The Disease of Comparison

We’ve all been there. We’re bored, we have extra time, we’re trapped in a germ-coated waiting room, so we click that social media app. Sometimes what we get is the greatest of all the Internet gifts: baby goats in pajamas. (Google this IMMEDIATELY if you’ve never seen it. It will make your whole life!) Other times, however, by the time we close out of Instagram or Facebook (or whatever app we’re currently trying to learn because the young folks think it’s cool), we’re left with a different feeling.

Given I use it to {shamelessly} promote this blog, it might surprise you to learn that I have a love-hate relationship with social media. While I LOVE being able to keep up with current events, friends, favorite Christian speakers, and especially former students, I frequently experience that feeling I mentioned above. You see, I have a disease that is fed by social media. What disease you ask? The disease of comparison.

Right or wrong, good or bad, I compare pretty much every aspect of my life to others’. Before social media (that existed right? A time when our whole lives weren’t shared and monitored by others. Did I dream that?), my ability to compare was limited. I could compare myself and my life to my friends and their lives, but only if they told me what was going on with them. Now, however, the game has totally changed, and for me personally, not for the better.

I told you guys from the start that I’d be totally honest with each blog post. Hopefully, if you read the last one, you realized that I wasn’t exaggerating. In keeping with that, I want to be very upfront with this topic: I am not posting from a “healed” perspective with this one. I am right in the midst of the struggle, trying to make sure that it’s God’s glory I seek and obtain, instead of worldly glorification.

Now that it’s summer and everyone’s off on their cruises and beach trips and glorious, argument-free family vacations (because isn’t this the image we try to project with our posts?), I find myself struggling more with this comparison disease. I watch my friends take their kids to fun water park after fun water park, beach after beach, day outing after day outing, and I compare. I compare myself as a mom: why am I not as much fun as they are? Are my priorities out of whack? Am I putting my child at a disadvantage because she’s not constantly being given new experiences? Could I possibly be teaching her an okay lesson by requiring that she find her own entertainment, or is that too old-school a style of parenting?

I also begin comparing lifestyles, especially financial lifestyles. I suddenly feel very impoverished compared to all of my friends, even some strangers whose lives I witness online. Suddenly I lose sight of the food in my fridge, my over-filled pantry, my ability to go to the store when a need arises, our air-conditioned house, our healthy family. I have perspective, I really do, but sometimes I see others doing what I wish to do, and it stings. I have even seen others doing what I have NO DESIRE TO DO, and I’ve still compared my life to theirs and felt lacking.

There’s a flip-side to comparison, too, and it’s just as dangerous. It’s called pride. Comparison can cause us to become judgmental as well. How many times have we seen a post, and regardless of what we’re feeling (jealousy mainly), we suddenly find ourselves comparing in a way that has us coming out on top. Maybe it’s regarding someone’s parenting. Or someone’s choices about how to spend their money. Or someone’s looks. I’ve done it. I’d be willing to bet you’ve done it.

I noticed my disease, my comparison disease, becoming much stronger once I became a parent and the more involved with social media I became. I wanted to share my life, especially my sweet girl, with my family and friends online, so I knew that I had to get my head and heart right. I knew that Satan had identified a serious weakness in my armor and was using it to his scheming advantage. I also knew, however, that I alone wouldn’t be able to win this battle. I began to pray specifically about my problem with comparison, and as God promised in His Word, He brought me insight and knowledge about this issue.

First of all, God showed me that this wasn’t something I was dealing with alone. Not only is it something that we all deal with (more often than we’d readily admit), but it’s something He knew we’d struggle with, hence this warning scripture from 2 Corinthians 10:12: “…when they measure themselves with themselves and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding and behave unwisely.” I’ll be honest, when I first saw this scripture I was shocked; as it’s done many times before, God’s relevancy just blew me away. It further proved that comparison and its negative side-effects need ridding from our lives.

God also showed me how much like a disease comparison truly can be when left untreated. It can show up at any time, and it attacks anyone, regardless of age, social status, marital status, race, gender, etc. No one is immune, and sadly, there’s no vaccine. Like any illness, comparison has symptoms. It wasn’t until I began to notice these symptoms in my own life/mind that I began to be able to put comparison in its place. Let’s see if you currently have any, or have ever exhibited any, symptoms of comparison.

