“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
For a long time, I surrounded myself with this idea — I set it as my phone background, wrote it on a sticky note and tacked it at eye-level on my dorm room desk.
Often attributed to Teddy Roosevelt (at least, that’s what all the flowery images on the Google search indicate), this phrase served as a thin sliver of hope when I found myself facing down my familiar foes: recurring insecurities of “that person’s answer was much more eloquent than mine,” “that picture got more likes than mine,” “everyone is engaged, so what am I doing wrong?”
Once I’d start down this path, my mind would wander back to this piece of Pinterest-worthy wisdom. Even now I still find comfort in knowing I don’t have to meet all the standards friends or coworkers or strangers on the Internet unknowingly set for me. But I realized one day everything I was losing by not comparing.
Comparison can be a thief, all right — a thief of confidence, self-esteem and a whole bunch of other lovely things.
Too often we strap on ugly lenses when it comes to this notion of comparing ourselves to others – lenses colored with envy, jealousy and the gnawing, impossible desire to possess the best features of everyone we encounter. But not all comparison is doomed to leave us disgusted with ourselves and dissatisfied with our circumstances.
In that spirit, I offer up a few other “comparison” statements, and while they may not adorn a motivational poster or the virtual bulletin boards of the Internet anytime soon, they might be a welcome challenge for many of us.
Comparison sharpens us.
I’m not one for sports metaphors, but despite the fact I zone out whenever my pastor mentions Sunday’s football game, this summer I was parked on the couch for three whole weeks with NBC Olympics coverage flashing across the television screen. I oohed and ahhed at the flips and tumbles, the feats of strength.
Of course, these men and women spent countless hours alone – running, swimming, lifting – as they prepared for the games. But think of the time they spent with others, with coaches, with teammates. Think of the time spent watching and reading of those who went before, the icons of their sports. Think of the time spent watching each other in Rio, noticing strengths and flaws and quirks.
Yes, too much comparison can steal much away. But it can also make us better. It forces us to analyze our weaknesses and admire our strengths. It emboldens us to try a little harder, push a little farther, in our efforts to compete with others.
To put it more biblically, “Iron sharpens iron.” And isn’t that language of “sharpening” rather wonderful? What if we thought of ourselves as being sharpened, not simply worn down?
Comparison bursts our bubbles.
… In a couple different ways.
We all know the disappointment of a “burst bubble” when someone is stronger/faster/smarter/etc. But how about the bubbles we live in, work in, play in? What might happen if we didn’t stand up on our tip-toes and look around every once in a while?
Great motivation can come in observing a friend’s success and wanting to achieve similar results. Also, in comparing our stories and experiences with those of others, we develop empathy; we see lives and trials and sacrifices we don’t have, and in that moment we cultivate profound gratefulness and compassion. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but that shouldn’t stop us from peeking over the fence every now and then.
It’s not a sin to be startled out of our comfort zones.
Comparison is a way to draw closer to Christ.
As Christians, we’re called to be holy — not just pious, religious, or disciplined. We’re not supposed to compare ourselves to our favorite saint or Christian blogger. We’re supposed to compare ourselves to Christ.
Here’s how Peter puts it:
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’
That’s outrageous, right? “As he who called you is holy, you also be.” It’s a comparison we can try to make, and it’s one we’ll inevitably, unquestionably fail at. So why is it even there? When our comfort and satisfaction demand we resist comparison, why are we required to aim for such high thoughts, words and actions?
Books could be written (and have been written) on this, so I won’t elaborate too much, but I think it has something to do with grace, reflecting our Maker’s love and nature as best we can, and giving Him all sorts of opportunities to pick us up when we trip and fall flat in those attempts.
“Be holy, for I am holy.” It’s the most outrageous comparison of all – and it’s one we’re called to make.
How’s that for wearing different lenses?