The Perils of Comparison, Part 1

– Other families are doing way better at this Advent thing than we are.
– The Christmas lights on our house are nothing compared to our neighbor’s.
– Why can’t my kid sleep as much as that one?

These are all thoughts I’ve had just this week, looking up to others and comparing myself to them. And on the other end, I’ve compared this way:

– Well, at least I’m not treating my husband like that person is.
– I would never let my house look like that.
– I’m glad I’m not racist like this person.

Whether I see myself as superior or inferior to someone else, it seems that I just can’t get away from comparing. In a short book called Compared to Her, Sophie de Witt explains:

“We’re a constant mixture of despair, envy, and bitterness; and pride, superiority, and entitlement… Each day, we look up and look down, and feel anxious and self-sufficient, guilty and proud, despairing and smug. What we don’t feel, at least not for any length of time, is the sense of significance, satisfaction or security that we’re searching for as we compare ourselves to others. [Comparison] promises much…but it delivers nothing, or worse than nothing.”

2 Corinthians 10:12 puts it like this: “When they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.”

The outlook for those of us who struggle with comparison isn’t great. We’re “without understanding” or wisdom, and most relationships in our life will suffer because of the way we are centered on ourselves. How exhausting is it to constantly feel like you have to measure up, to make yourself the best? If our identity is based on the impression that we are superior to others, then we’ll never be satisfied – insecurity will reign in our life. We’ll be constantly worried that our house isn’t good enough, or that someone else’s kids will outshine ours. We’ll overwork and never rest. If we’re constantly feeling worse than other people, we’ll wind up hating ourselves – we’ll look at the projections of other people and we’ll despair of who we are in comparison. We’ll never be happy.

And what about how we treat others? What happens to our love for other people?

Here’s some questions de Witt mentions in her book that were helpful for me:

–  Are there ways I try to bring others down a peg or two, so that I can compare more favorably to them?
–  Have I failed, underneath my smile, to celebrate good news with a friend, because deep down I’m resenting her?
–  Are there ways I try to alter my friends or family so that I’ll compare well to others, rather than acting for their sake?
–  Do I ever become angry with my loved ones because of how their actions make me look?

I don’t want to answer yes to any of these questions, but if I’m honest, I do at times. Do you see how all of these things are so me-centered?

Last, comparison touches even our relationship with God. We might think that we can pull ourselves up, making ourselves right with God and trusting in our own identity – which is based upon being superior. We don’t see our need for God. For some of us, those who are prone to despair, we might think that we can never be sufficient for God; that we can never change. We’re kept from believing the power of the gospel. Either way, when we compare, we make it all about us, once again: our goodness, or our lack of goodness. And that ultimately will devastate our relationship with God.

But Jesus cuts through our struggle with comparison. He takes us beyond who or what we are looking to for significance and shows us that pride or hopelessness isn’t our only option. In part two, coming in a few weeks, we’ll explore some of the truths that God gives us to fight these perils of comparison. Ultimately, we can’t be given a greater sense of significance anywhere than what God has already given to us.


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