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Breaking Free from the Trap of Comparison
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” That statement is as true now, as it was when Theodore Roosevelt wrote it in 1898. Perhaps truer. While the advent of a social media age has better connected the world, it has also made it easier for us to compare ourselves with one another.
Picture this: You are lying on your bed, mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok, or your platform of choice. As you swipe from post to post, each of which displaying everyone’s seemingly perfect lives, you notice yourself beginning to feel more and more dragged down. Shining up at you from your phone are friends on thrilling adventures, dressed in the best outfits, traveling the world with their significant others, and always seeming to be living their best life. They are happy, beautiful, successful, and always smiling. They are everything you want to be, but are not. They seem to have everything you want, yet do not. From the back of your mind, a thought arises, Why can’t I meet someone like her? Why can’t I afford to go where they are going? As the negative thought pattern continues, it ends in a question you have asked yourself time and time again: Will I ever be good enough?
Comparison Hinders Our Destiny
The Bible says that when we compare ourselves to others, we are being “ignorant” (2 Corinthians 10:12). This is because comparison not only robs us of our joy, but it also hinders our destiny by stealing our confidence in who God has created us be, our courage in doing what God has called us to do, and our compassion in reaching the people God has called us to reach. It also blinds us from seeing the blessings God has already bestowed upon us.
When God called Moses to free His people that were in bondage to Egypt, Moses complained that he was not good enough and begged God to pick someone else. His specific argument was that he was not a good speaker. Where did he get that idea from? Perhaps he had seen others who spoke well and had begun to compare himself with them. Interestingly, Acts 7:22b (NIV) reveals that he was actually “powerful in speech and action.” Yet because he was busy comparing himself to others, the gifts God had given him were virtually ignored.
This past weekend, Fermin Garcia taught that the Kingdom of God functions very differently from the world. While comparison is the way of the world, God has given us a better way. I’m glad that among the many blessings God has given to us, He did not give us a measuring stick with which to compare ourselves with others. But He has given us ways to break free from this toxic habit of comparison.
1. Practice Gratefulness
Thanksgiving is a great quality to have, but it goes deeper when it develops into gratitude. Although thanksgiving and gratitude may seem like the same thing, The Oxford Dictionary defines the word grateful as “showing an appreciation of kindness.” This is where the difference lies; being thankful is a feeling and being grateful is an action.
Grateful people rarely compare themselves with others because they are too busy appreciating the gifts that they have already been given. Remember that Stephen in Acts 7:22 revealed that the very gift Moses was complaining about not having, he already had! It is when we stop being thankful for what we have that we begin to look at what we don’t have, opening the door to comparison.
Melody Beattie, a popular self-help author once said, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
One of the ways you can practice gratitude is writing down the things God has done for you or through you, and then to begin to actively thanking for those things. Philemon 1:4 says our faith is made more effective when we “acknowledge every good thing we have in Christ Jesus.”
2. Cultivate Generosity
Perhaps nothing gets you out of the trap of comparison faster than embracing a lifestyle of generosity. It can be tempting to think that being generous has more to do with the recipient of the generous act, but much more often it has to do with the giver. It was Jesus who said that it was “more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).” The blessing is not just material, but spiritual. Generosity breaks the chains of comparison in the giver, while providing for the receiver. It is a powerful principle!
When the rich young ruler came to Jesus in Matthew 19, Jesus identified in him a heart that was in bondage to money and challenged him to sell all he had and give the profit to the poor. The reason for that challenge was not primarily for the benefit of the poor (although they would have benefitted), but it was for the sake of that young ruler who would then be liberated from the love of money.
Jesus said when you are generous with what you have, you are storing up treasures in heaven and that is where your heart would be (Matthew 6:19-21). And if your heart is focussed on the things of heaven, it will not be focussed on the things that others have, that you don’t have.
3. Embrace Grace
As Jesus walked the Earth teaching about the Kingdom of God, He made a point to confront this toxic thought pattern of comparison. In Matthew 20, He told of a landowner who hired laborers to work in his vineyard. Some workers were hired and started their work early in the morning, others were hired midday, and still others came in just before the end of the day. Yet when it came for them to receive their wages, the landowner paid them all the same amount of wages. Indignant that those who only worked an hour should be paid the same as those that had borne the burden of the day, those that that had been there since the start began to complain to the landowner, comparing their labour to those that were hired at the end of the day.
Jesus used this parable to illustrate grace; God’s unmerited favor. While those that came at the beginning of the day had a fixed agreement on the wages (Matthew 20:2), the rest agreed to be paid what was “right” (verse 4). What is right in the Kingdom of God, is grace. And when we truly embrace grace, there will be no need to compare because “the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.”
When we recognize that God’s grace is freely given to all that will accept it irrelevant of their status, seniority or standards, we can choose to be grateful for what God is doing in the lives of others instead of comparing it with what we have. When it comes time to receive the wage of eternal life, we can rejoice that God’s kindness surrounds those who have served him for decades and those who have served him for one year. Both receive the gift of eternal life. And it is that celebration of the grace of God in other’s lives that I believe can unlock the things that you are believing for and break you free from the trap of comparison.