The Comparison Trap

Yesterday, Ann Voskamp wrote an excellent blog post about the dangers of comparison.  I had so many friends link it on their Facebook page that I couldn’t help but read it.  I’d link it here for you too, except I don’t know how.  My little secret is that I’m not a real blogger.  I blog like Creed from The Office blogs- hammering out my frenzied thoughts on a Word document.  My advantage over Creed is that I figured out how to copy and paste it onto WordPress.  There. Glad that’s out. 

So she wrote this blog post about how comparison is a thief of joy and all sorts of great stuff you should really find and read.  While I read it the defensive part of me bristled, the truthful part of me agreed and the therapist part of me asked, “Why?” Why do we do this?

Although attracted to women, this is not a female-only problem.  It’s a humanity problem.  The measuring stick is ingrained in us. It’s why shows like Jerry Springer exist.  We each view the world through a greater than/less than lens and measure ourselves against it.  Nobel Peace Prize winners? Less than.  Jerry Springer contestants? More than.

This gets stickier on a personal level. We look at people in our circles, our churches, our schools and workplaces.  We compare, we judge.  I compare. I judge.  But if I know in my soul that Ann is right, and that it takes my joy, why do I keep doing it?
The answer for me lies in when I do it most.  I am most likely to compare myself to others when I am least sure of who I am.  Although there are many ailments hiding themselves behind Comparison, the greatest is that comparing tells me if I am ok.  When we judge and slice and scrutinize what we are really asking is: Am I ok? Am I enough?

When we look to others to answer this question for us we fall dead center into the comparison trap.  We try to fight our way onto a swinging pendulum, constantly looking for our place.  Our eyes swing up to the More Than’s and swing down to the Less Than’s. Constantly searching for our value.  Constantly feeling the need to critique others because I can’t determine my worth until I determine yours first.  

The answer, for me, has been to look to God to answer this question.  I look to God for my Ok-ness.  I look to God for my worth.  But it doesn’t come easy.  It comes with a price.  I must ask.  And when I ask, I must listen. To listen we must be silent. And this is when things get scary.

Because listening is raw and scary and vulnerable, we fill the silence with Things. We fill it with smartphones or work, or sex or booze or food or we are just too busy doing too many things for other people that we just don’t have the time to listen to God.

But this too, comes with a price.  This price is having to decide for yourself where you belong on the pendulum.  And who knows what kinds of crazy variables can affect this decision? The late night brownies? If your significant other returns your calls? What time of the month it is? What your mother thinks of you? What your boss thinks of you? What the scale says about you?  Some people spend a lifetime on this ride, arranging and re-arranging themselves according to arbitrary standards-stuck and unsure how to get off.  For me, the only way off is to Listen.

Think about the night Jesus was born.  To whom did God entrust with this sacred knowledge? For whom did He shine His light and play His trumpets? For whom did the angels sing?

Shepherds.  Dirty old shepherds sitting in a field in the middle of the night.  Sitting in the dark with nothing but drowsy sheep and crickets and grass and sky.  Silence broken by Heaven’s chorus. 

Whom did God make His covenant with? Abraham, who was out in the desert at night.  Nothing but sand in his toes and a huge expanse of sky and stars.  And God spoke to Him, God made him a promise.  God made him His friend.

And Moses? Surprised at night by the burning bush? He too was in silence, nothing but sand and sky and bushes set ablaze because God had something to say and He was looking for someone to say it to.

And what happens when we listen? Well, silence first.  But then other things. Wonderful things.  Things about who you are and what you are for and most importantly how extravagantly you are loved.   

Comparison wants us to be concerned with what people are doing (so we can accurately judge them).  God wants us to be concerned with how they got there. My favorite question to ask people right now is, “How do you know when God is speaking to you?” I find the different answers fascinating. There are certain fundamental truths God has for us all, like Love God and Love Others.  But then there are special things He has for each of us.  We are each created uniquely.  All in His image, all different.  We have different temperaments and skills and families and abilities and He has specific plans for each of us. He is working and involving us in that work and inviting us in to listen.

Paul described the Church as a body.  Eyes, ears, hands and feet.  We are not all eyes, we are not all hearts, we are not all feet.  Some of us are feet and called to Go.  Some of us are eyes full of tears.  Some of us are hands willing to serve or ears willing to listen.  Some of us are different things at different times.  But instead of telling an ear he should be a foot we should celebrate the different workings of the members without worrying if they are doing their job right.  We should stop comparing belly buttons and backsides. We should recognize that we are all different pieces of a Beautiful Puzzle and if I spend all my time shaving off my sharp edges to make my piece look round like yours, I am defeating the purpose and will never fit into the Puzzle.  Most of all, we should take time to hear.  God is still speaking to those willing to listen.