  • Blurred vision with the possibility of blindness
  • Partial hearing loss with the possibility of total deafness
  • Depression, a feeling of defeat, and/or a lack of gratitude
  • In some rare but dangerous cases, death

Blurred vision/blindness: God is so good to us, and He gives each one of us a vision for our lives. But if we’re so busy watching everyone else’s lives, we will miss our own. In that same respect, focusing so much on what everyone else has, what everyone else is getting that you’re not, what everyone else is experiencing that you’re not, you become completely blind to God moving in your own life. We are each touched DAILY by the favor and hand of God, but how often do we notice? We might see it in someone else’s life, but when we’re so busy looking outward, we just become blind. We don’t see God, we don’t see His hand or His favor, and suddenly we become blind to anything else God might try to show us: others who we can help, others whose pain we can ease, others who need to hear about all the blessings God’s gifting us…all those blessings we’re no longer seeing because we’re so focused on how we don’t measure up when compared to someone else.

Loss of hearing/deafness: It’s no secret that when we pray to God, when we develop our relationship with Him, He responds to us. Some people even hear His literal voice (this has never happened to me, just FYI). But when we spend our time comparing ourselves to others, our heads fill up with noise, drowning out our ability to hear God direct our lives. Instead of hearing God’s direction or guidance for our lives, we hear the chatter of insecurity: why don’t I have a new house? Why do they get a new car and I drive this old one that breaks down constantly? How can they afford that vacation? Why am I not as good of a mom? Why aren’t my kids as smart/well-behaved/easy-going? Why does God constantly bless them while I’m over here riding the struggle-bus every day? The Bible tells us that God speaks in a still, quiet voice. Because He needs us to draw near to Him, because He wants us to quiet our internal noise in order to focus on Him, comparison robs us of our ability to hear God in many circumstances, often deafening us to His voice completely.

Depression/feelings of defeat/a lack of gratitude: It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if you spend your time comparing yourself to others in every way and continually coming up empty, you’re not going to feel good about yourself, your life, your relationships, your past, your present, or your future. What you will feel, however, is defeated, depressed, and dejected. Who wants that? It seems like a simple enough question, but you and I both know you wouldn’t have made it this far into this blog post if you could just reason your way out of using comparison against yourself.  Those of you who are parents or aunt and uncles, imagine giving your child/niece/nephew gift after gift, only to have him/her constantly pointing at what another kid has, wanting something different, something you know isn’t even necessarily right for him/her. Isn’t this what we do to God, though? When we compare, we become instantly disenchanted with all of the many, many blessings God gives us (daily!), and instead, we stand there with our chubby little toddler fingers pointing at all those things the next person has that we don’t. Each time I find myself wishing or wanting because of something I see someone else getting, I try my best to turn that into gratitude for even the smallest blessings (a green light when I so desperately needed it) in MY life. I desire to be grateful, and the disease of comparison makes that impossible.

Possible death: We’ve all seen it happen: someone convinces him/herself that the grass is greener on the other side, and before most of us know what’s happening, a family is broken. My friends, no one can withstand constant comparison. If you find yourself constantly comparing your spouse to someone else’s, or just other spouses in general, please stop. He/she doesn’t deserve that. If you are one to frequently compare your child (speaking to myself here!!) to others, please stop. He/she doesn’t deserve that. Comparison might begin small and simple, but it doesn’t stay that way. It opens a door into which Satan can often slip undetected. If comparison is left untreated for long enough, it festers, rotting out marriages, relationships, joy, peace, contentment, even dreams for our futures.

As I stated at the beginning, I don’t have the answer on how to completely rid your life of comparison. I have asked God “what do I do?” several times, and so all I can do is share with you what medicine, if you will, that God has provided for me. Two scriptures have helped me gain and keep a little bit of perspective so that I am better prepared to win the war against comparison when it rears its ugly head. In 2 Timothy 2:22, God details a list of those things which we should aim for and actively pursue. They are faith, love, peace, fellowship with others, and a pure heart. Since all of these qualities can’t exist inside a heart filled with jealousy, something has to go. I choose jealousy. On the opposite side, since these qualities can’t exist inside a heart filled with pride, something has to go. I choose pride. When in the midst of a strong bout of comparison, I remove myself (i.e. turn off my silly phone), remind myself of all that God has given me, and I meditate on the scripture of 2 Timothy 2:20, “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also [utensils] of wood and earthenware, and some for honorable and noble [use] and some for menial and ignoble [use].” We are all different; we are all special; we are all created by God on purpose and for a purpose. No one else has your purpose; therefore, no one else has your life, your circumstances, your challenges, or your victories.

