I suppose it’s human nature, this comparison thing. Last chapter we identified the assortment of ways we torture ourselves as we look around us, comparing ourselves with the people around us.
Today we take time to investigate how we might desist on the torturing.
Nicole opens each chapter with a quote that applies to the topic at hand. This chapter’s is from Abraham Lincoln,
Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.
There it is. Chapter done.
Only if you’re like me, that’s not really enough. Maybe we’re skeptics, thinking it takes more than making up our minds to be happy to actually be happy.
Or does it?
I can speak less for men, but, ladies, don’t we constantly compare ourselves to the people around us? At least to some degree?
If I weren’t constantly comparing what I wear to what others’ wear, wouldn’t I still be wearing my favorite light pink overall dress I wore in high school? Or maybe strutting a similar pair of “Yo-Yos” I loved so much when I was a kid?
Heck, if I really didn’t care of others’ opinions, I’d have had a party of some sort in my house since the “great flood” that left half my carpet looking worse off than it already did after 14 years of wear and tear.
Silly. I know. But if you’re honest, you have similar tendencies.
And when we let ourselves run down Comparison Road too often, we start getting sucked into a joy-stealing vortex that leads to bitterness and resentment.
If you’ve resonated with the red flag of using comparisons to determine your identity, then it’s worth making some changes.
More honesty… Comparison is really more about focusing on ourselves than other people. We get wrapped up in what we aren’t or what we perceive we don’t have and lose sight of others’ needs. We fail to love others. We can’t grow closer to Christ.
Let’s look at the steps Nicole suggests we take to turn our eyes off ourselves, to quit this comparison game.
Step #1 — Find Your Blind Spots
Figure out where you are most prone to compare. One way to do this is to be aware of your internal dialogue, that running conversation you have with yourself about your appearance, relationships, support systems, career choices, money, etc.
Remember the peephole-at-the-parade idea — seeing only what little your peephole allows you, missing the big picture. This image has really resonated with me. It captures so much of our lives’ perspectives. We only see what we see.
When we see a friend who enviably has the job we dream of, we only see the friend and the job. We don’t see her stresses. We don’t see her insecurities. We don’t see her marriage that’s falling apart or her mother’s terminal illness. Our limited view allows us to hone in on the THING that we desire and pine away for it, envying her for it, growing bitter over it.
When reality for that friend couldn’t be more different.
When our own blindness for our blessings couldn’t be more flagrant.
And when we let that bitterness seep in, our joy is stolen away!
Nicole offers some questions we can ask ourselves when we catch ourselves comparing:
- Why do I think this person’s life is better/happier than mine?
- What does she have, specifically, that I think makes it that way?
- If I had that quality, how do I think my life might be different?
- If the quality is attainable, what am I doing to make a change toward acquiring it for myself?
- If the quality isn’t attainable, how will I mourn what isn’t and make peace with what is? How will I invite God to open my eyes to the blessings in my own situation?
Step #2 — Open Your Heart
So, we ask God to show us our blind spots, to see our issues clearly. When they come into focus, we bow down — humble ourselves before God.
The Lord gives sight to the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down. Psalm 146:8
When we can see, and admit, that our comparisons are “affecting our happiness and souring our relationships,” then we can “pay attention to our emotional responses.”
Nicole recognized that she used resentment to deflect painful feelings as rejection and loss. We might feel sorry for ourselves or dive deeper into selfishness. And when we allow those emotional responses to take over, we miss the actual problem.
Remember Abel’s brother, Cain? He blamed his brother to the point of missing his own sin, his own disobedience and stubbornness before God.
What Cain failed to do was humble himself before God, which is the very thing we NEED to do. See our blind spots, then get before God with humility and vulnerability. When we do that, God will be gracious. He will provide us with something…
a person or a word or an experience that encourages us to keep being exactly who I am, to be okay with how He’s made me.
Opening our eyes and accepting who we are created to be allows us to shift our gaze, our focus from ourselves to all our blessings!
Step #3 — Ignore Everybody
When I first read that heading, I couldn’t imagine where Nicole was going. But in Nicole fashion, she did research and discovered a direct correlation between comparisons and creativity.
To summarize: where comparison lives, creativity is not to be found.
Also in her research she came across a book on creativity, Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity. Ahhh–that’s where she’s going. So maybe if we just ignore others, we’ll discover our creative side? Perhaps not ignoring their needs (as I had first wondered) but ignoring what they do and think. That would free us to be more creative, more…US.
Nicole dug a little deeper and discovered that the Apostle Paul touched on the “ignore everybody” idea:
We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense. We, however, will not boast beyond limits, but will keep within the field that God has assigned to us, to reach out even as far as you. 2 Corinthians 10:12-13 (NRSV)
The Corinthians were track-and-field competitors, so Paul’s allusion to the field would have resonated with them. When he saw their tendency to compare themselves, Paul reminded them to stay in their own lanes. Nicole is suggesting the same…
You are on your own field, in a course marked out for you in advance. This competition is between you and the you God wants you to be. If you want to compare yourself, why don’t you ask God about the you He sees you can be.
Step #4 — Direct Your Sight
Another great visual Nicole gave us in the last chapter was the group of kids who were happy with their bags of candy…UNTIL THEY COMPARED WHAT THEY HAD to what others in the room had.
It robbed their joy, stole their happiness. They moaned and groaned about what they didn’t have when only minutes before they were giddy with their candy prospects.
I mentioned my son who was quite happy with his Christmas presents till he got to school and saw what other kids had gotten. Then he focused on what he didn’t have, and his joy? Long gone.
In Matthew 20 there’s a parable about a landowner who hired several sets of workers to harvest his vineyard. He bargained with the morning crew on a set payment. He hired more workers as the day wore on. When quitting time came, he paid the afternoon shift the amount he’d said he’d pay the morning workers (who’d worked all day). When it was their turn to be paid, those morning workers scoffed and balked when he paid them that same amount.
They were content to be paid that amount until they compared their efforts (and pay) with those who’d worked half a day. The landowner looked at them and said, “Are you envious because I am generous?”
Ingratitude can sour our joy. And…we are disrespecting God’s generosity when we ignore His gifts just because they don’t appear to compare with gifts He’s given others.
Thinking about those kids with the bags of candy, we could well learn to keep our eyes on our own bags! In other words, “Focus on what God has given you rather than what you don’t have.”
If you’re tempted to compare…stop. It is a choice. We do have control over what we think and how we respond. The trick when we stop those comparison-filled thoughts is to have something at the ready to replace them with.
Scripture is a perfect way to do just that. When I’m tempted to compare my ugly, water-marked carpet with someone’s brand new, fluffy, good-smelling carpet, I need to insert verses like Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice,” asking God to help me have a heart that is joyful in others’ joy. That will stop me from going further down that comparison road. I will stop before I begin to be bitter and resentful about what I don’t have. And, just maybe, I’d even be able to be happy for my friend and her new carpet!
There are questions we can train ourselves to ask or things we can do when we start comparing and reacting. Here are some for instances:
- When you think I wish I were more like her, replace that thought with I’m only seeing a small sliver of this person’s life.
- When you wish for something you don’t have, fix your eyes on what you do have.
- Foster creativity. Make a conscious effort to pursue activities you love. Paint pictures. Swing on the monkey bars. Take hip-hop. Ignore everybody else and create!
So, now maybe we can agree with Old Abe, He had it right after all. We’re about as happy as we make up our minds to be.
There it is.
Choosing gratitude, choosing not to compare…at least, I’m trying…