If I had a penny for every time I compared myself to others, I could probably buy my own Caribbean island by now.
Recently, we had dinner with some friends who, from where I’m standing, look like they have the perfect marriage. They post cute pictures together on Facebook, they seem to be besotted with each other, and everything about them appears to be just, well, wonderful.
That’s why it came as a surprise when the conversation turned to marriage, and they revealed that they frequently miscommunicate and end up arguing with each other. I shouldn’t have been shocked; of course they are a completely normal couple. But I have to confess I was also pretty relieved. In my mind, they were on a pedestal of “ideal marriage”, that I hadn’t realised I’d been comparing my own relationship to.
Comparison is a dangerous game, especially for those caught in the trap of relationship-related or any other form of anxiety. When we’re feeling uncertain, searching for confirmation and looking around for a model of what is ‘right’ can be very tempting, and equally destructive.
It’s also incredibly unreliable. What we see on the outside is not always, if ever, the full picture of how things really are. This is particularly true of social media, where statuses and photos usually portray everyone as constantly happy, successful and living life to the max. Let’s face it, most people don’t post about being bored, lonely or feeling down – understandably, few of us want to showcase the less sunny parts of our lives to the world.
The truth is that we rarely see others through an accurate lens. And this makes comparison a pretty futile exercise – when we match ourselves up to others, we’re doing it against a perception rather than reality.
The other danger, as well as being inaccurate, is that comparing sucks contentment out of our lives.
There are two potential outcomes when we compare to others. We either feel we’re not as good/successful/in love/happy as someone else, leading to anxious or depressive thoughts, or we feel we’re better than someone else and have a burst of pride that puts the other person down. Neither is positive nor fruitful. Whichever way around, comparing saps the joy out of our lives and our friendships, making it difficult to both enjoy our own blessings and to feel genuine happiness for other people’s.
So what’s the antidote to The Comparison Game? I think we can find it in Philippians 4, verse 19: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in Christ Jesus”.
God promises to provide for all our needs, and to have created us exactly as we are according to his good plans. So not only is comparing to others unhelpful and unreliable, it also undermines the promises we’ve been given from our loving Heavenly Father.
Just like with anxiety, it’s gratitude and trust that free us from the shackles of comparison – giving thanks for the abundance of our own blessings, and trusting in God’s perfect provision for our lives.
This is the Jesus-shaped route back to joy – the kind that is beyond all compare.