(This post is part of the Enemies of Grace series. Click here to learn more)
A few months back, I had the great joy of attending my son’s sixth-grade band concert. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much when I sat down in the auditorium that evening and surveyed the group of beginner musicians on-stage. I was fully prepared for screeches and stilted melodies to assault my ears.
So imagine my surprise—and yes, delight—when my son’s band played, beautifully. They played simple tunes, yes. But they played them well. I didn’t plug my ears a single time!
As the concert continued and the older bands played increasingly complex songs, my attention became focused on one person in particular. The conductor. Who is this amazing woman? I wondered to myself while listening to her music dancing in the air.
I stand in awe of a woman who can wrangle a group of sixth-graders and transform them into a band. How many different instruments does she know how to play? How many horrifying sounds does she patiently endure as students first begin to learn? What kind of vision must it take to hear the first disastrous run-thru of a song and be able to pinpoint where progress can be made.
What an amazing gift. And so wonderfully unique. I don’t know if she’s crafty, or good at home organization, or cooks up amazing meals for her family every night. But honestly? Even if she was terrible at every other thing—this woman would still impress me with her gift for teaching music. As I stood to applaud at the end of the concert, my heart thanked God for her and the wonderful way she’s making this world a better place.
Let me hit pause here and say this: I haven’t always been quite so gracious with my praise and applause. I would like to be that perfect woman who cheers others on 100 percent of the time. But I’m not.
Friends, sometimes instead of celebrating the gifts and accomplishments of others, I compare them to my own. Instead of simply enjoying their talents, I start measuring them against mine. It’s a comparison trap that pulls me into insecurity and restlessness, every time. And it’s not pretty.
Anyone else been there? I’m guessing quite a few of you have your hands up in the air. With such an image-conscious and performance-driven culture surrounding us, comparison is a disease that tries to haunt us all.
Comparing to Compete
Imagine what would’ve happened to that sixth-grade band if they stopped looking at the conductor while they played. Actually, you don’t really need to imagine: Just think of the sounds you hear while musicians warm up before a concert. They’re glancing in various directions, playing their own little tunes, and all you can hear is a jumble of disconnected sounds.
That’s what comparison does to our lives. Instead of playing the beautiful music God’s written for our us, we start trying to play someone else’s part. Our gaze falls away from the Conductor who made us. And we start looking around at all the other instruments, wondering how we measure up.
There are times, of course, when comparison spurs us forward in a healthy way. God can use the stories of others to stir something in us. A triangle of courage and inspiration can grow between the stories of God, self, and others.
But sometimes, we just turn comparisons into competition. Our eyes flit away from God’s face and instead, we look only between ourselves and those around us. These comparisons turn into destructive weapons. Some of us use that weapon to beat up ourselves. Others use it to belittle others.
If we’re really honest, most of us cut with both sides of that sword at times, don’t we? When we turn comparison into a competition, nobody wins.
4 Ways That Comparison Steals Our Purpose
Comparison crushes the dreams and purposes God has planted in our hearts. And it carries out this dirty work in such quiet, hidden ways. As our vision shifts from God to the people around us, our hearts shift too. Without quite realizing it, we stifle our deepest passions. Sometimes we get so twisted up, we start diminishing those around us too.
As you read through the following list, do a heart check: Are any of these tendencies quietly tugging your heart away from God’s purposes for your life? Ask God to show you if you’ve been falling into any of these comparison traps.
1. Comparisons lead to insecurity and doubt about our gifts and dreams.
We’ve all been here, haven’t we? We fight through insecurity and work so very hard to accept who God made us to be, only to be confronted with her. The one who seems to have more gifts, or better gifts. The one with a bigger ministry or a more successful career. The one who always gets recognition and applause.
And suddenly, we feel so very small. We doubt our impact. We start to wonder if we should be doing something more, something “better.” Without really stopping to ask God what he thinks, we hop on a rollercoaster ride of anxiety that rattles us so hard, we lose our sense of direction. Blinded by the dazzling accomplishments of people around us, we lose sight of the beautiful gifts God’s already given us.
2. Comparisons make us strive for someone else’s dreams, instead of pursuing the ones God put on our heart.
This problem flows from the first. Once we start to doubt our ourselves (which is really doubting the One who created us, yes?), we look for alternative ways to find joy. So we try out different activities, different values, different dreams—all absorbed from the people around us, who somehow seem to have it a little better.
