in pursuit of critical and compassionate living and thought. in surrender to courage & delight of Christ.
Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Most all of us know from experience that he was right. But how can we escape it? I believe a lot of what we are told about this…is wrong.
We think comparison starts when we see someone else or something else to compare ourselves to. But actually, comparison starts with ourselves. Our today-self looks back at last year, our younger years, that really good season and desires it more than what is in store for today. We covet our former lives, possessions, looks, situations, relationships, mentalities, aptitudes, successes. We say “I used to be an athlete,” “I was so healthy back then,” “she made me so happy,” “I was blissfully naive,” “I used to never give up,” “I was beautiful once!” And in doing so we bring chagrin into today, like raking up what were once beautiful leaves, but now fallen, dead, we rake them onto our new porches to hoard. If today is a new leaf, yesterday is a dead one.
But even when we realize this, since we cannot have what is gone, we compare today with the future. We subtly think, “I cannot be as happy today as I will be when I finally find love,” “I cannot have the peace today that I will have when I am healed,” “I cannot have the confidence that I will have when I have that accomplishment finished and under my belt,” “I cannot let myself feel beautiful until I look like what I will after this program,” “I cannot experience God today like my future self will when I’m free of this addiction.” We are not content with ourselves today, in and of today – without the promise of tomorrow or the imaginations that yesterday can be brought to life again.
You cannot be content without feeling fulfilled. You cannot feel fulfilled if you do not see today as “full,” as missing something from the past or of the future. You cannot see today as full if you do not have gratitude for what today is full of. And you cannot be grateful for today’s fullness if you do not trust that it is indeed enough, that your needs are met, and your desires cared for.
And this brings us to the next point. We think to escape comparison, we must focus on ourselves and what we have. We should reflect on and praise our strengths, build ourselves up, be more than just kind to ourselves in such a vulnerable moment. We should count our blessings, look at all we have and remind ourselves that we are ‘good’. But does this work when we truly have little? And do these attempts last even for the person who has everything? If comparison is the flowering of buds of discontentment, of weeds of ungratefulness, and lack of perspective, trust, or knowledge of the fullness of our today, then to escape comparison we must focus on what brings fullness of life. And as our comparison has just pointed out to ourselves, this is not us.
If all we know is what this world can offer, and none of it is perfect and perfectly fulfilling, and even if it were, we can never gain it all, or even enough to satisfy such deep deep needs and desires – those of peace, purpose, love, belonging, security against all odds – then true fullness of life is either impossible, or not provided by this world. I think that our comparing is symptomatic of a heart longing for what fulfills it. I think that if you have never felt so fully content you forget of yesterday, tomorrow, and today, you have not found the source of true contentment and fulfillment. I would like to suggest, even if from only my personal experience, that this source is a person, and it is God himself through His holy son Jesus*. Rather than looking to ourselves or this world, we must look to a Provider of things beyond it, for this is the satisfaction the seemingly bottomless stomachs of our souls are aching for. We find satisfaction that takes our eyes of this world’s provision.
But what about ourselves? What if we do not compare out of desires for things, and what happiness we find in them, but if it is our very selves we are comparing? We think we compare ourselves out of a desire to make ourselves better, and that this is good. A little while ago I caught a glimpse of where some people I used to compare myself to are today. I saw their lives were no longer things I would covet, and they seemed to be people I would not want to compare myself to. And I thought, “I should have never compared myself. I was good enough as myself already.” But this thought was a bad one – inside I did not feel better because I felt more fulfilled with my life today, or truly at peace with who I was then, I felt better because I suddenly felt better than these people. Inside me grew this ugly swelling of pride whose infection I thought had just made me healed. I compared myself to people I thought were “better” than me, or “better off” than me, and when I felt the positions had switched, I felt shamefully better.
Our comparisons are secretly competitions. We stack ourselves up against each other, trying to be better, only because deep down we know this is the next best thing to what we cannot be: enough. Enough for unexchangeable, unexhaustable, undeniable worthiness of all our deepest desires. Comparison of ourselves starts with doubts of our worth.
We compare out of a longing to make ourselves worthy and whole. You compare yourself like a good. You treat your life like a commodity – as something whose worth can be negotiated, bargained, raised or lowered, according to whatever new features and upgrades it now possesses. And you see others as goods and commodities. You judge their worth against yours, and yours against theirs, put your lives on scales, and bid yourself for the highest price you can think of. You make yourself both seller and buying trying to accept yourself. It is all a game of shopkeeper’s pride, of selling The Best in Town.
But in all these mental transactions you always come up short, and find again: You are not enough. And your attempts to raise your worth, and the value and goodness of your life are in vain. You will never be renewed and whole by what you add to yourself. A new habit? New clothes? Better talent? A nicer, more thoughtful attitude? Sex appeal? A little bit more tenacity, success, charisma, patience? No. Comparison is symptomatic of longing for true knowledge of our worth. But there is a difference between enough for a price set, and the price set on it regardless. What if there was a price, a value, set on your life that was so high no one could pay for it? Even you probably wouldn’t because you could not believe it.
What if the price setter set the value of your life so high that no one could pay it unless they had an eternal supply of resource for it? If it was so high, that if someone actually believed that value on your life and wanted it enough to buy it, they could never return it because it would cost them everything for all time? If it was so high it was irredeemable because the buyer would have to give everything they ever had, for eternity just to pay it? If the price was a contract for eternal giving of everything? And what if the price setter himself was the only one who could pay such a price, and though it would be of great cost to him, his delight and desire to do so was so great he would? And what if his desire to do so was precisely a desire for your good? If he knew full well he was the only one capable, willing, and wanting to do good to you for eternity? If he, unnecessarily, bound himself to extra stipulations to the contract that promised to do good to you always, to care for you unrelentingly, to never take an eye off you, to give you no less than life to the full every day?
What if its true?
This is the worth your Creator, and the God above you, set on you.
We are full of worth. Complete with worth. There are no holes, for a never ending outpouring of love, peace, and purpose flows through us. Nothing we can add, for even if we do, our worth was already higher than we thought, indeed, the very highest.
To who or what can you now compare yourself to? And he did this for each of us, uniquely. Who can you now look at and judge as less than or better?
We are the product and purchase of His love.
Practically speaking this means that comparing is compromising yourself. It is to accept standards that are lower than the desirable. You, just as you are, are what God desired. Yes, God shapes you, changes you, makes you someone you aren’t. But all along, you are made of the same clay – the worth of your substance, its properties and purposes, do not change. Why do we try to find some “happy medium” between who God is making us to be, and who the world wants us to be? Why are we not content knowing the full worth of our uniqueness, and that being unique means we don’t get to be everything? “Comparison is the thief of joy” because it is an act of throwing our lives at full worth’s price back into the market, where buyers will only take it for a lower price. Fullness of joy comes from the same place as the fullness of our worth.
“But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces?” Galatians 4:9
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10
“Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.” John 1:16
“You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” Psalm 16:11
*I would be delighted to talk with you about this Friend! Do feel free to use the Contact Page.