I don’t know about you, but I want MY blessings…not someone else’s. I want MY life and MY husband and MY sweet baby girl…not someone else’s. I can’t tell you how to eliminate comparison, but I can tell you that it takes determination and intentional thinking and living. I have a unique and valuable daughter. I refuse for her to see me and hear me, and one day catch my disease of comparison.

Dear Lord, I am so incredibly grateful for every single blessing you’ve supplied in my life, be it big or small. God, I am determined to live my life, to accept my circumstances, and to be more aware of the beauty present in my day-to-day. Help me, Lord, to rid my heart and mind of comparison and its nasty side-effects. Help me to focus on my life and my relationship with you, and help me to know exactly what I need to do in order to stop Satan from being able to use this “disease” against me. Father, I ask that you heal me from it, and I ask that you open my eyes to MY life. You are so loving and so gracious and so kind, and I don’t want to miss a minute of all you’re doing in my world. Thank you for hearing me and for helping me. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

 

 

Philippians 2:3–Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourself.

This Means War

The topic of marriage has been on my mind lately for a couple of reasons, one exciting, one disheartening. First, on Wednesday, June 21st, Nathan and I will celebrate 14 years of marriage (hopefully it’s clear this reason isn’t the disheartening one!). This is a milestone we almost didn’t reach (more on that in a minute), so each anniversary is super special. The other reason I’ve had marriage on my mind lately is due to the startling announcement made last week by Lysa TerKeurst, President of Proverbs 31 Ministries, that she and her husband of almost 25 years are divorcing because of his continued unfaithfulness and substance abuse. When something like this happens to people like them, it demands that we sit up, take notice, and reevaluate our own marriages (or our future marriages, for those who are unmarried).

It’s no secret that a solid, God-filled marriage gets targeted by Satan and his schemes more than anything else, because it’s marriages like these that are the biggest threats to him. So much goodness and kingdom building comes from a strong, God-centered marriage, and Satan–coward that he is–gets scared of the power that that kind of marriage holds. If your marriage is anything like mine, then at some point during it, you’ve likely discovered this fact for yourself. And I don’t mean this in a negative way at all, but if you haven’t discovered this yet, you will.

Despite the horror stories we’d heard about the transition into the first year of marriage, that was NOT our story. Our first year was full of excitement, newness, and fun. Lots of fun. And, maybe more importantly, it was naturally easy. Between getting our first apartment and then home, decorating for and celebrating each of the holidays for the first time as a newly married couple, and all the life in between, we were having a blast. By year two some of the newness and ease had worn off, but things were still going really well…mostly. Then, year three struck, its newness and the ease both having completely evaporated. Even to us it was almost surprising, because up to this point, our relationship had always been so easy, so effortless. We had never had to purposefully love and communicate with each other. Unfortunately, for us, it was through this unguarded door of poor communication and unintentional neglect of our relationship’s foundation that Satan found his way in. John 10:10 warned us, but apparently, we needed to learn this lesson for ourselves: “The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy.”

And destroy is exactly what he did…almost. Just a few months after our third wedding anniversary, Nathan and I separated. Shortly thereafter, we decided (with me leading the charge) that our marriage was too broken to repair. Here’s the nitty-gritty truth about Satan: he’s not just a thief, he’s a “replacer.” He had slithered his way into our once super-happy marriage, and instead of just stealing our joy, he replaced it. In place of joy, we got sadness, insecurity, and isolation. In place of the contentment that we once owned, we got discontentment, avoidance, and blame. In place of the love, we got Satan’s lies and hearts filled with resentment. So, after a couple of mid-separation talks, we planned one more face-to-face meeting, its purpose being to divide up our stuff prior to legally filing for divorce, a last-ditch effort to help ease the other’s hurt.

I’m sure that you currently have lots of questions floating around in your head:

Why didn’t you try counseling?–Oh we did. We went before separating and during our separation. We went to joint counseling sessions and individual sessions.

What went so wrong?–Everything and nothing. There was no affair, no substance abuse problems, no monumental event that broke us. So my answer to what went so wrong? Satan. Plain and simple. He kept us withdrawn from each other, constantly resentful of the other’s distance and increasing solitude. He stole our intimacy and eroded our friendship. It never got ugly, and we always sincerely cared about the other’s happiness (in your nasty face, Satan!), but our marriage was in pieces.

