Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Combating Comparison

Several weeks ago a super sweet friend and partner in ministry asked if I'd team up with her to talk about comparison at a Brookside women's event.


Funny. It's been plaguing me for months.

For me, comparison is like asthma. It's always there, but sometimes there are flare-ups.

So, I thought I'd relate some of the things Kala and I shared to a room full of 40-some women. And be sure to check out her blog post on the matter. You'll be missing out on a lot of richness if you don't :)

Let's start with what comparison does to yourself.

Theodore Roosevelt had it right when he said, "Comparison is the thief of joy." As Kala mentioned it robs us of so much: peace, satisfaction, self-worth and celebration, to name a few.

I've also become aware of how comparison robs us of the way God created us and the very special work and purpose he has for us. It doesn't get much clearer than what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians.

A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it. But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn’t be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost; I don’t need you”? Or, Head telling Foot, “You’re fired; your job has been phased out”? As a matter of fact, in practice it works the other way—the “lower” the part, the more basic, and therefore necessary. You can live without an eye, for instance, but not without a stomach. When it’s a part of your own body you are concerned with, it makes no difference whether the part is visible or clothed, higher or lower. You give it dignity and honor just as it is, without comparisons. If anything, you have more concern for the lower parts than the higher. If you had to choose, wouldn’t you prefer good digestion to full-bodied hair? The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance. You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything. 1 Corinthians 12:14-27 The Message (emphasis mine)

How about what comparison does to your friendships?

Friendships can be a minefield for comparison. I spoke to the Mamas in the crowd on this one.

From the moment I became pregnant, I entered a whole new realm of comparison.  When I was pregnant, I looked at other baby bumps around me. “Well that’s a cute little bump” or “She doesn’t even look pregnant from behind.” And after I had my babies it was, “She had her baby about the same time I did, but she’s lost all of her baby weight!” And now, I can look around at other moms and think, “Wow. She is super mom.” Or, “Wow. She has no control over her children.” And not only and I comparing myself to someone I was never meant to measure up against, I am passing judgment on them. I am looking at the outside. 

Comparison is so shallow.

It reminds me of a story in the Old Testament when the Lord leads Samuel to choose the next King from Jesse’s sons.  Samuel assumes that the tallest, buffest, most handsome son will be the next King, but he is wrong. And God reminds him: The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7) That, my friends, is the trap I often fall into. Whether we're at the store, on the playground, reading a blog or scrolling through Facebook, we can compare ourselves ALL. DAY. LONG.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. The Lord is showing me that if I give it to Him, He will take it. Gladly. Here are two things that have been helpful to me when comparison starts to creep in.

1.    Confessing it.
Calling it what is it. Acknowledging that I'm going down that road and that I don't want to go there. I need to ask the Lord to take it away and change my heart.
2.    Giving thanks.
I think a lot of the comparison I struggle with comes from being ungrateful. It’s funny because in my head I continually think "Wow, I'm so thankful for fill-in-the-blank." Yet I continue to want. It’s not until I literally name the blessings in my life, give thanks for them, does that hunger begin to be filled. Sometimes I just look around the room: “Lord thank you for the toys that are scattered about. Thank you that this mess means there were children playing.” When I’m struggling with my body I can give thanks for it. “Lord thank you for the stretched skin that reminds me of the two healthy, full term babies that grew inside of me. Thank you I have the ability to exercise, even if I don’t always have the opportunity.”

You might be familiar with the book 1,000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp. In it she quotes:
“…but to give thanks is an action and rejoice is a verb and these are not mere pulsing emotions. While I may not always feel joy, God asks me to give thanks in all things, because He knows that the feeling of joy begins in the action of thanksgiving.”

Remember that comparison is the thief of joy. I believe thanksgiving can overcome the thief.

And finally, if you're the God-seeking type, what comparison does to your relationship with the Lord.

I mentioned comparison had been plaguing me for months. Here's a journal entry from May 30th, 2013.

I went for a run last night. It was nearly 9 o'clock and I was sleepy but I needed to move my body and release some tension. I spent the first part of my run praying and confessing- just seeking God. As I was confessing my struggles with comparison, jealously, etc over other people's lives I realized that it's more than comparing-it's idolatry. So often I can look at other and think they are perfect or lead a perfect life. Obviously, deep down I know there is no such thing as perfection in us humans, but sometimes I can believe that lie. Truth is, there is only one who is perfect and it is the Lord Jesus. How dare I.

That is when I realized not only was I comparing, I was idolizing people instead of God. There is no one that we need to hold ourselves up to except for Jesus. HE is the one we need to idolize.

I think comparison also shows my distrust of the Lord. It's like I don't trust that He's already given me what is best for me. And it's a downward spiral from there...

On the bright side, in the midst of this struggle I’ve felt the urgency of remaining rooted in God’s word. It's the only thing that keeps me sane. I don't necessarily have a revelation or an "a-ha!" moment each time I read the Bible. But I do trust the words in Isaiah 55:

10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
 without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Comparison is messy. Ugly. Shallow. A thief. 

I don't know of any cures or solutions. No doctor's order here... Gimme a shout if you have a miracle drug.

For now, I have this:

So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.  Romans 12:5-6 The Message

1 comment:

Laura said...

Such important truths, beautifully said. I know I'll be thinking about this.