Are We Driving Others to the Sin of Comparison?

the_most_terrible_poverty_is_loneliness2c_and_the_feeling_of_being_unlovedThe woman who gazes at a hated reflection and wishes she were thinner and prettier.

The poor man who wears himself out pursuing the worry-free life of a millionaire.

The failed applicant who lost to someone with a longer resume (or better connections).

The scrawny sophomore who sits at home envying the senior jock who seems to go nowhere without an entourage.

All these people are comparing ourselves to others. It’s a rampant problem in today’s society. I needn’t rehash the costly and damaging things people do to attain the standards society promotes.

Much Christian teaching these days, directed at millennials in particular, has recognized the insecurity bred by this phenomenon and offers an answer: to “stop comparing yourself to others and find your satisfaction in God“.

There is truth to this. Even the world manages to stumble haphazardly upon this truth as it blindly gropes its way across the landscape. “A broken clock is right twice a day” and all that. And I would hasten to add that there are good reasons for some of the comparisons we perform. Job hunts are comparisons. We want the best person for the job. We would not hand a pulpit to an uneducated layman (or Satanist), or an engineer’s desk to a botanist who doesn’t know a wrench from his rear end.

However, at the end of the day, there are still lonely and undervalued people out there. There’s a missing piece to the puzzle: us. We have a role to play. And I suspect that we have allowed the competition aspect of life to spill its banks, become more prevalent than it should be.

We’re a busy people. Our schedules are crammed and hectic. Our energies are capped, as we know too well from our cappuccino expenses. We simply don’t have time for everything, so we prioritize.

Prioritization is a competition. It’s a race between various pursuits, projects, people, and possibilities in our lives. We hold up two things we’d like to do (or know we should) and compare their value to us. There’s a winner, and there’s a loser. We then give time, energy, and resources to the winner, while the loser goes procrastinated, postponed, or undone.

competitionSometimes these knockdown fights between competing priorities take weeks, a pros-cons list, and several rounds of prayer. Other times, it’s near-instant, subconscious, like dividing your time between your best friend or that new person we don’t know.

And when it comes to these lonely, self-hating people, what we don’t articulate is that they have lost a competition. Usually more than one. At countless points throughout the years, these people have been “seeded” against someone else – someone angling for the same opportunity, or with similar gifts or talents, or who can offer better entertainment, or perhaps just a more interesting hobby. And they’ve lost out. Whether because of their looks, abilities, personality, rung on the socio-economic ladder – who knows. We judge people by their shoes, for heaven’s sake. And though we have all been on both ends of this spectrum (the comparing and compared), there are indisputably those out there who spend a lot more time on the latter end.

People have learned something from this. They’ve learned that if they’re going to successfully compete for love and affirmation, they have to compare themselves to those who are winning.

They learn to constantly, unconsciously, glean tips on “how to make it”. Write a better application letter. Walk more confidently on the sidewalk. They didn’t just decide one day to subject themselves to a nightmare existence of constant self-flagellation via comparison. They do it because they keep losing. They remain unseen, less loved. Wear this coat and tie to the coffeeshop (the coffeeshop??!!!?!?!!!111), or start that energy diet, society vague-mocks, as they hold up ridiculous standards and then turn around and exploit the resulting insecurity to sell self-help magazines.

I wish I could say the church was different. I think mine is. But we’re not perfect. We help decide whether people feel accepted. Whether they sense forgiveness. Whether they are valued, competent, or appreciated. We do politics. Cliques. The woman who sits in the pew longing for the honor and visibility the church gives to the young couple who waited? She might be wanting the wrong thing. But there might be a kernel of truth to her heart’s cry as well. It might be simply a cry for love and mercy, spilled over into the wrong channels but still valid at its source. Ask Zaccheus.

Are we imposing the very comparisons we tell others to avoid?

It’s worth asking. People compare themselves because we’ve taught them to do so. To be clear, we are all responsible for our own sins; if we compare ourselves, we’re on the hook with God for that, and cannot blame anything or anyone else. But the fact remains: anyone saddled with a “disadvantage” is eventually going to start seeing life as a series of competitions to be won. And we’ve played a role in that.

Which leaves a few holes in our preaching about “stop comparing yourself, you’re a child of God”. Holes shaped like us.

I have some thoughts about the solution, but alas, this post is growing in size to where it will inevitably start losing to shorter posts in the competition for people’s reading time. 🙂 So I will come back Monday with that.

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you feel this post could help someone, please feel free to share it on social media.

