Lately, I’ve realised how big of a problem comparison is. It’s the root of so many other problems. Discontent, low self-esteem, insecurity, feeling inadequate… I realised this when I began to try and think about the source my own feelings of insecurity, inadequacy and discontentment within myself – be that in looks, friendships, academic achievements, even in my faith. I realised that it all was rooted in comparison. I was insecure and unhappy with my looks because I was constantly comparing myself not only to other people who I thought were more beautiful than me (be that on Instagram or in real life), but to my past self, as well as comparing myself to an imaginary ideal of what “beautiful” is. I sometimes felt insecure in my friendships with people because I kept on comparing myself to my other friends, thinking that they were more fun/interesting/caring/loving/wise… than me which made me feel disposable or replaceable. I felt bad for not being able to keep up with the readings for my subjects, comparing myself to other students who seemed to be so on top of their work. I would sometimes feel insecure in my faith, thinking that others were closer to God than me, and that God was using them more than he was using me.
But all of these insecurities and feelings of inadequacy were not founded in any truth. They were seeds of lies that were planted in my mind that grew rapidly into weeds of discontentment, fed and watered by comparison. When I kept on comparing myself to the people around me and imagined ideals, I became blinded by the insecurities and discontentment that sprouted up from that. I was blinded to the things that I was blessed with and the many reasons I had to celebrate and be thankful. I was too busy consumed by what I looked like to see not only the beauty in myself, but to truly appreciate and celebrate other people’s beauty without feeling insecure about my own. I was too busy caring what others thought of me to fully enjoy being blessed with great friends and people to spend time with. I was too busy worrying whether I was achieving academically to enjoy learning. And I spent so much time worrying about whether I was good enough for God, and whether God was doing what I expected him to be doing, that I became blind to what he actually was doing in and through me. Comparison truly is the thief of joy.
But this is not how it is supposed to be. We are not created to be creatures of comparison and competition. We are not created to feel trapped in insecurity and discontentment because of comparison. God calls us to life in all its fullness, which is a life free from feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. God knows that we struggle with comparison, he knows the damaging thought patterns and mindsets we can get into from it. Not only does he want to free us from those thought patterns, but he tells us how to become free from comparison:
Fix your eyes on him.
It is not God’s will for us to measure ourselves against each other. We are all equal in his eyes. He doesn’t call us to look at those around us and then try and change ourselves to compete with or conform to that. He calls us to fix our eyes on him and to be transformed by growing close to him. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Resist the pattern of this world to compare and compete with others, instead “fix your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of your faith.” (Hebrews 12:2) This will cause you to be “transformed” within “by the renewing of your mind” which will not only result in freedom from the thoughts of insecurity and inadequacy and discontentment, it will replace these thoughts with all the beautiful, wonderful ways that God is transforming you into the person he has called you to be, and it will allow you to celebrate the beauty and talent in others too.
But God doesn’t just leave us there. He doesn’t just tell us to turn our eyes to him and away from comparison and to then just wait for mind transformation to come. He also gives us the truth we need to replace the lies of self-hate, insecurity, discontentment and inadequacy with. He tells us truth that we can speak over our lives, that we can use to fight our negative thought patterns. These truths are found this in God’s word, the Bible. So, now I’m going to share with you some truths to hold onto in different situations that you might be struggling with comparison, insecurity and discontentment in:
If you struggle with comparison of outward appearances:
I’ve struggled with this one a lot, and it can really be hard – especially when all around us people seem to be holding outward beauty as the most important thing. We live in an image-based culture, obsessed with looking good in order to feel good. It holds outward perfection as a high measure of personal worth – just think of Instagram which is an app entirely centred around photographs. It is fueled by people’s obsession with images and their desire to cultivate a certain image of perfection. But even though the world seems to place outward beauty and perfection high on the list of priorities and values – this is not what God values.
It says in 1 Samuel 16:7, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
What makes people truly beautiful is not their outward appearance but their heart. Their character. Outward beauty may gain momentary admiration and be pleasing to look at, but inner beauty is what actually makes a positive impact on people. The heart is deeper and more valuable than a pretty face. A beautiful heart blesses people, makes them feel love and joy and peace.
