Have you ever compared yourself to others? Of course you have! We all do!
Perhaps you’ve even spent some time liking and following and studying and embracing all of the quotes and memes and books and devotionals and posts that regularly circulate that urge us to stop comparing ourselves to others. In fact, since this topic surfaced in my mind a few weeks ago, I have been surprised at the number of posts that have trickled through my feed regarding the dangers of comparison, the reasons to stop comparing, and tips and tricks for escaping the comparison trap.
And I’ve cautioned myself on the same thing, many times, in my head, on social media…Don’t compare…Don’t compare likes, don’t compare followers, don’t compare what their house looks like or what they look like or what they’ve accomplished or what they’re doing…Because, as every post and comment that I’ve read on this topic reminds us, comparing ourselves to others is a pathway to all kinds of destruction.
But is comparison really the enemy?
According to popular opinion, it seems to be. Comparison is a trap, it is unhealthy, it is destructive, it is a monster, it is the thief of joy. It would seem that comparison, itself, is the thing that is wrong, and the thing that we must escape.
But the truth is, we will never stop comparing. And we shouldn’t. And so the path that leads us on a journey to free ourselves from comparison is nothing more than an illusion and a distraction.
Comparison is a simple part of being human. Our brains are designed and created to observe, compare, and draw conclusions. It is as natural as breathing, and most of the time, we never notice all of the many comparisons that we make each day of our lives. We compare a piece of bread to a butter knife, and we eat the bread, and not the knife. We compare the red light to the green light, and we stop on red and go on green. We compare our children’s behavior to what their behavior should be, and we correct them. We compare the way we’re feeling now to the way we felt yesterday, and we decide if we need to change something. Choices are made by comparison, actions are taken by comparison, and life would be impossible without comparison.
Comparison is how we test all things and hold fast to that which is good, only. Comparison is how we grow to know enough to refuse the evil, and choose the good.
But sometimes, comparison makes us unhappy. And when that happens, we may begin to blame the comparison for our unhappiness. And today, we’re in good company, because many loud voices agree that comparison is to blame, and that we would be happier if we would only stop comparing.
But the end result of abandoning comparison is that we must replace it with something. If we are no longer going to use comparison to make our decisions and choices, what will form the basis of our decision-making and choosing?
The most common answer, in the path to avoid comparison, is to focus on self. Don’t compare with others; instead, only think about yourself, your good qualities, your heart’s desires, your gifts, your blessings, your peace and joy and happiness…But this is a solution that is, at best, incomplete…And most likely, following a path of self-focus in order to escape comparison will leave us worse off than when we were still comparing!
Ultimately, the truth is that the Bible does not tell us not to compare.
While comparison often gets the blame, it’s not comparison that is the enemy. It’s comparing ourselves to others, and then wanting…
Thou shalt not covet…(Exodus 20:17, KJV)
It is not comparison, in fact, but envy.
For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.(James 3:16, KJV)
And this is why the popular encouragement to stop comparing is, actually, a damaging approach that distracts us from the thing that we should really be focusing on. It distracts us from focusing on removing every trace of envy from our lives…And potentially leads us to ignore envy and cultivate self-centeredness, which will never lead to the freedom that it promises.
What I’ve personally found over time, as I’ve asked the Lord to guard my heart on social media, as I’ve prayed that He would help me to approach social media for His glory, and not become attached to it for my own selfish purposes, is that He did not actually lead me to stop comparing myself to others. Instead, He led me to transform the way in which I compare myself to others. If anything, my comparisons have become more frequent; and my freedom in those comparisons has surpassed anything I could have previously imagined!
freedom from comparison
Because the truth is that freedom from comparison is not found in stopping comparing, but rather in comparing rightly! Not comparing ourselves against ourselves, not comparing ourselves against others, but comparing ourselves against the measure that God has established for us…
For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us…(2 Corinthians 10:12, KJV)
Not for the purpose of self-improvement…Not for the purpose of ambition and achievement…Not to win the approval of man…But to find ourselves in Christ.
Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves...(2 Corinthians 13:5, KJV)
Freedom from comparison is not found in refusing to compare, but in comparing to one perfect standard. Freedom from comparison is not found in fighting against comparison, but in comparing for one perfect reason, in all things, for our growth as faithful servants, for the honor and glory of God!
