It’s a vicious cycle. You see a woman who does something really well, let’s say cooking, and you initially admire her and praise her for her kitchen prowess. The admiration might turn into inquiring how she became so proficient at making meals for her family. Then a little voice begins speaking, “You can’t cook like that. Your dinners always turn out bland and uncreative. You are lucky if you don’t burn dinner. Stop trying, she is just better than you.” What was once admiration has now turned into discouraging comparison, and now you are just straight-up jealous.
It’s hard, isn’t it? There is always someone who is more creative, more organized, more physically fit, more kind, more whatever than us. If we let ourselves, we can easily spiral out of control with discontentment, jealousy, and discouragement over what we are not and what we wish we could be. And as the proverbial saying goes, the grass really is always greener on the other side. When we believe these lies of comparison we will never truly be satisfied, primarily because we are disobeying God’s word and allowing the sin of discontent to rule our lives.
One of the things I’ve done in the past when I’ve seen a character quality or evidence of grace I admire in someone is to thank God for that grace and ask for the same measure of grace in my own life. When I see a wife lovingly serve, respect, and submit to her husband, I’ve prayed that God would give me that same gracious spirit. When I see a marriage thrive in love and grace, I have asked God to be pleased to work that same outcome in my own marriage. When I’m tempted to wallow in self-pity when I see my life in comparison to hers, my mind is filled with thoughts like “why can’t I be ____?” “I wish I was ____.” Questions like this inevitably lead me to despair. I can’t make myself do anything. I can’t change my personality. I can’t change my sinful tendencies on my own. So instead of looking to the faithful giver of grace to change, I’m ruled by my longing for something different. God is the giver of all good things and the grace to change. Instead of sinfully comparing myself to everyone else, I should be thanking God for the gracious gifts he gives, and ask him for the same work in my own life. The truth is, it’s really hard to be jealous of someone when you are thanking God for them.
Peter faced this same tendency towards comparison (John 21:18-22). Instead of allowing Peter the indulgence of his sinful comparison to those around him, Jesus turned his statement on its head and told Peter to follow him, essentially saying that Peter’s inquiry about them didn’t matter. The same response is true for us. After thanking God for the evidence of his work in the life of another, we must then look to the giver of grace and follow him alone. A gaze set directly on Christ will not afford us the opportunity to look around and compare because we will be so captivated by the treasure that he alone is for us.
What I need is a reoriented mindset. Comparison and jealous are ruthless masters. They keep us believing that we are never good enough and that someone else always does it better. They probably do, but that’s not the point. The point is that it doesn’t matter. Christ has called us to himself and only asks that we follow him. “Don’t look at the people around you and despair over your life,” he says. “Follow me and me alone.”
We are prone to compare and we will probably fight this temptation until we see Jesus face to face. But until that day, I resolve to fight my own sinful temptation to compare and despair by thanking God for the gifts in the people around me and following Christ alone.