Humans seem wired for the comparison game, and the tendency to evaluate our lives against the lives of those around us only seems to intensify the older we get.
As I’ve lived through my 20s and now am closer to 30 than to 20, the tendency to compare my life against others’ has popped up more times than I would like. Who is married, and who isn’t? Who has a stable job, and who is still looking? Who is buying a house? How come some of my friends already have multiple kids when I’ve only recently gotten married? Am I behind? Who will stay home with their children, and who will return to their outside-the-home careers after maternity leave? What should I decide once I have kids? How are my friends raising their kids? Will I raise my kids the same way, or will I raise them differently?
I understand that asking some of these questions is a normal part of growing up and deciding what my values are and what my choices will be. It’s natural to look at what others have chosen so that I can learn from their lives and make the best decision for my own situation. However, what bothers me is not when these questions are asked in isolation, but when they pop up in response to a friend’s announcement. I’m engaged! I’m pregnant! We’re buying a house! I got a promotion! Sometimes I wonder if it is even possible to hear this news without reflecting back on my life and comparing my friend’s news to my own news (or lack thereof). Why can’t I just be happy for my friends, celebrate their news, and encourage them? It’s their moment, not mine. It’s their news, not mine.
In a letter to Roman Christians many centuries ago, the missionary Paul wrote, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Why is it so hard to follow this simple instruction?
My friends and I have talked about this struggle, and our conversation usually centers on how the comparison game is a result of insecurity, a judgmental attitude, and lack of contentment. Those are valid issues, but at the core I think the comparison game is simply another example of the spirit-versus-flesh battle that every Christian experiences. If we read the context of chapter 12 of Paul’s letter to the Romans, we see that the focus is on living not as the world lives but in a way that is pleasing to God. Paul mentions many things we should do: renew our minds, accept that each of us has different gifts yet are part of the same body, love sincerely, honor others above ourselves, be hospitable, don’t be proud or conceited, live in peace with everyone, and more. The underlying message seems to be that these things are not what our sinful nature wants to do, but as followers of Christ and children of God, they are precisely what we should do.
Our sinful nature makes us compare, think of ourselves as better than others, be unloving and impatient, complain, take revenge, and argue our point, but when we choose to make Jesus the Lord of our life and strive to be more like Him each day, we find freedom from our sinful nature.
In another letter, this time to Christians living in Galatia, Paul compared the acts of the sinful nature, which include jealousy, hatred, and envy among other things, to the fruit of living a Spirit-led life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5). Those are the traits that should characterize our life and reactions when we choose to deny our sinful flesh and let God’s Spirit in us take over.
Hearing a friend’s news can bring up so many feelings ranging from doubt to insecurity to sadness to resentment. We can be insecure about the decisions we’ve made, and we can be sad or even resentful that we might not even have the luxury of making that decision. The comparison game only breeds more of these feelings, and that’s certainly not something I want in my life.
Next time a friend shares some news, I’m going to choose to encourage, rejoice and support instead of compare, judge or question. What will you choose?
Natasha Dagys Limones is a school psychologist who enjoys reading, music, cycling, and serving her local church with her husband.
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