The Blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

August 29, 2013

Compare and Despair

compare and despair
Lisa Rieck

It only takes a second to feel rotten about yourself. Because it only takes a second to compare yourself—your personality, talents, possessions, body, successes, and on and on, ad nauseam—to someone else, and feel like you don’t measure up.

We all do it every day, often several times a day (or hour), and often without even realizing it. The initial weeks of college can be particularly full of comparison with others as we get a first look at our fellow freshmen. Who makes it through their first month without ever thinking, She’s prettier than me or He’s a lot more outgoing than I am or She’s a much better athlete than I am or He’s so much smarter than I am in math?

The comparison certainly doesn’t stop when we graduate from college, however. In my own life, it got even worse post-graduation, as I no longer had a measure (like grades) to tell me how I was doing in any given area. So I chose others’ most impressive qualities as the standard—and I always fell short.

Comparison could be a real gift . . .

If comparison to others only ever served as a sort of “iron sharpening iron” tool that spurred us on in healthy ways to grow more and more like Jesus, it’d be a gift. But let’s face it—that rarely happens. Instead, comparison usually drives us to:

  • despair over how God has made us
  • bitterness toward God and/or others
  • inauthentic and/or spiteful behavior
  • unhealthy competition with others
  • broken relationships
  • ineffectiveness
  • judgment
  • rejection of our gifts and ourselves

In my case, it drove me all the way into an eating disorder, and into harsh judgment of myself that I projected onto God, assuming (without actually listening to him) that he was frustrated with me and disappointed in me. Again. And again.

The Truth About God

When I finally started asking God what he thought of me and listening for his voice, I was amazed by what I didn’t hear (namely, “Why can’t you be more like _______________?”) and by what I did hear: “You are mine. I created you with purpose and delight. I long for you to live out your days reflecting my image by being fully who I’ve made you to be.”

Hearing those truths and letting myself start to believe that they might actually be true opened the door to a new world for me. I’m definitely still a work in progress in this area (as in, I’m not as far along as some people are . . .), but God has continued to speak his truth to me, patiently and lovingly, and he’s provided help in the journey.

Here are four tools I’ve found useful in reducing my comparison to others and embracing who I really am.

1. Meditation on Scripture.

Scripture is one of God’s gifts to us that helps us know what he’s like, who he is, and who we are as ones created in his image. It’s what roots us in reality—God’s reality, the true reality. Over and over in Scripture we see how different God’s perspectives on strength and weakness and value and worth are from that of our present culture—and that’s good news for us. Meditating on his Word—reading and memorizing passages and asking God to speak his truth to us through them—allows us to recognize and discount the lies we tend to believe about ourselves when we’re caught in the comparison trap. It also gives us immediate truth to turn to in any given moment when we’re tempted to compare ourselves to others. (See the links at the bottom of this post for suggestions of passages to start meditating on.)

2. Listening to God.

We also need to listen to God in prayer about who we are. What does this look like? Settle in to a comfortable spot, ask him to show you how he sees you, and then sit in silence. Write down any distractions that come to mind, and return to silence. Then do it again. And again. And again. And again.

Listening well is a practice we learn to do, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t sense him speaking at first. Even just quieting our hearts and minds takes practice in our noisy world. But keep at it. Your time in Scripture will help you in this, teaching you to recognize his voice and distinguish it from your own thoughts or the world’s values. Here’s a hint, though: God’s voice—even when he’s showing us sin in our lives—always comes with grace and love. When I take time to listen, I’m amazed at the gentleness with which he speaks. As you learn to hear—and accept—his voice of grace, you’ll find yourself living in more and more freedom from comparison to others.

3. Community.

We learn who we are primarily from God, but close friends and family—the people who we’re most comfortable and most ourselves with—also remind us who we are and who we’re not. They recognize hypocrisy and inauthentic behavior in us. They affirm our gifts and talents. They bring out particular aspects of our personalities. Allowing ourselves to be fully known in the context of loving community helps us keep living into our true identity in Christ.

In addition, community reminds us that our often lofty perceptions of others are distorted. In relationships we see the beautiful things about our friends and we see the broken, sinful places. That fuller picture can give us pause next time we’re tempted to see another person as more gifted than us (and therefore perfect). We all have pain and sin and brokenness; community keeps that truth in front of us—and extends grace to us in the midst of our own brokenness.

4. Celebration.

Scripture is full of exhortation—and commands, even—to celebrate. We’re to celebrate who God is and the creation he’s made (including all of us). This means, in part, that we’re to celebrate our own talents, personalities, and perspectives—to humbly name our attributes as good gifts, given by a good God.

This, in turn, sets us free to celebrate the gifts of others. When we accept who we are, we can see those around us not as competition but as equally valuable creations of God, who will add beauty to the world in their own unique ways. In this way, celebration sets us—and those around us—free to fully be who we’ve all been created to be.

The Truth About You

You are unique. You’re made in the image of God. And you have gifts that the world needs—gifts that are different than mine and different than your roommate’s and different than your siblings’ or teammates’ or classmates’. Let these four tools set you on a path of freedom from comparison to others and freedom to shine in all the beautiful ways you’ve been created to do so.

These Scripture passages are a great place to start in understanding God’s love for you:

1 Corinthians 12:12-26

Matthew 19:13-15

Genesis 16:7-14

Psalm 139:1-18

Also check out this trilogy from InterVarsity Press author David Benner:

Surrender to Love

The Gift of Being Yourself

Desiring God’s Will

Lisa Rieck

Lisa Rieck is a writer and editor on InterVarsity’s communications team. She worked at InterVarsity Press for over nine years as a proofreader and Bible study editor (and, as it were, resident limerick-writer). She is continually inspired by the beauty of the sky and loves good conversation with family and friends over steaming-hot beverages.


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