I tend to see comparison as a doorway to all kinds of nasty feelings like jealously, insecurity, and discouragement. When I head down that path, and finally catch myself, I feel even worse, because I know it’s such a poor use of my time to get caught in the comparison trap.
But what if comparison could became an opportunity, instead of just something to feel guilty about? What if catching ourselves in comparison was a warning bell to stop and consider more deeply where the need for comparison was coming from?
There are actually some helpful clues we can discover in comparison, if we ask ourselves a few questions:
1) How am I outsourcing my value and worth?
Often comparison happens because we feel the need for a measuring stick. Am I doing enough? Am I doing well enough? Am I enough?
When we look around at what others are doing as a way of answering those questions, we’re outsourcing our measure of success or happiness. It means that somewhere along the way, we’ve disconnected from asking ourselves what we really want or value or hope to gain, and we’ve stopped going to God to find out what He desires for us.
Comparison is like an alarm that tells us we need to get back to quiet time with Jesus, asking Him and searching inside ourselves to evaluate how we’re doing and if we’re staying true to our deepest values, instead of looking to others as a measuring stick.
2) What does comparison reveal about my deep longings?
Wanting the rewards others are enjoying without putting in the same effort myself is just “longing for my neighbour’s things”, and can lead to jealousy, but it’s also possible for it to stir up a positive desire to try harder, accomplish more, and push ourselves because we see others doing it, so we know it’s possible. Sometimes we don’t recognize our longing for something until we see someone else enjoying it.
This happened to me a couple of years ago when I was meeting with a couple of friends for a Bible study night. I still saw myself as being in “baby recovery mode” after having Everett, and although I was doing devotions regularly, they felt pretty lackluster, and I felt like I didn’t really have the time or energy to put more effort in. But my friends were excited, passionate, and on fire, and I actually started feeling a little envious of where they were at in their relationship with God.
I knew it was wrong to feel envy, but it was stirring up a longing for something good in me. I prayed about the way I was feeling, and asked God, “Why do they have all that excitement and passion? I want it too.” And the words that clearly came into my mind were “Come and get it.”
Suddenly I realized that God wasn’t withholding anything from me, it was me who wasn’t putting in the time and making it a priority.
I started setting my alarm earlier, and getting up regularly before the rest of my family, and I started seeing God doing some cool things in me, too.
Sometimes we need other people to spur us on, and motivate us with their actions and example. Instead of comparing myself to others and feeling bad about myself, I can see what is possible for others, and know there is enough to go around for all of us. It can become an inspiring call to action, and a reminder of what is available to me if I also choose to put in the effort.
3) Am I looking at the full picture?
Often, when we compare ourselves to others, we’re only looking at bits and pieces – usually their best snippets, in comparison to our worst parts.
We see the perfect house, vacation, or perfectly behaved children, or the ability to juggle a job plus all the other stuff and make it look easy.
But there are many parts to other people’s lives that we can’t possibly see or know, and it helps to take a moment to ask ourselves if we are really, truly thinking about the whole picture, or just picking our favourite parts to envy and compare with our own life, from the surface we can see.
I’ve had to do this a lot over the years with the different health challenges I’ve dealt with while having kids. I see other moms “doing it all”, and I feel tired just watching them. I can slip into thinking that I can’t do enough, and I’m failing my family by not accomplishing all that other women are able to.
But when I pull back and start to think about the bigger picture, things begin to look different – I have to do two and a half hours a day of physio exercises and stretches, which takes a big chunk of my time. I would probably be accomplishing a lot more if I had that extra time to do other things, too.
I have different priorities and make different choices, and I really love my life the way it is – our family has made the best choices we could with the situation we’re in. I don’t know how other moms spend their time, money, health, resources, etc, but I know that I feel good about my choices, so I can’t compare my situation to someone else’s. There’s a very different background to each of our big pictures.
4) How am I doing compared to where I used to be?
If you think back to where you were yesterday, or a year ago, or ten years ago, you’re probably doing awesome. The only life you can do anything about is your own, so think about how you can keep getting better at doing your own thing, instead of getting caught up in what others are doing.
5) Do I need to ignore this distraction?
If there’s nothing good or helpful to be gained from comparison, if the previous questions don’t bring up any beneficial thoughts or ideas, then it’s time to sharpen your focus, and get past the distraction of comparison.
These questions can help us to determine if our thoughts of comparison come from a place that needs healing, or a deep longing for growth, and we can intentionally deal with whatever is the root cause.
In all of this, the biggest thing is to examine what is going on when comparison happens, and bring that emptiness to God. Ask Him if the longing is good, and something He wants for you, or if it’s something that needs to be laid aside to make room for a different way in which He wants to provide.
Jealousy and discontentment are always a sign that our thoughts have gone in the wrong direction, and it’s an opportunity to get back to the helpful feedback we can gain from comparison.
The most beautiful part in all of this is that God knows what you need, and what you long for. He knows the person you were created to be. Take your longings to Him, and He will show you the right path to take. He will make clear how much is enough, and that you are enough.
Don’t allow yourself to get stuck in guilt about comparison, but rather use it as a reminder to go back to the One who made you, and wants to help you discern the best ways to pursue the life He means for you to have.
These are the questions I’ve been asking myself, but I’d love to hear if you have any others to add, or experiences to share about how you’ve dealt with comparison. Please share!