If ever there was a trap to keep us from being all we’re made to be and do, it’s the comparison game.
We compare what we have/own to what others have – clothes, shoes, cars, houses, families.
We compare what we do with what others do – speaking, writing, teaching, caring, helping.
We compare what we are to what we perceive others are – happy, successful, brilliant, beautiful, perfect.
Our church has just launched into the “Year of Prayer.” We’re doing and offering a lot of different things to help people engage in prayer. Guess what we’re discovering…we even compare ourselves when it comes to praying.
We tell ourselves that we can’t pray like “her,” so why pray?
We assume that if it doesn’t come easy, like it does for “him,” then I must not have to pray.
We think that if we don’t sound or act or look like “them,” then prayer is unattainable.
Not only is comparison a game, it’s also a trap. Nicole, the author of She’s Got Issues, warns — If we aren’t careful, comparisons can “rule our emotions, self-worth, and life.”
So, why do we play this game? Why do we fall for its trap?
There is a theory, the social learning theory, that says “we look to those around us to determine our own way of thinking, feeling, and acting.” Consider our developmental stages: we look to our parents/family during our younger ages, then to our peers/friends in our growing up years. As adults we don’t change much – we still often look to people (and maybe media) to determine ways of doing things for ourselves (think: what to wear…).
Is that always bad? No. I can think to a season in my life when, spiritually, I saw things in the women around me that I wanted. I wanted their love for Jesus. I wanted to pray with the humility and confidence and passion that they did. They were positive role models for me. I could learn from them.
But too many times those comparison games don’t have positive results. Nicole wonders “if our ultracompetitive society encourages us to form an identity based solely on comparisons to those around us.”
When comparison becomes negative, it segregates people, separates us in our relationships, and can even determine how we feel about ourselves.
Nicole uses the story of Cain and Abel, sons of Adam and Eve. A quick summary – the brothers are busy working. Cain tending the fields. Abel tending the flocks. When God calls for an offering from each of them, Cain “brought some of the fruits of the soil” (Genesis 4:3). Abel brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock” (Genesis 4:4).
God liked Abel’s. He wasn’t pleased with Cain’s.
Cain’s reaction – anger. To the point of killing his brother.
For a long time really smart people have dug deeper into this story to find great meaning…even for us today. In a nut shell, Cain’s “some fruits” weren’t his first fruits. He gave what he could spare. It was a “halfhearted expression of worship.”
Abel, on the other hand, gave the firstborns of his flock. His first. His best. He gave from the heart.
We could say Cain’s issue was one of the heart. His motives were the issue.
Nicole says it best,
Cain thought God rejected his gift because He’d compared the two offerings. God actually dismissed Cain’s crops because of Cain’s heart.
Cain fell in the comparison trap and assumed God does the same thing.
God was not comparing the offerings. He saw into each heart and knew what was there.
What does that mean for us? It means…are you ready? It means God knows YOU. “He knows what you are capable of, what glorious love you can give, because He is your Maker.”
He is not comparing you to other people. He is only looking at you, your heart.
Knowing that God doesn’t play the comparison game can free us from worrying about what He thinks of us.
BUT, because He does know our hearts, He does know when we’re “giving Him the real deal and when we’re putting up a smoke screen.”
He’s telling us to get real with Him and to stop worrying about anyone else.
Cain didn’t do that. He compared himself to his brother and that led, literally, to murder.
Comparisons can complicate things for us. Nicole gives us three ways that problems can arise from the comparison game:
- Looking at a parade through a peephole.
There’s a deception that happens when we look at someone else’s life and assume their life is better than ours. Have you ever looked at someone (at church, at school, at work, in the store…) and thought, “She’s got it all together. She has the great guy, pretty face, successful life…”
If we’re honest, we all have. To some degree. Some women do this every day, all the time. Others fall prey to this in certain situations. But no matter when we’re tempted to think this about someone, we need to stop those thoughts and remind ourselves that no one has a perfect, pain-free life.
Jesus tells us that we’ll have trouble in this world (John 16:33). Each of us, in our own ways, will have pain to deal with, to overcome. “No one’s life is immune, no matter how pretty the picture on the outside.”
This tendency we all have of comparing our inner selves to the outer selves of those we see around us gives us a distorted, incomplete picture. We don’t see their home life, their inner struggles, their past wounds. We see only what they want us to see.
