The Comparison Game

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt  

I have loved this quote from Theodore Roosevelt for quite some time. I find it to be deep and also relevant to the culture we live in today. In a world of selfies, Instagram posts, and Pinterest perfect projects, the comparison game is easier to play than ever before, but at what cost? Pinterest pictures and Instagram posts are not a true picture of real life but a filtered version of what people want to portray, but that is really easy to forget. As I scroll through my Instagram feed, my mind often starts to feel dissatisfied with what I have been given in this world. The questions make my mind wander. “Why can’t I have that?” “What am I doing wrong?” “Why me?!” 

When this happens, I have become a victim of the comparison game.

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Over the past few weeks, I have found myself discussing the comparison game in my office more than normal, and when this happens, I start to wonder if maybe this is something we all need to hear. Kids come in to tell me how they are not as good at sports as one of their friends or not as pretty as the popular girl in their class. I listen to story after story of heartache from clients that just feel like they do not measure up, and as I listen, I quickly recognize that there is a cost to this thing called comparison: a loss of joy and confidence, feelings of shame, or a struggle with pride. I think Roosevelt was right on the mark about comparison stealing joy.

The comparison game is a losing game. Always. It is a game that is easy to begin and difficult to quit, especially in a world marked by social media profiles and creating an online presence. Comparison becomes a trap that quickly entangles anyone willing to play and has two options for the end result: either a person is feeling defeated and ashamed of him or herself or puffed up with pride. Neither option is a healthy response, and here is why.

Feeling ashamed comes from the belief that others are better than me and that there is something wrong with me. When comparison happens, I do not have to look far to realize that other people are different from me. When I place my focus on others and feel like I do not measure up, I am forgetting my own story and that the gifts God has given to me are both unique and valuable. I am left devaluing myself, wishing I could live a different life, instead of celebrating who I am.

Pride, on the other hand, leaves me feeling like I am better than whoever I am comparing myself with. Think about your scrolls through Instagram. The mindset of “I’m doing better than ________ at _________” or “at least I __________” is easy to come by, but again, this mindset does not contribute to a healthy view of self. Scripture warns against having a prideful spirit and instead encourages humility (Proverbs 11:2, Proverbs 16:5, Philippians 2:3, Romans 12:3).

So what’s the way out of the comparison game trap? I have come up with three different “R’s” that may provide a way out: Remember, recite, and recognize.

The way out begins by remembering and trusting that God has created you just the way He wants you to be. You bear the image of God and have been fearfully and wonderfully made (Genesis 1:27, Psalm 139). He has called you His child, and you are a valued part of His creation. He gives grace to those who fail and justifies and redeems us through the blood of Jesus (Romans 3:23-24, Ephesians 1:7). Spend some time in Scripture remembering exactly what name God has given you.

Because our brains are forgetful and often forget that we are a valued part of creation, the next thing to do is to recite the truth of Scripture over and over again until it sinks in deep. Post reminders where you’ll see them daily – on the bathroom mirror, in your planner, on your steering wheel, or some other visible place. Spend time daily in the Word where you can read and reread the hope of the Gospel. Memorize passages of Scripture that you can turn to when you feel lonely or discouraged. (Check out Isaiah 41:10, Romans 8:31-35, or Ephesians 1:3-14)  When I am drinking deeply of the truth of Scripture, it is easier for me to recognize all the lies the comparison game tries to tell me. Scripture provides a firm foundation upon which I can stand and fight back, and it leads me to the streams of living water where joy is ultimately found.

Finally, recognize when you are playing the game and deliberately make a choice to find joy and gratitude in the things that you do have or the way you have been created. Sure, there will be times when you slip back into comparing, but the more I recognize when that is happening allows for me to respond more quickly with the truth of who I really am. Recognize your physical reaction to the comparison game so that you can listen to your body’s cues about the trap. Know what situations make you more likely to engage in comparison. Pay close attention to the negative thoughts that cross your mind. When you recognize that you are stuck in the comparison trap, go back to remembering and reciting the truth of the Gospel.

Comparison is far too costly, and I am unwilling to let it steal my joy. I’m committing to remembering, reciting, and recognizing, and I hope you will join in with me, too.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10

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