Theodore Roosevelt – “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Proverbs 14:30 “A peaceful heart leads to a healthy body; Jealousy is like a cancer to the bones.” (NLT)
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 “And make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business…”
I troll through numerous devotionals to take me through the Lenten Season. Not being Catholic, this whole idea of giving something up for Lent seems like a backup plan for the long since broken New Year’s resolutions. I understand that it is an outward display of self-denial to honor the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus’s death on the cross. Somehow, giving up chocolate, wine, cookies, or meat just doesn’t seem to close to giving up one’s life.
Then I found a fantastic article by Phil Ressler, 19 Things To Give Up for Lent that Aren’t Chocolate. The list includes such things as fear, the need to please everyone, impatience, blame and doubt among many other things that are a matter of surrendering to God instead of giving something up for God.
I read down the list thoughtfully and prayerfully and I got as far as comparison. The word seemed to glow in red and have its own pulse. I looked up Proverbs 14:30…” jealousy is like cancer to the bones.”
It truly is “the thief of joy” (Theodore Roosevelt), yet how can we escape it?
Oh, that I could give up comparison for Lent or better yet; for life. It is so hard to give up or surrender something that from our first breath we are born into. I believe it is simply a part of our human nature because we all are confronted with comparison as we enter helplessly into this world. The chord is cut, and we are given our very first rating by how we score on the APGAR test. A ten, of course is the highest score and reserved (as we are told in our childbirth classes) for those born to doctors. I suppose expectant parents are told this so we are not panicked when our perfect, sweet, slippery, crying bundle of awesomeness doesn’t receive a perfect ten, but usually somewhere around an eight or nine. Only minutes old and we are given a subjective ranking.
We are compared to and pitted against each other long before we enter school. Subtle comments spoken over us or over those surrounding us continue to compel us into wondering if we are enough. “Isn’t she pretty, smart, funny, tall, short, slight, chubby, quiet, loud, shy, or outgoing?” The list could go on and on. We all hear words such as these, and we all use these adjectives with little thought to how they are received by the actual child or those surrounding the child. We often do not realize how both the positive and the negative can impact self-esteem, self-love and self-acceptance.
For the child, herself, a bar is being set that she may or may not be able to attain, or maintain in response to the positive, and shame blooms around the negative, or perceived negative pronouncements. These words can fall like drops of rain washing away our security in who we are in Christ and are inherent value in our fearfully and wonderfully made badass selves.
Those of us with eating disorders are highly sensitive by nature. We often hear these words echoing in our minds boding us to wonder how we measure up to the adorable, bright, funny, outgoing, people around us. Our quiet and sensitive nature pulls us into the background where we either don’t receive the words of encouragement, or can’t quite hear them.
Then, we enter school and all bets are off as it nourishes the breeding ground of comparison, and the feelings inadequacy. We are now graded on our performance. In elementary school our report cards told us whether we were (S) “satisfactory”, (S+) “above satisfactory”, or (S-)“below satisfactory.’
Satisfactory? What in the hell is that supposed to convey to a child’s spirit? Somehow seeing column after column of S’s or S-‘s revealed to me that there was nothing special about me. I was simply tolerated as I strived to move beyond satisfactory.
At an early age, I learned that I needed to perform or at least try to do something to rise above “satisfactory.” Rising above this label placed upon me in Kindergarten became elusive, as the harder I tried the more painful “satisfactory” became. Somehow this became a pronouncement over who I was and not just a grade I had earned in reading, writing or math.
Eventually I settled for this label of satisfactory and gave up trying to rise above it. I believed, and sadly often still do believe that I am merely satisfactory and tolerated.
An introvert by nature, I was rarely noticed even when I achieved and should have been recognized. I guess I could have or maybe even should have been content with satisfactory, but something in me wanted to stand up and be counted. I wanted my life to count for something. I wanted to matter. So, from day one I was called to compete and compare myself to those around me.
Being a twin only compounded the issue for me. I was born vying for attention at home and thrust into greater comparison in school. “Which one are you? How can we tell you apart? Who is taller? Who is the better student? Let’s see you are the (fill in the blank) twin and she is the (fill in the blank) twin,” were all questions I faced on a regular basis, right down to “Who started the period first?” FYI… Leslie started her period first, and I was left second guessing if this body was even enough.
I believe this constant comparison was a contributing factor to my development of anorexia as a teen. I would be the thin twin and there would be no mistaking who was who. It separated me from my twin, and I erroneously believed this is what made me unique. I believed that being thin would make me happy, attractive, and feeling special. Instead anorexia slid in, stealing my identity in Christ, and fed me a pack of lies, leaving me unable to feed myself.
We can all fall prey to looking at our outward appearance and performance. We can lose sight of who we are meant to be as a child of God. We are so busy comparing ourselves to each other and wondering how we measure up, that we don’t delight in the spirits and souls of those in our very presence. We also lose sight of, or hide our authentic selves. We are striving and surviving, but are we thriving?
We lose sight of the qualities in ourselves and others that cannot be measured in numbers, time, or percentages. Our vision becomes blurred and we fail to see one’s heart. We can’t measure kindness, compassion, empathy, prayerfulness, and most of all love, but boy do we feel it when these are absent in our lives.
How well can I love while I am comparing myself to others? This ability to fully love becomes eclipsed by envy and jealousy of other’s accomplishments. And when I am “better” at something, my pride can cast a dark shadow on the love I both give and receive.
Yes, the problem with comparison is that there is always someone greater than me, and this leaves me feeling “less than enough.” It steals my joy and sends me back to identifying with my illness, my athleticism, and my outward appearance. I find that I even judge the relevance of my story when I compare my blog traffic or book sales with others. I have to remind my self that if my journey helps just one person, then I have done God’s work and that, is relevant. When I see a person, it is their heart I am drawn towards, can I possibly remain open to the possibility that my heart is what people see in me?
Giving up comparison for Lent has not been easy. It has taken a tremendous amount of effort and focus on being the best me that I can be therefore allowing you to be the best you that you can be. Comparison is woven into the fabric of our beings. When I find myself falling into the comparison trap I remind myself that comparison may be woven into me, but I remember that it was God who knit me together. I am fearfully and wonderfully made in his image, and this makes me incomparable!
Psalm 139:13 “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful I know that full well.”
Samuel 16:7 “…The Lord does not look at things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”(NIV)
As I enter the Holy Week this year, I thank Phil Ressler for the idea that God doesn’t need us to give up something for him, he wants us to surrender to him.