Friday, April 8, 2016

The Unhealthy Comparison Game

About a month ago, a friend posted the below meme on her social media page.

I chuckled a little to myself, recognizing that like many young moms, she has undoubtedly received more than her fair share of unsolicited opinions about her life choices. And she is looking on the bright side of things!

But then I stopped smiling. I have friends who have had children young, but also many who have had children later in life (or who are still waiting) for a whole host of reasons. I wondered what they would think. What the post was really saying was, "Stop judging my life choice. To prove my point, I will judge your life choice (or something that might not have even been your choice) even more. So there! Take that!"

It dawned on me that this was human nature on display. Why is it so much easier to look on the bright side when we can look down on someone else?

This is not just a phenomenon of parenting.

When I was in fifth grade, I remember walking out of the locker room for gym class on the first day that was warm enough to wear shorts. I heard laughter and felt certain it was directed at my chicken legs.  (I still had no calves in site when I ran cross country and lifted daily in high school, so I was doomed biologically.) I remember feeling hurt, but I brushed it off and cheered myself up by thinking, "Oh yeah, well at least I am smarter than all of you."

And so at the ripe old age of ten, I began a long career of making myself feel better by looking down on others, usually without even realizing it.

I think it can be healthy when we learn to appreciate our strengths or the positives of our circumstance when confronted with weaknesses and challenges. This is not to say we should be blind to our situation, but rather, we can rest assured that no one is good at everything or experiences every advantage, but everyone is good at something and has something to contribute; I have gifts that I bring to the table.

But it is all too easy to corrupt an awareness of our strengths or good fortune into a self righteous comparison with others. This is especially true when we are feeling insecure in some way.

At least I look more attractive, run faster, write better, work harder, earn more money, sing louder, eat healthier, keep my house cleaner, act more responsibly, have a more prestigious title, drive a faster car, volunteer more of my time, go on better vacations, pray more, keep better friends, get more attention from the opposite sex, parent better, have seen more of the world, paint more beautifully, invest wiser, went to a better college, cook tastier, you-name-your-favorite-point-of-pride than that other person or group.

But I am convinced that this way of thinking does not have nearly the positive effects we think it will.  It is ultimately born out of jealousy and the need to feel important. The problem is, no matter how many merits we accumulate, there is always going to be someone else who is smarter, faster, and better than we are. We can never be satisfied in this striving. In the end, we have made someone else feel lower, and we still do not come out on top.
God's word says, "But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don't cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God's kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind." (James 3:14-16) 
It also says, "For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you." (Romans 12:3) 
And finally, "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." (2 Corinthians 12:9) 

It is hard to love others when we are looking down on them, and it is difficult to really care about someone else's needs when we are focusing so intently on our own advancement and image. Not to mention, it really doesn't help us a whole lot, either.

Strong relationships and communities are built on honesty about our faults and hardships, celebrating each other's strengths and good fortune, and spurring each other on to grow. If we trust what God says in these passages, then we can let go of jealousy to embrace both our strengths and our weaknesses, because they both present opportunities for God to put his own greatness on display. And we can embrace the mantra that we are better as a group because of the amazing gifts every person brings to the table.

It is my hope that as I mature as a person, I will grow more secure in who I am in God's eyes, so that I can also grow more thankful for who others are, as well. It is my hope that I will stop making myself feel better by bringing others down.

I encourage you to consider what areas of your life might be points of unhealthy pride or comparison? How is self righteousness sucking life out of yourself and your community? How can you choose health by exercising thankfulness for what you have while also celebrating what others bring to the table?

p.s. I also recently read this great article about the comparison game among women and in parenting. It takes on a surprising and refreshing twist mid-article. And I think the attitudes and lessons it mentions apply to folks in every life situation. Check it out!  "No Leprechauns, No Valentine's Boxes, No Elves, and Why That is Okay"

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