The Subtle Art of Comparison

Recently I’ve been struck with the thought, I think of myself far too often. Does this resonate with you? Timothy Keller, in his book The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness, says “The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”* Ouch! There are times I have a superiority complex and other times an inferiority complex...but never am I so busy thinking about others that I just forget to consider how they are perceiving me or how I measure up against them.

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Comparison. We all do it! It’s what Paul warns against in 2 Corinthians 10:12-13:

“For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even to you.”2 Corinthians 10:12-13

Have you ever walked out of a situation consumed with replaying the scenario, wondering what the other person thought about how you looked or what you said? Comparison! C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, states,

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next person. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about.”

We are so busy looking at how we measure up to other people that we miss two elements which are very important to God—what is his will in the situation and how can we serve the other person? I’ll give you some examples from my own experience.

One day, I visited the church office. Various friends came in and out and I engaged each one in conversation. After I left, I was immediately uncomfortable, trying to remember just what I said to determine if I had appeared foolish or awkward. I had hardly paid attention to how I could be a blessing to each of those people! The entire interaction was me-centric. I reflected later on how I could have changed the entire dynamic by shutting off my thoughts of self and focusing only on what each of those people needed from me. Shannon Popkin calls it “pouring out” instead of “measuring up.”I really could have said fewer words and listened more, asking questions or making statements intended to minister to the other people present. Timothy Keller points out, “If we were to meet a truly humble person...we would never come away from meeting them thinking they were humble.”*

Fast forward a few weeks to another visit in the church office, this time with other friends. Leaving that situation, I reflected on how I could have poured out to them. I made a stunning realization—those friends, due to their personality, the tenor of the their day, etc., would have greatly benefited from me chatting more. I could have told stories about the kids, my plans for the week, or almost any miscellaneous topic, and they would have appreciated the flow of my conversation. What a contrast! In some situations, thinking of others means talking less of myself and in other situations talking more!

Another aspect of this came together for me when our pastor was preaching about Jesus from Colossians 3. Did Jesus ever think about His accomplishments, His talents, or His appearance with respect to those around Him? Of course not! He knew that God had made Him just Who He needed to be to fulfill God’s will in His life. Likewise, if you have been gifted by God with intelligence, physical abilities or beauty, or some other talent, there is no reason to check out how it compares to any other lady. Rather than looking horizontally, look vertically and ask God why He made you that way, to what purpose was His design. The above Scripture calls it, the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us."

Another way this lesson about comparison played out in my life was in my daily decisions. I found myself thinking about how some friend of mine would handle the situation or problem I was encountering. God calls us to follow those who are good examples: 1 Cor. 11:1, Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” But I was focused on being like those people, not on the method or solution God had for me in the circumstances. That unlocked the door to me being more confident because I was assessing God’s view of my situation, not some fabricated response of another lady.

So here’s the challenge. Along with checking out the books Comparison Girl and The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness (both of which I have read; I have not read Mere Christianity, though it sounds especially challenging,) please be on the alert in your social interactions and conversations this week. When thoughts of self arise, choose instead to ask how you can pour out for that other person. Ask God to show you when you are comparing yourself to others. Assess your motivations and eliminate comparison while considering God’s purpose for you in the situations that arise.

*Keller is paraphrasing from C.S. Lewis book, Mere Christianity, from the chapter about pride.

Comparison Girl

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