I have come to believe that this happens a LOT on social media. In fact, I heard someone say that recently. Too often we get depressed or frustrated because we are constantly comparing ourselves to everyone else’s parade of positive posts to the truths of what is going on inside of us.
That’s not comparing apples to apples. What we post or show the world rarely reflects all the bumps and scrapes and issues we deal with behind the scenes.
And that is true for everyone else too!
Nicole points out that author William Young, of The Shack, uses the analogy of “looking at a parade through a tiny knothole” to describe our view of God’s plan. We aren’t seeing the whole picture.
We stare through that knothole, thinking we are seeing the whole picture, when in reality we see just a tiny glimpse of another person’s reality.
- Emotional tornadoes
Another problem that arises from playing the comparison game is that too often our emotions are determined by what another person says to us. If someone praises us, we bask in the glory. We “let it inflate our self-worth because we’re taking their words and using them as our measuring stick of ‘good.’”
The opposite is true too. Negative comments can torment us for days. And we’re not talking just mean-spirited comments. These comments are often truths about our weaknesses or inabilities.
For instance, I know I’m not very domestic. Cleaning house just isn’t something I’m good at on a daily or weekly basis. But if someone says something to that effect, I take great offense. I dwell on it. Rationalize. Defend it. Probably not aloud, but in my mind. I’ll even begin comparing myself with the person who said it, looking for things to show where she is weak or unable..
For a while now, I’ve been calling this “spiraling.” So it totally fit that Nicole named it a tornado!
These emotional tornadoes result from getting caught up in the judgment of others. And that only feeds our other issues…those insecurities and anxieties. We’ll ride quite the rollercoaster if we allow our self-worth to be defined by people’s comments.
- Wasting energy trying to make life fair
It’s not fair.
Three words that can drive us the most crazy.
We hear these words from small children because a) they’re honest, b) don’t have many filters on what they say, and c) are starting to see those injustices of life – they’re wrestling through things they recognize as unfair.
I’m telling you it is so hard to come to terms with the fact that life just isn’t fair.
Some have good health, others never do.
Some have great wealth while others, no matter how hard they work, never will.
Some seem to achieve whatever they set out to while others meet nothing but trials and obstacles.
Nicole tells the best story to demonstrate just how easily our happiness can be sapped when we compare ourselves to others and see things as unfair.
A quick summary of her story – she had young children come in. They each were given a paper bag full of their favorite candy but were told to keep the contents of the bags a secret Then she gathered the kids around her and asked how they felt when they looked in their bag.
Unanimously and loudly they all cheered, “Happy!”
Then they dumped their candy out. The mood changed quickly as they started to look around the room at what each of them had. Some had more, some had less. Some had bigger, some had very small.
They were content till they compared what they had to others.
This happened to one of my boys one Christmas. He was very happy with his Christmas gifts till he got back to middle school and learned what his friends had gotten. Then his gifts seemed small and very unequal. Unfair.
He let comparison rob him of his initial joy.
And we all do this at some point or another. We let comparison distract us from our gifts.
Now God, He is always just. He always gives “each their due.” Deuteronomy 32:4 says that God’s ways are just. That He is “as God of faithfulness and without injustice; righteous and upright is He.” But let us not forget that His ways are not our ways. How He measures fair is not always the way we measure fair.
We insist on evaluating our lives through our tiny peephole. We don’t trust an invisible God and His mysterious ways, so we choose instead to judge our own lives based on our partial picture of the true reality of life.
We’re never winners when we play the comparison game. “Comparisons are what keep me from fully knowing myself and being fully available to know the ones I’m in relationship with.”
But we have a God who knows us, who sees us. He sees you. Right where you are. He knows your heart – all its hopes, all its hurts. And He loves you for you. Not because of what you do or say, but because He created you. You are His daughter.
In the truth of that kind of love is the key to breaking the comparison chain. By His love “God has enabled us to move beyond comparisons into a glorious, wide-open space where we feel the freedom to love what He’s uniquely made in us.” And that freedom, sisters, also allows us to love one another more freely!
I want that freedom. I hope you do too. Chapter 8 will give some helps and hopes about how to overcome our tendencies to compare ourselves to others. Tune in!
In the meantime…I’m looking to God instead of others for my worth,