I recently heard an impactful analogy in a sermon that really resonated with me. The sermon was about being overwhelmed financially and learning to simplify, but this principle really applies to every aspect of our lives when it comes to comparing ourselves with others.
The analogy goes like this. Picture a father who is watching his son play outside on a hot summer day. He invites him to come inside because he wants to bless him with his absolute favorite treat, ice cream! He scoops a generous portion onto his son’s bowl, and his son is delighted in what he has been given. He is completely content with what his father has just generously provided him. A few days later, the same little boy is playing outside again, this time with his brother. The father wants to bless them both, so he invites them inside for some ice cream. He gives the same little boy a generous scoop just as he did a few days prior, but to the other son, he gives two generous scoops of ice cream.
The first son, who just a few days ago was completely satisfied with his portion, now feels that what he has been given is not enough. He received the exact same amount both times, so what has changed? His feelings of gratefulness and content have now turned to envy, bitterness and discontent all because of one thing – comparison. When we compare our material possessions, our skills, our looks, our spouse, our kids, or anything else in our life, to that which someone else has been given, we never come out ahead, ever.
God alone is the one who decides when and where we will be born, what family we will be a part of, what types of talents we will have, and everything else about our individual genetic makeup. Everything we have, and everything we are comes from God. Because He is infinitely holy, just, and wise, He is more than capable to decide what each person receives in this life. In the ice cream analogy, neither son earned or deserved a certain amount of ice cream; they simply received it as a gift. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)
Being a competitive person by nature, I can easily get wrapped up in comparing myself to other people in my life, but the older I get, the more I realize that allowing these thoughts in my mind is a complete waste of time. And more importantly, when I compare myself to others and come to the conclusion that what they have is better, I am essentially telling the almighty God of this universe, that He didn’t get it right and that I could have done a better job. That is a spiritually dangerous place to be and certainly not a place where we should camp out with our thoughts.
I am absolutely a work in progress, but here are a few things that help me keep my focus and perspective where it should be, so that I can avoid the comparison trap.
Take the toxic thoughts captive immediately.
As soon as you realize you are starting to compare yourself, immediately take hold of those thoughts, bring them to Christ and leave them there. Even a quick prayer of acknowledgement and asking for forgiveness can be enough for us to refocus our thoughts and purge our minds of these toxic thoughts.
Replace the thoughts with God’s spiritual truths in His word.
Whereas taking thoughts captive is more of a defensive move, mediating on God’s truth from His word is more of an offensive strategy. If you constantly fill your mind with scripture and mediate on that throughout your day, you are much less susceptible to the comparison trap. A great verse to focus on when struggling with comparison comes from Philippians 4:
“…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (v. 11-13)
Shield yourself from places, people or things where you’re most vulnerable.
If you know that looking at Facebook or Pinterest or some other type of social media frequently sparks envious thoughts in you, then don’t go there. If that sounds too drastic, at least give yourself a break for a while until you are in a better place spiritually. If you have certain relationships that tend to bring you down rather than build you up, be careful to limit the amount of contact you have with that person. We are all triggered by different things, so figure out where your Achilles heel is in your life, and be careful to avoid it.
Be thankful for everything that you do have.
When I look at my own life and start to thank God for each individual blessing I can think of, I quickly realize I have more things to thank him for than time to be able to do so. The song “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)”, really does a beautiful job of painting a picture of this through music, so if you’ve never heard the song, click here because it’s worth listening to. Rather than focusing on what you don’t have, try focusing on all of the things that you do have, and I don’t just mean material things. I do think we should be grateful for those material blessings in our life, but we are richly blessed in so many other ways, and we often fail to realize it because we are so distracted with other people’s stuff. Stuff is just stuff anyway.
Shift your perspective from a worldly one to an eternal one.
Keep in mind that even if you were to accumulate all of the material things you desire – a beautiful big house, a brand-new luxury car, name brand clothes, vacations to exotic locations, the latest electronic gadgets – not one of these have any lasting eternal value whatsoever. They day you die, all of your possessions become instantly and completely meaningless to you. What does last is our relationship with our Heavenly Father and whether we accepted his offer of grace while on Earth. So rather than spending all your time, money, and energy trying to attain all that this present world has to offer, consider investing in a relationship with God and leveraging what you’ve been given to further his kingdom instead of your own.