Bobby Flay’s cat has more Instagram followers than I do. This fact plays havoc on my self-esteem. As someone who battles the constant torment of comparison, the fact that a celebrity feline makes a bigger splash in people’s lives speaks only to my own self-judgement; I can’t help but condemn myself.
Yes, I know it’s nonsense to compare my worth to that of a celebrity-chef’s cat. I know this is ludicrous, but the self-judgement is there none the less. This is the destructive nature of comparison; it descends upon us without warning. We may tell ourselves to ignore that condemning voice, but sometimes, it is far too loud to dismiss. Living with a focus on self-comparison locks us in a cycle of bitterness and resentment of which it is hard to break free.
Do you rank yourself on the metric of other people?
The truly destructive force of comparison occurs if we believe that God judges us on the same criteria of our comparisons. It is as if we believe that God is waiting for us to be someone other than who we are. To think this way is to believe that God actively withholds God’s blessing, love, and presence until that time when we valiantly prove our value and worth. In our darker moments we may even tell ourselves that God dismisses us; God loves Nacho the Cat, God is disappointed with Kyle the writer, Samantha the mom, Bill the dentist, or Laura the pastor.
Jesus calls us to step away from such destructive comparisons. In the well-known parable of the Prodigal Son, each of the Father’s children condemn themselves under a spirit of comparison. The younger son believes himself to be cast aside and rejected. He believes he has done too much, and wandered too far away, to be ever considered a son again. The younger son believes that he can only be compared to that of a hired servant. He has compared himself out of sonship.
The elder son does not fare much better. He too, suffers from comparisons. The elder son compares his life to the perceived enjoyments of others. With each comparison he comes up short. Even his younger brother’s acceptance home speaks only to what he feels he has not received. The elder son is too busy comparing himself to his brother that he cannot see the love of the Father standing before him.
Comparisons stop us from recognizing the fundamental truth of our lives. Like the father to prodigal children, God comes to us; the delight of the Lord embraces us. It matters not how far we have wandered away, or how many sins we feel are stacked against us, God’s looks upon us with affection and desire. God embraces us and loves us for who we are.
How might we quiet the voice of comparison? One suggestion is to trade the voice of comparison with a better voice. Henri Nouwen once wrote “Because I am alive, I am loved.” This is the truth out of which we live. You are alive. You are reading these words. Your chest rises and falls with the breath of life within you. Despite whatever lies comparison speaks to you, it can’t deny this truth. You are alive. And because you are alive, you are loved by the heavenly Father.
If need be, say the affirmation out loud. Audibly tell yourself that you are loved because you are alive. Or, read yourself into any of the wonderful affirmations found in scripture. Say to yourself, “Derek, you are precious and honored in my sight, and I love you” (Isaiah 43:4). Saying this verse audibly helps us claim the truth in a deeper way. Saying it out loud makes it real.
Never once did Jesus ask Peter to be more like John, or Thomas to be more like Bartholomew. No, God delights in who we are. God rushes to our side to embrace us and receive us. God does not compare you to others; you are enough.