I was misquoted. Someone attributed the quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” to me, rather than President Theodore Roosevelt. It’s okay, one of my pet peeves is how Abraham Lincoln is attributed a line that actually comes from Jesus. So, I’m in good company.
Later I was asked a question in the midst of a conversation about comparisons, “When will I stop trying to be someone else?”
This got me thinking about the root of comparisons. Where did comparison’s begin? Are we naturally wired to compare?
As I thought, I was reminded of Martha & Mary, Joseph and his Brothers, Sarah and Hagar, Cain and Able….then this tree or that tree, then I realized…
God set us up for comparison. Comparison is a part of choice. And choice is an element of true freedom, which is essential in a truly loving relationship. If you do not have the choice, you do not have a real relationship. You are forced. And you cannot logically make choices without some level of comparison, even if choices are simple and clear to you, and you have to give very little consideration to some choices (i.e. do I want to snack on apple slices or razor blades), you are still comparing and making choices.
Comparison is one of the hallmarks of our species, along with volition; our ability to compare and choose over instinct and what I call “hard wiring” is a vital part of what makes humans, human. I can envision comparison as an original part of our survival as a species, through experience we learn to compare what is safe to eat and what is not, which animals are dangerous and which are not. But like other elements of our early survival, fear, anxiety, etc. our understanding and usage of comparison has evolved. It’s a part of how we process, but it’s function looks very little like it did originally. I wonder if it’s less a question of “How do I get rid/stop these things,” like comparison, fear, anxiety, etc. and more questions of, “How can I learn to manage them. How can I observe their purpose and solve for how to deal with their presence in our context today?”
Natural responses have the potential to produce both very healthy and very unhealthy things in our lives. It’s one thing to see someone, respect what they have accomplished, look to them as an example, a mentor, a guide – while it is an entirely different thing to move toward envy, jealousy, bitterness and judgement as we measure someone against our own standards or opinions. And I’m not sure there is not a very fine line in between.
Being new to an area and to groups of people I have been able to notice how much we compare ourselves to one another at a new level, and that the results of those comparisons are rarely formed from reality. We compare, move to assumptions, and then judge. Again, in an easy and natural way. We move through this process effortlessly, and for some of us, we do this dance several times a day. So where is the process broken? When did something that makes sense on a fundamental level, come to hold so much power and mental real estate?
Let’s talk about that…
Part 2 from this week’s post:
I believe the breakdown comes in our submission of the sorting and sifting to a greater trusted authority. For me, this is God. I believe God loves me more and knows me better than I can on my most feeling-loved and knowing-thyself day. And if that is true, I can trust God’s guidance and presence in my life. If Warren Buffet offered to manage my finances I’d take the deal. If Mario Andretti offered to be my driver in a race, I’d buckle up! Why? Because I trust they know more than me, they are experts. So when I have this relationship with the expert of the universe it makes so much sense for me to seek wisdom, clarity and guidance from that source.
God starts this project of sorting and sifting right out of the gate. He puts Adam to work, instructing him to “be fruitful,” “manage the garden,” and, “the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.” That’s lots of “this is this” and “that is that.” A whole lot. But I picture this done in companionship and conversation with God.
Jesus speaks often about sorting and sifting….weeds from wheat, sheep from goats, good stewards from not so good stewards, left from right…but these illustrations have a manager, landowner or master that does the work with that is brought before him. I’m just not sure we can be trusted to do the sorting and sifting on our own. We seem to do a terrible job when I reflect on human history. The us vs. them mentality doesn’t seem to benefit us, yet we keep insisting we know who fits in what category. We do bad math when it comes to human value and that includes our own worth. It’s one thing to say, “She is beautiful.” It’s another to think, “She is beautiful so I must be ______.” Or “Look at what they have.” with a sense of joy and admiration vs. a sense of envy or a neglect to measure our own gifts and talents equally. Comparison not submitted to a conversation with the Holy Spirit will most like just end up being bad mental “mathematics.” We will most likely end up with a lose of clarity of our reality while misjudging their reality too.
So I’m wondering if the goal is less about learning to stop all comparisons, to shut down comparative thoughts, or if it’s more to learn the art of comparison; practicing the art of comparison strictly alongside the Master craftsman of your design and mine. Maybe the original question that sparked these posts, “When will I stop trying to be someone else?” could be spun a little. Perhaps we would be better served by asking ourselves, “When will I start accepting all that I actually am?” Whatever questions accompany your comparisons, practice pausing long enough to check in with God.