Freedom from comparison is found in comparing faithfully and fearlessly, because God stands ready and willing, in every moment, with every person, with every circumstance, in every comparison, to mold us more perfectly into His image, if only we are ready and willing to accept it!
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.(Romans 12:2, KJV)
In every comparison, we have the opportunity to pursue God in a path of questioning and prayer…
Is there something that they are doing that I should be doing?
(Lord guide my steps…)
Is there something they are doing that I should make sure that I’m not doing?
(Lord, protect me from temptation.)
Is there something they are doing that I should talk to them about?
(Lord help me share Your word faithfully.)
Is there something they are doing that shows they are in need of prayer?
(Lord, have mercy on our souls.)
You see, the freedom from comparison is not in not-comparing…It’s in comparing rightly, and then asking ourselves the all-important question:
In light of what I have just seen, Lord, can I honestly say that I am doing all I can according to Your will, alone, for Your glory, above all?
In this comparison, we can learn from anyone: the most ungodly, the most hypocritical, the most unpleasant, the most humble, the most faithful servants of the Lord…
In this comparison, we can not be distracted or tempted or derailed by anyone: not the most ungodly, not the most hypocritical, not the most unpleasant, not the most humble, or the most faithful servants of the Lord.
In this, comparison achieves what it is meant to achieve: the continuing learning and growing in the image of Christ by submitting all things to His service, through as many opportunities and reminders and lessons as we can!
This is all very nice, in theory, but what about real life?
This is, actually, my real life, right now. This is something I am specifically learning, in this season. Over the past year, I have had many opportunities for comparison, and I am learning how comparison, contrary to what popular opinion tells me, can be a very godly exercise!
I write. I have a self-published book. Our family homeschools. We homestead. We make things by hand. We started an online store. We started going to craft fairs. We started participating in social media. In each of these areas, there are many, many other people out there doing the same thing…Many, many other opportunities presented, each day, in our town, at events, and online, for comparison!
And in that comparison, there are many, many people sharing their successes in writing, in publishing, in homeschooling, in homesteading, in hand-crafting, in business, in craft fairs, and in social media. We, on the other hand, are experiencing quite a lot of failure. And this has been a great time to learn, in practice, the freedom that comes with comparison. For every instance in which someone shares their success story, and I recognize my comparative failure, I have the chance to ask some questions:
Is there something that they are doing that I should be doing? And sometimes there has been…Is there something they are doing that I should make sure that I’m not doing? And sometimes there has been…Is there something they are doing that I should talk to them about? And sometimes there has been…Is there something they are doing that shows they are in need of prayer?…And sometimes there has been.
And at the conclusion of each comparison, there remains the simple question: Am I doing Your will, Lord, to the best of my ability, each and every day?
Because if my answer is, “No,” then a comparison that is painful right now is much better than continuing to wander blindly and uncorrected down the wrong path…
But as long as my answer is, “Yes!” then that comparison brings me no pain. If I am doing the Lord’s will, then my worst failure in the face of someone else’s greatest success is not discouraging, because both work perfectly to our good and His glory!
Will I be content to make every effort, to do any work, for the Lord, even if it’s not successful, even if it only seems to result in continuing failure, every time?
And Joseph’s master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison.(Genesis 3:20, KJV)
I hope so! I don’t want to only do God’s will for my life when it is wildly successful and gains the favor and praise of man. I want to do God’s will for my life no matter what, no matter what the response, no matter how it compares to the rest of the world.
Because it is by God’s hand that men succeed, if they succeed. And it is by God’s hand that I fail, if I fail. Do I trust Him? Am I willing to accept it?
If I am, then I am ready for all of the freedom that comparison has to offer…Freedom from comparing myself against myself and becoming prideful and complacent; freedom from comparing myself against others and becoming envious; freedom to compare myself against God’s standard, only, and to use every comparison as an opportunity to better discern God’s will and conform more entirely to His image!
We tell each other all the time, “Don’t compare yourself!” But the real freedom is actually in being able to freely compare, over and over again. To honestly make each comparison an exercise in prayer, and an exercise in submission to God’s perfect will.
And this, after all, is what comparison is good for!