The irony, of course, is that we’re all looking around and trying to copycat each other, when the truth is that none of us has the golden ticket. Copying someone else may help us look successful in the eyes of others. But our hearts will still feel restless, holding our stifled dreams.
3. Comparison causes us to belittle other people’s gifts.
It’s bad enough that comparison leads us to feel insecure ourselves. But that insecurity can also make us turn on each other. We want to feel a little “more”–so we make others “less.”
So that girl who seems to be annoyingly good at everything—we downplay her gifts instead of encouraging them. Or the one who gets all the attention we secretly crave—we laser-focus on her weaknesses and quietly rejoice when they comes to light.
Other times, we find comfort by comparing ourselves “down,” to people who don’t appear to have it quite as put together as we do. With more apparent failings than our own. In a quiet corner of our heart, we let ourselves believe we are better.
Without God to direct our vision, we miss seeing so may beautiful things. We don’t see the value of those deemed less “successful” by culture’s standards. We don’t see the vulnerability and humanity of the “successful” ones—who still need our encouragement and support. Stuck in a downward spiral of comparison, we end up diminishing fellow sisters, and the dreams God has planted in their hearts.
4. Comparison leads us to force our dreams on others.
Sometimes comparison makes us feel small, but there’s an equally dangerous problem on the flip side: It can also puff us up with pride. We may look around at others and think they aren’t doing enough, they aren’t pursuing the right goals, they aren’t as devoted as they should be. If they could just live a little more like me . . .
Comparisons easily turn into judgments: And judgmental people often want to bend others into their own image. We may even do this with the best of intentions, truly wanting to help others “improve.” But friends, we have to remember that other people are here to bear God’s image, not our own. As passionately as we may feel about a particular ministry, God may have planted different passions in the hearts of those around us.
Whenever we find ourselves criticizing the way others do life, we must be very, very careful. There’s a razor thin line between encouraging others to live a holy life versus encouraging them to live out our version of a holy life.
The Cure for Comparison
So how do we avoid these pitfalls? What kind of practices can keep us from falling into this oh-so-human tendency to compete and compare?
There’s a lesson to be learned from that sixth-grade band, friends. We need to take delight in the music—not in the applause. My tune may be a little different from everyone else’s, and that’s okay. More than okay, really. Because all those different tunes, all those different talents weaving over and under and around each other, it’s how God brings his music to the world.
I’m learning to be brave when it’s my turn to play a melody. And to be okay with the moments when I play harmony and let someone else shine. I just need to follow the Conductor and do my best to play the song he’s given to me.
I love this straightforward advice from Galatians:
“If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else” (6:3-4).
It’s really not that complicated, is it? This verse gives us two simple practices that will help us fight off competitive comparisons in our hearts:
Practice #1: Help others. Instead of comparing all the time, what if we just tried to help others be who God made them to be? There’s freedom in the truth that “You are not that important” It’s not about us and our glory, friends. It’s about pointing people to God.
Try this: Send a note or a text to someone, celebrating a way you’ve seen Jesus at work in their life. Maybe, if you’re feeing brave, send a note to that person, the one you’re most tempted to compare. Notice what it feels like to look at them through God’s eyes, instead of making comparisons to yourself.
Practice #2: Pay attention to your own work. What work has God placed in your hands right now? Who are you called to love and serve? Here’s a hard truth: The world is going to value some of these things more than others. Some of your talents may gain recognition and financial reward. Others may be quiet, lived out in ways that few will notice. The people around you may not see, or understand, or appreciate the work God has called you to do.
But does it really matter? We don’t find real satisfaction by trying to live out someone else’s dreams. Our hearts don’t really sing until we’ve learned to play our own song.
Try this: Listen for God’s voice. When you cut past all the noise that comparisons have stirred in your heart, you might just be surprised by what he has to say. You might find him pointing toward a long forgotten dream or encouraging you to seek healing. He might encourage you to take a bold new step, or he might simply reassure you to keep working steadily where you are.
Whatever the condition of your heart, or the questions that might plague your day, I pray you’ll hear the gentle truth God whispers to every single heart:
I already love you. And I’m not comparing you to anyone. I just want you to be your true self.
(This post is part of the Enemies of Grace series. Click here to read more.)