Not only that, but outward beauty is fleeting (Proverbs 31:30) but the inward beauty that grows in the heart endures. My favourite verses that encourage me about the inward beauty that God is cultivating in me is 2 Corinthians 4:16 and 18:
“Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day… So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
And, even still. You are beautiful. Whether you look like the imaginary ideal of what society deems as beautiful or not. You are beautiful. You are created by a God who makes beautiful things – and you are one of those beautiful things! It says in Psalm 139 that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and it’s true! And we are wholly beautiful. Not just the bits of us that we don’t hate. All of us. It says so in Song of Songs 4:7:
“You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.”
If you struggle with comparison of talents, gifts and abilities
When I say talents, gifts and abilities, this applies to many realms. In all the realms of our life – academia, creativity, friendships, spiritual life… – we can find ourselves comparing our own abilities with that of other people’s, and then feeling down about not being as good as someone else is at something. But what I want to say is that just because you see talent in others doesn’t mean that there is a lack of talent in you. Let me say that again. Just because someone else has a gift, talent, skill or ability, doesn’t mean that you don’t have any. Other people’s talents don’t diminish the talents that exist in you. And talents doexist in you. It says in 1 Corinthians 12 that each one of us are given gifts – and that does not exclude you. But that doesn’t mean that we all have the same gifts. We are a body made of different parts, as is says in 1 Corinthians 12! We all have different talents, and just because one person as a different talent to you, doesn’t devalue the worth of your own gift! In the passage 1 Corinthians 12:15-18, Paul illustrates this best:
“Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact, God has placed the parts in the body, just as he wanted them to be.”
God has given gifts to everyone, and he has given them deliberately. No gift is worth more or less than the other. So, we can rest in the fact that there are gifts and talents within us that are just as valuable as anyone else’s. And when we begin to grow in assurance that we are not worth any less or more than anyone else because of our abilities or achievements, we will begin to be able to celebrate other people’s gifts from a place of joy, sincerity and security. We are not made to compete with one another, we are made to build up and celebrate each other. Your companion is not your competitor. Your neighbour is not you’re your competitor. Your fellow students are not your competitors. Celebrate people’s creativity, their intelligence, their musicality. Encourage those who you see with spiritual gifts. Build up and rejoice with your friends whose love, wisdom, and humour you admire. The celebration of other people’s talents and achievements doesn’t lessen your own – it only increases your joy. It is an undoubtedly more joy-filled experience to celebrate others than to be discouraged by damaging comparison.
And if you don’t know what gifts you have, I encourage you to pray to God that he will reveal what he has placed in you. Ask him what he has placed in you and ask him to grow and cultivate that even more. God is a kind and generous God and he loves to encourage us, so he will answer. Maybe even ask some close friends or family what gifts they might see in you, because often we can become blind to our own gifts and talents, and it’s useful to get an outsider’s perspective on it.
If you can’t see God working in your life, but can see it in other people’s lives:
This is common but it doesn’t mean that it’s true. It is normal to be in a place of longing and waiting. It’s normal to be in a period of time where you’re waiting to see God’s plans/promises come true or for prayers to be answered. In these times it’s easy to start comparing yourself with other people, thinking that their lives are all falling into place whilst yours isn’t. But that is not true. And you are not alone in this struggle. The Psalms talk about this all the time. For example, it says in Psalm 119:81-82:
“my soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word. My eyes fail, looking for your promise; I say, ‘when will you comfort me?'”
This psalm shows how normal it is for our souls to come into a place of longing, and how normal it is to feel like God is not answering prayers. But just because it is normal doesn’t mean it’s true – it just means that this is not something to feel alone and hopeless about.
These verses highlight something important about living this period of waiting: we hope not in the feelings of our souls, but in God’s word. “I have put my hope in your word.” God’s word tells us that God is doing a good work in us (Philippians 1:6), and that all things work together for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28), so we can hold onto that in periods of waiting when we can’t see God at work. We can trust in his word that he is in work. Also, note that when we can’t see God’s promises coming to fruition it is our eyes that fail not God’s promises. “My eyes fail, looking for your promise.” In these moments, don’t be discouraged. Don’t feel like a failure. Just put your trust in what God has promised you in his word, rather than in your own ability to see whether God is working or not.
Sometimes we can see God’s promises happening in other people’s lives but not our own. But this doesn’t mean that God is working everywhere else and not in your own life. This is just a time where your eyes fail to see God’s promises – you may be seeing them in other people’s lives, but not seeing them in your own life means that there is still partial blindness. At these times, this is when we need to speak truth to ourselves, to remind ourselves that God’s promises are true, and true for everyone. They are true for you as much as anyone else. And then we will not need to compare and despair when seeing God work in other people’s lives, because we will realise that seeing God’s promises in other people’s lives is proof that God’s promises come to fruition in all of our lives. We can learn to celebrate other people’s joys even in the middle of not seeing our own. We can take their joys as encouragement and assurance that God’s plans and promises will come to be in our own lives too!
