Eleanor Roosevelt once said: "Comparison is the thief of joy." Whether you've heard that expression or not, I'm sure you've experienced before just how comparison can rob you of joy.
We all do it. We compare ourselves to others. We view something someone has or does as better than us. And we feel jealous and insecure. But then we compare ourselves to someone else and we find we're better at something than them, and so we judge them and feel better about ourselves. We're continually trying to keep the scale of comparison balanced at the expense of others and ourselves. But the scale only keeps tipping back and forth. It's exhausting.
But God does not want us to compare ourselves to others. Everyone in the Bible who compared themselves to someone else missed out on what God had for them.
For example, the Israelites felt small in comparison to the "giants" they saw in the Promised Land so were afraid to enter and claim the very land that God promised them and that they'd been waiting for, for over 40 years.
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The Israelites were in their Promised Land, but they had (again) disobeyed God's commands and so God allowed the Midianites, a cruel group of people, to oppress them and continually battle with them. The Israelites had to hide from them and were experiencing starvation due to the Midianites taking everything from them. Finally, the Israelites turned to God and begged for mercy.
Enter Gideon, fearfully threshing wheat inside (normally an outdoor task that the wind helped with immensely) and an angel, even more terrifying than the Midianites.
After getting over his terror of seeing the angel, Gideon becomes indignant that the angel would call him a "mighty warrior" Judges 6:12.
Why? Gideon started comparing himself to not only the Midianites, but his own people, finding himself the least likely candidate to lead an army against the Midianites.
He is not convinced he was the man for the job, and tested God not once, but twice to verify that indeed God did want him for the job. (Judges 6:36-40)
Eventually, Gideon stops looking at his weaknesses and he stops comparing himself to others. And he starts believing God's word. Once Gideon focuses on God and God's word, suddenly Gideon has a lot less doubt and insecurity about himself. And he is indeed able to lead the army against the Midianites and defeat them.
If Gideon had never let go of his fear and doubt and comparing himself to others, he never would have been able to do what God called him to do.
"We will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original." Galatians 5:26
What a beautiful reminder that God created each of us uniquely. Because we are unique, it is easy to compare and see differences, but that's not why God made us unique. He gave each of us different traits and personalities and gifts so that we could all fulfill God's purpose. So we would all be part of the body of Christ. And comparison only keeps us from fulfilling God's purpose.
In Shannon Popkin's book Comparison Girl: Lessons from Jesus on Me-Free Living in a Measure-Up World, Shannon uses an illustration that I absolutely love. To summarize, we are given gifts and personality and talents and we hold them inside a glass measuring cup. We could focus on the lines on the side and compare how our gifts and talents match up to others. When we do that, we are essentially holding our measuring cup close, and don't share what is inside with others as much. But we are meant to be like Jesus, who "emptied himself, by taking the form of a human, being born in the likeness of men," (Phillipians 3:7). Shannon says:
"When I tip my measuring cup, the lines become beautifully irrevelant. When I walk into a room asking, "Who can I serve here? What needs can I meet? What do I have to offer? Where can I pour myself out?" I have a completely different outlook than when I measure myself against everyone I see. Instead of being preoccupied with what I look like, how I just sounded, or what everyone is thinking, by pouring myself out I free myself from measure-up comparison. I am more confident, less self-conscious. I more joyful, less troubled. I'm more content, less driven by perfectionism. Living by the spout is the way to be "me-free!"
What a beautiful and freeing way to live!
Comparison takes up our time and energy and keeps us from doing what God called us to do and being who God created us to be. It makes us feel like we're not good enough or qualified to do what God has called us to do, or that we are better than others or more deserving of good things than others.
Imagine what God's kingdom would look like if we all bravely and humbly poured out our gifts and talents and were free to be ourselves, rather than keeping our gifts and ourselves close and hidden out of our fear or pride or self-consciousness. What an incredible world we would have!