20 thoughts on “Are We Driving Others to the Sin of Comparison?

  1. On the long resume thing, just wait until yours is too long. If you leave things out, you don’t get the job for deceiving them. You could say old age discrimination, but they have you either way. Good post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brandon, see, your posts are better than mine… 😀 Sorry, couldn’t stop myself, and so true to my nature. I do compare myself, my entries, my insights, and discoveries to others. My struggle against that has been a large motivation in trying to reframe my pursuit of understanding of my Master by relying on others insight (knothole theology). Thank you for your insight here. Great stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Timely – always! My granddaughter was just sharing her thoughts with me about learning to be herself and stop worrying about what others think. I am so excited that, at 19, she is learning to value herself and find who she is meant to be as she follows God’s plan for her life. Once she is comfortable with herself as a child of God, she’ll be much better able to be a light of His love to others. Thank you for the time and thoughtful effort you put into this inspiring post!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very true. I think as Christians, we need to be more loving of people of different ages and personalities. I remembered being very lonely growing up in church, just for some odd reason felt like no one cared. But God sort of used that experience to make me take a look at my own self and how I treated others. I then, despite being very introverted, started to reach out beyond the pews were I sat, went and sat with people who I saw had no one sitting next to them, started conversations with the elderly especially, and just genuinely showing that hey I care. It really starts with us, whether we feel it or not, sit down with someone you sense is lonely, give a piece of your heart, expecting nothing in return.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Well said. It’s easy to fall into the trap and I always feel uncomfortable if I find out someone is comparing themselves to me because I’m totally not perfect! I think that’s why James encourages us to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another—it keeps us humble!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I once read a story of a guy who got to meet a famous pastor – first thing the famous pastor did upon sitting down in his office was start to confess his sins to this random guy. He did it so that this random guy wouldn’t idolize him but would keep his focus firmly on God, who forgives sins.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Loving the Comparers | Brandon J. Adams

    • My response would be, comparison is a bad thing if you’re forgetting to love them where they are.

      That was a terrific article, but it goes after a different facet of the matter, a more practical side. There’s a lot to be said for what she suggests, going “Well, yes, he IS doing better, there’s nothing automatically wrong with that, here’s how you might do the same”. She’s promoting the maturity to submit to improvement and celebrate someone else’s gifting or success. And I love what she said about having a “thick gospel-skin”. That’s a great phrase.

      What I was trying to highlight is those whose differences are actively causing others to pull away. My question is, does the struggling homemaker feel bad because she’s a struggling homemaker, or the educationally disinclined student feel bad because he’s educationally disinclined? Or are they feeling bad because others are actively DUMPING them because of their shortfalls? Let’s face it, we’re all drawn towards the more successful. None of us are off the hook there, least of all me. Abigail either assumes that’s not happening, which would be basic ignorance of the world around us, or (more likely) the rejection side of things is just not within the scope of her article.

      In the end, I would argue that love is more core here, both from God and from others. Paul says that, much like anything times zero is zero, anything without love is nothing. You can tell someone how to self-improve (or Christ-improve); you can break the bad news that God has closed a certain path to them by not giving them the same gift as another and teaching them to accept that. But if it’s done without love, without involvement, without getting out of our comfort zones, rolling up our sleeves, and diving into their lives, you’re only twisting the knife with ivory-tower preaching. Because in the end, we can’t guarantee that homemaker will ever improve, or that the student will ever get straight A’s. If that’s their goal, their inner joy will remain forever hinged upon the outcome of that quest, and if people are sending (by their distance) the unspoken message that “yes, this is what you need to do to get love”, it will remain their goal.

      God’s love has to be the ultimate source of joy for us, and its dispensation is to be shared by us. I’m sure the Desiring God gang would be the last to disagree with that.

      (Dang. I think that comment is the article I REALLY wanted to write. LOL)

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t disagree that we owe love, but I think seeing someone who may be better at something gives us a marker to strive towards. Will we reach it? Any movement towards it is closer. I remember when I was a younger mom of teenagers, I used to watch this other mom. If my memory serves me correctly, I spoke to her about how she appeared so driven in pushing her kids scholastically; whereas, I felt that I was struggling. I felt I deserved the diploma for my son because it took so much on my part to get him over the goal line! But he made it, not with straight A’s, that was not the goal. He had my love, but my love pushed him to what I believe was best for his future.

        Thanks for reading the post and providing your thorough input! :>) I only shared it because I had just read that. Both of you were coming from different perspectives.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s