The Comparison Trap has been around since the beginning of time (think Cain and Abel, Saul and David), and most certainly since the first century, evidenced by this New Testament scripture:
I love how Paul, speaking under Divine Inspiration, so plainly says comparing ourselves with each other and using one another as the standard of measurement is ignorant.
I know that in my head. Now, I’m ready to solidify it in my heart, ya know?
Technology and The Comparison Trap
Even as recently as 150 years ago, our knowledge of others existed from our day-to-day interactions with them. We farmed, shopped and raised our kids together in community. Without cars, airplanes, television or computers, we had almost no knowledge of those outside our immediate social circle. Our neighbors were our kids’ classmates were our church family were our extended family… I imagine life was a bit more authentic than it is today. There’s nowhere to hide when you are surrounded by the same people day-in-and-day-out.
In 2011, our knowledge of others is quite the opposite. Instead of knowing a few people intimately, we “know” thousands of people superficially. Our knowledge of them exists mainly in a series of virtual snapshots. Hundreds and hundreds of virtual snapshots by the minute. A news quip on our homepage, a Facebook status, a Tweet.
How close to reality can this possibly be? It’s easy to project an image of perfection when all you have is one computer-enhanced photo accompanying a witty statement. A computer-enhanced photo, by the way, that was chosen and cropped from hundreds of less-than-flattering photos. A witty statement that was edited and re-edited repeatedly before it was published.
Even our face-to-face interactions are brief and surface-level, mostly. We’re too busy, too isolated. It’s easy to project an image of perfection in the pew of a two-hour church service, or the bleachers of a one-hour soccer game, or the table of a 45-minute business luncheon.
The First Step to Freedom: Realizing She ain’t Actually Perfect
I know it’s elementary, but lately I have had to simply remind myself, over and over, that what I see projected in my brief and limited encounters with individuals is not the fullness of reality for them. Therefore, it is not something to which I need to compare or judge the fullness of my reality.
I can be completely certain that all other people –even the ones to whom I have so unfairly compared myself—have flaws and weaknesses, whether I see them or not. Some are better at hiding them than others, but all of them struggle in some area of life. Every one of them has loads of laundry to fold or meals to prepare or messes to wipe. Every one of them has insecurities and fears. Some of them struggle with anger or lust or laziness or over-eating. Some of them may flounder in areas where I excel. None of us is exempt from weakness. None. It’s the human condition.
The Second Step to Freedom: Realizing She ain’t Me
I have a friend who has a beautifully decorated and always clean home. Seriously. It’s always clean. Even she admits this. I used to wonder what I was doing wrong—why I couldn’t keep my home as clean as she kept hers. I even called her one time just to pick her brain for some house-cleaning tips (she gave me some good ones, by the way) and tried hard to implement them into my day. Then she mentioned once in passing that her husband is a “neat freak.” He loves things in order and doesn’t mind a bit doing what it takes to help keep them that way. Having a spotless home is a high priority for both of them, and they both clean and work to improve the appearance of their home on a daily basis.
That was a big “ah-ha” moment for me. See, my husband is many things—wise, athletic, hard-working, loyal, handsome, strong, gentle–but “neat-freak,” ain’t one of them. Sure, he likes things clean. And he will gladly help me clean something if I ask him. But it’s just not a high priority for him. And I’m totally okay with that. I happen to love my husband just the way he is.
Therefore, what I mustn’t do is go to my friend’s house and wonder what I’m doing wrong because my house only looks like hers when…well…never. It never looks like hers. I’m not doing anything wrong. She has a different husband than I have, and that makes all the difference in her spotless and beautifully decorated home.
I have another friend who thrives on busyness. She loves to live a fast-paced life and accomplishes all things at warp speed. I’ve spent lots of time with her and have found myself literally running to keep up with her. She walks fast. She cleans fast. She cooks fast. She drives fast. She plays fast.
I used to beat myself up because I couldn’t keep up with her. In our day-to-day accomplishments, I would compare her list to mine and feel like I’ve done almost nothing—even on, what I would define as, a good day.
My “ah-ha” moment came when I settled in my heart once and for all that I’m not a high-output person. I’m just not. Sure, I like to get things done, scratch a bunch of things off the list. That’s fun. But the times when I’ve chased my friend around, I’ve come home exhausted. Instead, I find my most balanced days are those with wide margins built in. I like structure, but I prefer it to be very flexible, which allows me to linger over a task or a conversation or my cup of coffee and not feel rushed. I will never accomplish what she accomplishes because God didn’t make me that way. It’s not where I thrive.
Breaking free from The Comparison Trap sometimes means I have to mentally rehearse the fact that the “perfect person” to which I’m comparing (and falling short) is not me. She doesn’t have my husband, my temperament, my kids, my home, my gifts, my talents, my weaknesses or my God-given calling.
Does anyone else find that incredibly freeing? I’ve got more to say about this next time. I’m getting excited, y’all.