What changed?–The person to whom we looked for answers and healing. Nathan and I both believe that those therapy sessions helped us tremendously. Those of you who know me personally won’t be shocked by my confession that I’m a talker (I know…jaw-dropping!). Nathan, however, not so much. I’ve heard him tell others, though, that because he knew he was expected to talk and share during our hour-long therapy sessions, he found himself beginning to open up about all sorts of things. There were things he mentioned in our sessions that I’d never heard before, feelings I didn’t even know he had. Thankfully, he’s kept this up in the years since; he talks to me about his thoughts and feelings and is an active contributor to the dialogue in our house. Even with all that good stuff happening at therapy, though, it wasn’t enough to save us. Why? We were trusting a human being, a flawed human being, and expecting him to say or do something magical that would heal us. Not surprisingly, that didn’t happen. It wasn’t until we stopped expecting our therapist to have the answers, stopped expecting the other person in this marriage to fix us, and started putting all our trust in God’s divine intervention that things turned around. I can literally remember saying to God, “Ok, fine. This is yours. I’m tapped out. I have no more solutions, no more avenues of cure. If this is going to get fixed, You’re going to have to do it.” And in that moment, God answered, “No problem. I’ll not only fix it, but I’ll heal you both completely and make it better than it’s ever been.”

And guess what–that is EXACTLY what He did. With the past 11 years, each one has brought us closer together. We’ve gone through some tough stuff (how’s six years of infertility struggles for tough?! But we’ll save that for another post). Throughout each year, though, God’s promise remained true: every single potential pothole has been smoothed over so that our marriage has grown stronger and our love deeper. God is good, y’all!!!

Now, having said all that, let me say this: since this near-divorce, we have not offered our marriage up to chance. As he always does, from the moment when we got our relationship back on track, Nathan has led by example. Because of that, we began and continue to live our relationship with purpose and on purpose. WE DO NOT EVER WANT TO GO DOWN THAT ROAD AGAIN, but we aren’t stupid enough to think we can’t/won’t. Want this same thing for yourself but not sure where to turn? Ephesians is a wonderful book that instructs Christians how to have the correct mental and spiritual attitudes; it even contains great scriptures full of proven marital advice. But of all the goodness you’ll find in it, chapter 4, verse 27 just might be the best. Want to know how to divorce-proof your marriage? Start here: “Leave no room or foothold for the devil [give no opportunity to him].” Man! So much easier said than done, but so VERY worth the time to make an effort to do.

Good marriages don’t happen by chance; they are intentional. They contain two people (and frequently just one really unwavering spouse) who are determined to wage war against Satan together, starting with their individual attitudes. So, ladies, you know that silent treatment you give your husband when he’s ticked you off and you WANT to be mad? Think that’s what earns blessings from God and strengthens your relationship? Nope. You know that bad-mouthing of him you do to all your friends and your mom and your sister and the mailman? Think that’s “just venting” and really isn’t a big deal? Still nope.

And, fellas, think that bottling up all your thoughts and feelings is “just how guys do it,” and won’t really cause you any relationship problems? Wrong. What about that lady at the office who’s just sooooo much easier to get along with than your wife, who thinks you’re smart and can do things right the first time? Think it’s ok if you just let your mind consider what it might be like to be married to her instead? Wrong again.

We are all failures–at relationships, at marriages, at life–without God. (Hopefully) We know this. While it’s admirable to ask God into your marriage and rely on Him to help you to be for your spouse the kind of support He designed you to be, we are foolish to stop there. We need to get angry at Satan’s infiltration into our marriages! We need to get fed up with his lies and destruction! We need to be DETERMINED not to let Satan’s schemes ruin our relationships! THIS MEANS WAR, SATAN!! And with God planted firmly in the center of our lives, individually and jointly, WE. WILL. WIN. Don’t wait for your spouse to get on board. Start it yourself. I feel pretty confident that God can take care of him/her if you’ll just take care of your heart, your mind, and your actions.

“Look carefully then how you walk! Live purposefully and worthily and accurately, not as the unwise and witless, but as wise [people]…” —Ephesians 5:15

“Therefore, be imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example]…and walk in love…”–Ephesians 5:1-2

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Please pray this with me:

Dear Lord, thank you so much for your blessings and for the gift of marriage in my life. Thank you for all the ways You continually bless me through my marriage and my spouse. Lord, I come to you today asking for Your guidance and protection. Help me to love my spouse in the way in which You so knowingly designed. Help me to be the vehicle through which Your love is best shown to him/her. Protect us, Lord, from every single scheme which Satan uses against us. Let each one fall uselessly to the floor, under our feet. I love you, God, and I expect blessings within my marriage because we choose to make you an integral part of it. Thank you for hearing me and for protecting, also, the marriages of all of my friends and family. It’s in Your Son’s name that I pray. Amen.

 

 

Philippians 2:3–“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather in humility value others above yourself.”