Authored by Steve Hearts
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Who has not compared with other people at some point in life? The tendency to do so is commonplace, but what a debilitating illness this tendency can become if not remedied! The tendency to compare is often triggered by seeing others around us, who in some way or another, seem to be better off than we are. Some people seem more gifted or privileged, making us wish we could match up to them. But more often than not, when we are so busy comparing, we often fail to realize that with every privilege comes a price.
Having been blind since birth, I’ve compared myself with the sighted—thinking they must be more capable and have fewer limitations than I do, etc. But some sighted folks have told me they envy me in some ways, since I am spared many adverse and unpleasant effects of sight. One thing I saw as a drawback of my blindness, for instance, is my inability to drive; but after someone once told me, “You ought to be glad you are spared the stress and responsibility of driving,” I realized that there was another angle to look at it from.
My whole life, I’ve dreamed of one day playing in a band. I loved the feeling of being on stage playing alongside other musicians. Hearing the different sounds blend together and feeling the vibrations was almost as thrilling a prospect to me as a trip to the moon might be. When my older brother had the opportunity to play in a band, he immediately became the one I compared with. I sulked over how privileged he seemed to be, while I was “missing out.” My brother did nothing to make me feel this way. On the contrary, he tried to persuade me that playing in a band wasn’t all that it may appear to be.
“It starts out fun and exciting,” he said, “but eventually you lose that initial high, and it becomes stressful. Personality clashes rear up—and it often ends up feeling more laborious than exciting.” I appreciated his candor, but it didn’t truly hit home until I joined a band down the line and came to experience his very words for myself. Along with other factors, I realized that being part of a band wasn’t for me. Now the desire to play in a band no longer exists, and when someone tells me they wish they could perform and play musical instruments like I can, I reply something similar to what my brother told me.
By saying the above, I don’t dismiss the fact that driving has its benefits and that being in a band can be thrilling and satisfying. I am only bringing up some alternative perspectives to consider for those who have found themselves in similar positions of envy and comparing, and sharing with you what helped me overcome the unpleasant and ineffective feelings of comparing.
An effective remedy to unhealthy comparing that has worked for me is to reverse the scenario and compare ourselves with people who appear to have it worse than I do. I was confronted with this when I attended a computer course at a school for the blind. Many of my fellow students had lost their sight as a result of accidents or sickness that had also caused them considerable trauma in other ways as well. I quickly realized how fortunate I was to not have gone through those experiences.
It’s easy to start wishing we could in some way be like others around us! But if this wish came true, there would be nothing unique about us. In my opinion, individuality and variety are two things that considerably spice up our existence. In their absence, life would be dull, monotonous, and boring.
I came to see that when we allow ourselves to compare with others, we’re actually contending with our Creator—acting as if we should have a say in the matter of our creation and formation. This tendency can be effectively counteracted by praise and gratitude. Giving thanks for my peculiarities, and even the idiosyncrasies that I want to overcome, has tremendously boosted my self-esteem.
While preparing to write this piece, I started to think of Jesus, who “was tempted in all points just as we are.”1 That being the case, I figured He must have been tempted with comparing—although I couldn’t think of any specific biblical record of this. But then I remembered the time when “the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.”2
I considered the possibility of Jesus having been tempted to compare Himself with these earthly kingdoms and their kings who had earthly glory and the respect of all their subjects, while less than a handful of people respected Jesus and saw Him for who He really was. Satan told Him that these kingdoms and their glory could all be His if He’d simply fall down and worship him. Of course, Jesus didn’t entertain the temptation to compare—much less accept the tempter’s offer—or we would not have any Savior.
Even today, Satan still tries to persuade us to travel paths that seem appealing at first glance. What he fails to tell us is where such paths lead—to places where we’ll linger in dissatisfaction, depression, and despair.
Instead of comparing ourselves with others, we ought to strive for the attitude expressed in Psalm 139:14: “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.”3 We ought to strive to see God’s “fingerprints” both on ourselves and those around us. You may be able to think of a host of things that afflict you and hold you back from discovering your true potential. Could your main affliction possibly be nothing more than “the comparing illness”? If so, go on the attack and be cured of it.
As the singer Steven Curtis Chapman put in one of his songs, “Fingerprints of God”:
“You’re a masterpiece that all creation quietly applauds, And you’re covered with the fingerprints of God.”
1 Hebrews 4:15
2 Matthew 4:8 NIV
3 King James Version
Read by Stephen Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright© 2013 by The Family International