Comparing ourselves to others is cancer to our soul. It robs us of ambition and erodes our joy.
When we’re consumed with trying to determine how we measure up to those around us, we forget we’re fearfully and wonderfully made in the likeness of God. We forget we’re knit together for a purpose. We forget we’re loved and equipped to carry out that purpose. We forget we have but one standard. One command to follow. One rubric we’re measured by.
When is the last time you compared yourself to someone else?
How did it make you feel?
Did it enhance your life?
Clarify your direction?
Offer knowledge or truth?
Help you see your present situation more clearly or honestly?
Lead you to activities that will get you closer to you to goals?
Give you skills to carry out your purpose?
Yeah, me neither.
I don’t think I’ve ever walked away from comparing myself to someone else and felt better about myself, what I’ve accomplished, or how far I’ve come. More often than not I feel a failure. Weak. Worthless. And any hope I had for success…was diminished.
Yet, I can’t seem to stop doing it…
…even though comparison makes me feel uncertain and insecure.
…even though I’m comparing someone else’s middle/end to my beginning.
…even though I squander my joy every time I do it.
Friend, comparison is definitely an exercise in diminishing returns.
From the time we’re small children we’re taught to compare ourselves to others.
We started by listening to our parents, teachers, coaches, and other authority figures measure our performance, athletic ability, intelligence, personality, behavior, value, worth, etc. against some ambiguous standard of other kids—past or present. And in no time at all, we became masters of this game.
Now, I know comparison has a good side. In fact, it’s one of the primary ways we learn (ie. Modeling).
It’s how we learn
- To walk, talk, read, and write
- To pray and take time alone with Jesus
- Personal hygiene and how to take care of ourselves
- To discern which social rules and manners are/aren’t appropriate in various situations
- Sports and business techniques and strategies
- Most skills including cooking, changing oil in your car, and shaping yarn into a hat.
Did you know modeling is a teaching strategy used throughout Scripture? It’s true.
In the New Testament alone:
- Jesus commands us to follow and be like Him (Matthew 5:48, 10:38, 16:24-25; John 10:27, 14:1-30)
- Paul invites us to imitate God (Ephesians 5:1), Jesus (Romans 8; Ephesians 5:2), and himself (1 Corinthians 4:16, 11:1; Philippians 4:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7)
- Peter tells us to imitate Jesus (1 Peter 2:21)
The writer of Hebrew tells us to imitate our Christian leaders’ faith and way of life (13:7)
- Multiple writers encourage to us to compare our lives to those who don’t follow Jesus to know which habits and behaviors to eliminate and/or avoid (Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians. 2:14; 2 Peter 2:10)
It makes sense, doesn’t it?
None of those things can be learned without comparing ourselves to the example.
Then we try. Fail. Re-compare. Adjust. Try again. And again until the skill is mastered. The key is: there’s a known standard to determine what is/isn’t correct. An ideal to strive for. A beacon to guide us.
However, comparison gets ugly when the standards are ambiguous. Fluid. Unknown. When they fluctuate with the trends and are determined by what we value most at any given time. When it’s used to
- Determine popularity
- Highlight our short-comings and failures
- Point out gifts and talents we don’t possess
- Make us look better than we are by magnifying or exaggerating our accomplishments
- Make us look worse than we are by magnifying or exaggerating our failures
- Hold us to unrealistic standards without equipping us to reach them
Can I tell you a secret?
For most of my life, I’ve hated the story of Cain and Able.
I know that sounds sacrilegious, but it’s true. I would have rather read Leviticus or Numbers than this story. But not anymore. God opened my mind and gave me a better grasp of this story.
Now I understand it’s a message about faith.
Since my earliest Sunday School days, I was taught God compared Cain to Able. And Cain came up short. His sacrifice wasn’t good enough. He wasn’t good enough. So God turned His back on him. Rejected him. And he became evil.
As I sat in my tiny chair looking up at the flannel graph, the message was clear: Be a good girl. Be the best girl—better than those around you. Don’t be naughty or misbehave. And then, and only then, God will accept you. If not, you’ll be rejected, just like Cain.
Fear seeped into my heart as my teacher looked each of us in the eye making sure we got the message. I don’t have siblings, so I assumed God was comparing me to my peers at church and at school. I determined to be a “good little girl.” To behave just right. I didn’t want to be rejected. Ever. By God or anyone. From then on I believed my behavior and what I did would guarantee my acceptance by all.
Funny how things we’re taught as children stick with us. Even when they aren’t true. Especially when they aren’t true.
How I would love to go back and tell that spunky little 5-year-old that’s NOT what the story of Cain and Able is about. I wish I could tell her that it’s a story about what we believe not what we do. It’s about faith. And “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1, NIV) If I could, I would be able to save her from years of insecurity, negative self-talk, and unhealthy false thinking.
I would tell her God was NOT comparing Cain to Able. Or pitting Cain’s sacrifice against Abel’s because God doesn’t show partiality. God doesn’t compare us to others. Ever. (Deuteronomy 10:17; 2 Chronicles 19:7)
I would tell her, God was surveying Cain’s heart. He was assessing the authenticity of his worship, faith, and love for Him. God’s evaluation had nothing to do with Abel. It was all about Cain.
Abel chose to believe and love God, and he offered his sacrifice out of that faith and devotion. Cain didn’t.
Abel’s heart and worship were pure. Cain’s weren’t.
It’s no different with us. God also surveys our heart, motives, and faith when we come to Him in worship.
Here’s the straight-up truth: Without faith, it’s impossible to please God. Period. If you want to come to Him, you must
- Believe He exists
- Believe He rewards those who sincerely and earnestly seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)
And once we declare our faith (see 1), God saves us by His grace (see 2).
Beloved, our salvation isn’t obtained by our good works, behavior, grades, or athletic ability. We can’t earn it. It’s not about how we measure up to others. It accomplished by Jesus’s work on the cross. Period. So there’s no reason to compare this or that. Or boast about what you’ve achieved or done. (Ephesians 2:8-9) It’s a gift. And it’s all about grace.
If we choose to believe Him and accept His gift of salvation, there’s only one command we are to obey. “FOLLOW ME!” (John 21:20-22) This is our rubric, our standard. Period. We are judged by whether or not we follow Christ. Not if our faith measures up to that of Paul. Or whether we can sing like Lauren Daigle. Or speak like Christine Caine. Or write like Beth Moore. Or ____________________________ (you fill in the blank)
Can I get an Amen?!
When are you more likely to compare yourself to others?
Is when you’re focused on Jesus and where He’s leading you?
Or when you’re distracted?
Beloved, when we’re distracted and our focus on Jesus wavers, we start looking outward to others for validation. To gauge how we are doing. This is so very dangerous. I know this well. Too well.
Everyone’s journey is unique. There might be similarities, but each journey is as unique as the individual traveling on that road. We don’t know the battles they faced to get to where they are. We don’t know what their calling cost them or how they changed or grown in the process. Their story is different from yours and yours is different from mine.
Instead, let’s determine to keep our eyes on Jesus while cheering on those around us. Celebrate with them when they succeed and cry with them when they don’t. And when they fall, help them get back up, dusted off, and back at it.
Friend, comparison is a cancer. It sucks the life out of us. It keeps us from our purpose. Prevents us from experiencing the full life God offers (John 10:10). But Jesus gave us the cure. “Follow me.” It’s up to us to accept His gift of salvation and follow Him.
And when our faith is weak and our steps falter, we can cry out, “Jesus, I do believe! I do! Help me in my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)