Comparison: 1. to look at (two or more things) closely in order to see what is similar or different about them or in order to decide which one is better. 2. to seem better or worse, good or bad, when measured against something else.
Have you already found yourself comparing (yourself with others, or your family with other families) this Christmas? Comparison is a sneaky ruiner — both at Christmas (and every other day). So why, then, do we look at others and compare, constantly measuring ourselves, deciding whether we’re better or worse? And how do we rid ourselves of this insidious practice? How do we even recognize when we’re comparing?
“Have you received the annual Christmas letter from The Perfect Family? You know, the one with the kids who captain the lacrosse team, make the dean’s list, play violin, serve at the homeless shelter, and learn Greek and Latin, all while mentoring other children? By the time you finish reading the letter and set it down with trembling hands, your Christmas spirit has evaporated. You have a panicky fear that maybe you haven’t provided enough opportunities for your kids.”
That’s a description of everyday, joy-sabotaging comparison at work. What are we to do?
“In moments like this — and in a thousand other moments of parenting panic — it’s good to remind ourselves of where we’re headed and what counts the most:
…straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13–14)
Paul…point[s] to the ultimate goal of life, and, by implication, the ultimate goal of parenting. These verses can turn panicky parents into pilgrim parents with a purpose.” (Stephen Witmer, Parents, You Can’t Build Heaven Here)
Instead of wasting our life comparing, we’re to press on toward the ultimate prize. I understand that. But, before I’m able to take lasting steps toward breaking my cycle of comparison, I need to know why I compare myself (or my family, or my job, or, well, my life) with others (at Christmas, or any other time).
The why of comparison
In Genesis 2, God creates a boundary of goodness for Adam and Eve (verses 16-17). His good boundary announces that He is the creator, and they are the created. They’re meant to rest in sweet, unhindered relationship with Him. In verse 25, we see that they have no sense of being disconnected, or of needing to hide from each other, or of not measuring up. They are happy. They are in union with God, and with each other.
But they are tempted to believe that God has not given them all they need, and in dissatisfaction, they thwart the boundary, eating the fruit (Genesis 3:8-11). Then, they hear God, and they’re afraid. Fear and hiding have begun. They’ve moved away from sweet relationship with their Creator, and they feel shame. They’re sure now that they don’t measure up. So. They go and hide.
And we each choose this same ruinous cycle. We’re sure we don’t measure up. We fear. We hide. From God and from each other.
What will we do to break the comparison-fear-hiding cycle? This: We who know the Lord take our eyes off those around us (eradicating all forms of comparison) and intentionally fix our eyes on the prize for which we’ve been called — the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
OK, but how’s that done?
Never in the power of self: never by self-determination, or self-flagellation, or self-recrimination. Only through prayer, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Like this:
- You realize you’re comparing; but you don’t want to wallow in self-pity (they’re better) or burst from pride (I’m better.)
- You remember the original sin of the garden and the original comparison that began there…
- You pray for help! You don’t stay in a useless cycle of self-talk. You, instead, repent and talk to your gracious, forgiving God.
- As you pray, you ask Him to remind you that you are the beloved child of the Father, the chosen bride of the Lamb.
- And because He loves you so well, you hate your ungrateful, horizontal comparisons:
“Father, I’m comparing again. I’m fixing my eyes on the people around me, and feeling choked by the experience. I want to hide, and cover myself with a self-protective coating. O God, calm my heart with a sense of your depth of love for me. Rescue me! Turn my eyes and mind back toward the great call you have on my life!”
- You intentionally think of the person(s) you’re comparing yourself to as created by God. You pray for them, thanking God for the life He’s given them, and for the way He’s used their life to convict you of your sin.
- If necessary, you do this six-hundred times a day.
And the glorious ending (at Christmas, and every other day of the year): He will perfect in you what He’s begun; and in the process of slaying your tendency toward life-draining comparison, you’ll never be alone.