
Make a list of five people to whom you often compare yourself. Next to each name write down at least three things you can be thankful about and thank God for that person. If time allows, write a note of thanks to one of these people.
Lord, I thank you for making me uniquely in your image and for orchestrating my life to make me who I am. Forgive me for allowing comparison to fuel jealousy, pride, and envy. Teach me to be grateful for everyone in my life. I pause to give you thanks for a few specific people now. (Pause to tell God thank you for at least a couple people who might cause you to feel inadequate). I thank you for Jesus and your eternal forgiveness. Amen.