And, finally, I want to just reiterate that God is working in your life, even if you can’t see it. I encourage you to pray to God that your eyes will be opened to all the ways that God is working in your life. Like I’ve said before, God is a generous God, and loves to encourage you, so he will answer.
If you struggle with spiritual comparison
Spiritual comparison – this is one that I find myself so easily come into. I trick myself that it comes from a place of good intentions, wanting to become a better Christian – but this is a damaging mindset and is a lie. Because no comparison is constructive. It either leaves us feeling worthless, inadequate and dejected, or on the opposite side of the scale, it makes us feel prideful and puffed up (which is also damaging). God neverwants us to compare our faiths with those around us, he calls us to fix our eyes solely on him. He does want us to celebrate and encourage those around us. He also calls us to learn from those around us, and to help those around us – but this is all very different from comparison.
Spiritual comparison can often be a comparison of talents and abilities like I’ve mentioned above, especially if you feel like someone else is better at ‘God stuff’ than you. So, again, we have to remember that we should not devalue what God is doing through us by comparing it to other peopleand despairing over that. That is not giving God the glory he deserves, because he is working through you, and by saying that you’d rather he did what he was doing through someone else, then you’re not valuing what he’s already doing through you. My friend Anna has said to me a few times, not everyone is called to do everything, and she is so right. We are called to do what God has called us to do. We are not called to do the same as the people around us. Not all of us will be preachers – if everyone was a preacher, then we wouldn’t have anyone to lead the worship; if everyone led the worship, we wouldn’t have anyone welcoming people with kindness and hospitality. Humans are diverse, God’s love is diverse and is expressed in many forms. So, one person being used by God will look different from someone else. God created people uniquely, and delights in using us uniquely. He loves to use our passions, desires and skills to show his love to the world in many ways.
But also, there is a kind of spiritual comparison that I often find myself falling into; which is the comparison of spiritual contentmentor closeness with God. Sometimes we go through dry seasons and don’t feel God, and it can really hurt to feel that and then compare yourself to someone who is in a season of real closeness to God. I have two things to say to this. The first thing is that just because you feel far from God doesn’t mean that he isn’t working in you! Philippians 1:6 says “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” This means that God is working in us right now! He has begun working, and he is continuing to work! And he won’t be done until the day Jesus returns, so we haven’t already peaked. The best is yet to come. God is drawing you nearer to him each day. And even if you feel like you have been closer to God in the past, you have not peaked. You have not gone backwards. God’s way of working is mysterious and doesn’t always look the way we imagine it, but we can trust that whatever seasons we are taken through, our souls are growing through it. Because plants can’t grow backwards.
And secondly, it’s often hard for us to see how God is growing us during seasons, but sometimes it is as simple as spiritually hungry seasons forcing us to remember to go to God’s daily bread (the Bible) for sustenance. Or feeling spiritually thirsty forces us to come back to Jesus, the source of life-giving water. If you are in a period of spiritual dryness, I encourage you to persevere – continue pressing into God. Jesus says in John 15:4 “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” If we are wanting to see the fruit of God’s love in our lives, remain in that love.
But even if you still can’t figure out what God is up to, that is okay. We can trust that God works even when we don’t see it, just like it says in Psalm 77:19,
“your path led through the sea, your way through mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.”
God moves in the waters of our lives, and the waters do move. But we don’t always see his footprints. So, my advice to you if you’re going through a period of feeling far from God, and you’re finding yourself comparing yourself to others who you think are closer to God than you: trust that God is working in you. He is growing you in your faith continually even if you don’t see it. Trust that he is working and seek him through it all – go to his word to equip yourself with the truth of God’s promises for you, the truth of what he has done and is doing for you. And go to God in prayer, be honest with how you’re feeling, and what you’re struggling with. Invite his Spirit to change your heart, away from comparison and towards God. Invite the Holy Spirit to work in you and ask God to open your eyes to be able to see how God is working. I keep on saying this because it is true: God is a generous God and a caring God – he listens to us when we speak to him, and he answers.
I hope these truths helped you in some way, whatever form of comparison you find yourself struggling with. And thank you for reading this longer-than-expected blog post all the way down to the end!