As I sit scrolling through picture after picture, I begin to grow increasingly more anxious.
“Why does her husband buy her flowers every week?”
“She got a job promotion! I have been working just as long- why haven’t I gotten one yet?”
“Whoa, she looks so good in a bikini! Starting that cleanse tomorrow…”
“She has the most adorable house- maybe I’ll take a trip to Target tonight.”
“I wish I could spend as much time being spontaneous as she is.”
Question after statement after insecurity runs through my mind, twisting the knife in my heart until bitter envy has overtaken me.
That little ten letter word that could easily be a dirty four letter one.
Again and again, I struggle against jealousy, and again and again it comes creeping back. And I notice my heart beginning to grow cold. When I let bitterness overtake me, the tiniest part of me feels relief when another sister is going through something ugly, saying to myself “well at least I have it better than her”. Comparison is not only the thief of joy; it is also the thief of humility, peace, contentment, selfless love, and healthy relationships.
James 3:16 reads, “For where there is envying and strife, there is confusion and every evil work”.
And I freely confess that I am a living, breathing example of this.
My husband and I got married on an insanely perfect Spring day- breeze blowing, sun shining, and grass green. The past nine months of our married journey have been difficult, exhilarating, mundane (at times), exciting, and joy-filled. Marriage has been taking its course on our hearts and minds, and my heart blooms gratitude when I intentionally sit down and think of all that has been done in the shortest of times.
But when I don’t intentionally sit down and gives thanks for all that we have been given, the comparison starts to creep in. And then every evil work and confusion has started its course. I become discontent, consistently questioning my husband on why he does not give more in certain areas (I hesitantly confess, it is usually asking why he doesn’t by me flowers on the reg). I become angry, accusing him of not loving me more. I become rude- lashing out and arguing. And all the while, the knife in my heart is turning more and more, and my blood is red hot with competition. I want to be best, because I deserve best. And when I see others receiving more, my limited mind believes that they are more worthy than I am. They are worthy of more time, more excitement, more beauty, more glorious riches. And because of comparison, I do not sense myself to be receiving as much as they do, so therefore I am less.
And then, when we come out on top, comparison stirs pride in us. We then become subject to boasting. “Look at me”, we say, “look how I managed to do all this”. And secretly, we want others to compare themselves to us. Because isn’t that what the game is all about? Who comes out first?
At it’s best, comparison causes pride and self-righteousness, and at it’s worst it causes envy, despair, and idolatry.
Romans 12:12 instructs us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn”.
We are called to dance in the streets when our friends receive that promotion, and clap with joy when her husband buys her flowers.
So why is it easier to cry with a sister than rejoice over her? Because rejoicing means celebrating them, and taking me out of the equation. Comparison has no place at the table of celebration. Mourning with a sister may mean that they need me- but rejoicing isn’t about me in the slightest. This begs the question- is comparison contradictory to humility? Humility is described as a modest view of one’s own importance. By comparing ourselves with others, we fall into the hierarchy trap. Of course, the objective is to be the highest on the pyramid, so we push, and we shove, and we pretty ourselves up, and we brag all the way to the tiptop. And in the chaotic struggle to become the best, we suddenly find ourselves trying to become the most important. Even when our comparison tells us that we are falling short, we are still caught in the hurricane of our own importance, focusing solely on ourselves.
Comparison is the root of all evil- at its core it is bitter, prideful, envious, discontent, self-righteous, and competitive. It is an ugly game, one liken to a mouse stuck in the hamster wheel- always running faster and faster to get somewhere he will never end up.
And so, how do we combat this destroyer of joy? I would argue that there are three tools that are helpful practices to wage war against comparison.
- Simply stop competing. You see yet another sister who is engaged to the Ken of America while planning the most glorious wedding, and your heart wishes to have the romance that she has found; so what? Her good fortune is not contingent of your own. This is not a time for you to one up yourself to her in your mind. This is not the time to post a picture of that incredible vacation you took last summer on Instagram to make yourself look worthy too. This, in fact, is the time to take your eyes off of yourself, and look towards others; this is a perfect example of a time to rejoice with those who are rejoicing. Rejoice even when do you not feel like it, and rejoice out loud. Sometimes it takes speaking to find our way into the truth. I have discovered that hiding my own comparison and pretending like it does not exist only leads to deeper rooted jealousy. Battle it by speaking out against it, and loving your sisters out loud, happily, and joyfully. Proverbs 4:23 instructs us to guard our hearts, going on to explain that everything happens out of the overflow of your heart. You have the power over what thoughts you let live in your heart. Let your actions control your feelings, and your heart will surely follow along later.
- Respond with thanksgiving when tempted to become envious. Philippians 4:6-7 tells us to “not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. The key here is thanksgiving. We are instructed to give thanksgiving in ALL situations. Once you enter into prayer, thanking God in every situation (no matter if you feel like it or not), God’s peace, which we cannot understand or even begin to fathom, will come and guard our hearts. Thanksgiving brings peace, and this peace will fight for our hearts. The more we thank God for his grace gifts, the more we are focused upon it, and the more we fall deeper and deeper in love with Him. I don’t know about you, but when I am deep in love with Jesus, I could dance all day long on the streets. It doesn’t matter what others have in that moment, because all that matters is Jesus, and I have Him- so who cares about everything else? Friends, it starts with gratitude.
- My last suggestion, and honestly quite possibly my favorite, is to be vulnerable. Vulnerable people feel no need to compete, because they are secure in who they are in life and what they have. Vulnerability breaks the cycle of competition by saying, “I’m a human, and I struggle immensely”. This gives others the space to say “hey, me too!”, and so on it goes. Openly admitting that you (and your life) is not perfect takes the contest right out of the game. Vulnerability lets others know that there is no need to compete, because we are all broken and trying to put together the pieces. Sometimes I dream of a world where everyone is vulnerable. What beauty that would entail! What compassion that would invoke! What humility, what grace, what love, what contentment!
I’ll leave you with 1 Corinthians 13:4, which describes the perfect picture of love, saying “love suffers long and is kind; love envies not’ love flaunts not itself and is not puffed up”.
In other words, love does not enter into the comparison game, one where it is tempted to fight for the top. Instead, love patiently endures the lows, is kind through it all, and looks to others rather than ourselves.