I was twelve years old, sitting on the curb with my friend. It was so hot that the road’s tar bubbled up around our flip-flopped feet.
I don’t remember what had made me so sad that day, to prompt this curbside meeting. But I do remember how bad it hurt on my insides, like my heart was going to burst. My ears and throat burned the way they do sometimes, in that moment immediately before your tears spill over. I wiped my cheek with the back of my hand, and started to tell my friend about whatever was troubling me that day.
“Oo-OOOO-ooo,” she interrupted me. “Sounds like trouble in paradise. It’s about time.”
I remember how she rolled her eyes, and how her blonde ponytail jiggled when she shook her head back and forth.
I stopped talking.
Comparison had swooped in like a vulture, and snatched my voice. I went home with my tears and my shame and with double the pain, and I wondered what paradise was anyway? Because the burn in my throat still seared when I buried my head in my pillow.
My friend saw only the outside of my life, only the parts that looked like some version of paradise. The truth is, I did grow up in the biggest house in our town of 350 souls; it was an old three-story house built in 1902. My mom stayed home with us kids, and Dad had a good-paying job. We dressed nice, went to church every Sunday. We gathered around the same dinner table almost every night, just after the 6 o’clock whistle blew from the top of the watertower. It wasn’t perfect, but to my friend, it looked like it.
She lived on the other side of the tracks, in a single-parent home. School was difficult for her, and her big brother was often in trouble with the law.
My friend often held her life up next to mine, and saw a trash heap next to a gold mine. And I can’t say for sure, but I walked away from the curb that day, believing that somewhere deep inside her, she felt a little bit better because I was hurting so badly.
* * * * *
I see curbs.
I see curbs on Facebook and at the city park. I sit on the curb of Facebook and the blogosphere and in churches and school gymnasiums and playdates in the park. It gets hot out there, where people’s envy bubbles up like tar. We’re comparing our waist sizes, square-footage, IQs, kids’ reports cards, approval ratings. Oh, it’s subtle, but it’s there.
Comparison is a quiet vulture, swooping in to eat our joy and our camaraderie and our witness to the world.
We compare our trash-heaps days, to someone’s paradaisical Facebook statuses. We might be tempted to roll our eyes at the precocious comments that some preschool mama quoted. Somewhere inside of us, we might be turning green with envy at another writer’s bestselling book, a former colleague’s success in a new business venture, another couple’s second trip to the beach in a year.
When we compare and contrast, two people get hurt: the Compare-er and the Compare-ee.
1 – The Compar-er.
It’s easy for any of us to see how, in the end, comparison hurts our very own selves. Comparison is one of the biggest joy robbers and dream shredders in our own lives.
We can unzip our own hearts to see the residue of our own envy. We see how it can crush our own wilted identities. The Comparison Monster could force its ugly self smack-dab between us and whatever God is calling us to do: start a blog, write a song, lead a Bible study, apply for the promotion. Nothing will kill a dream faster than looking at the life of someone who’s already living your dream, then believing it’s too good for you.
If you can’t do it like her, why try?
Can’t blog like her? Forget it.
Can’t make a difference like your friend does? Throw in the towel.
How sad for you, and how sad for us. You are the only “you” the world gets. We need you to be you, in this one life you’ve been given.
I’m not proud to admit that I’ve compared, and let dreams slide through my fingers. Comparison whispers that our efforts are worthless and our dreams are pointless. And it will suck the life right out of us.
2 — The Compare-ee.
Someone else always gets hurt when we compare, even if we think it’s a secret battle we’re having on the inside. It hurts the person who’s sitting on the other side of our envy. It creates an us-versus-them mentality that can rob the Body of Christ of its unity and fellowship. And it can open up doorways to petty criticisms of the person we believe is “living in paradise.”
This morning, I read in Psychology Today that when we feel inadequate, we might try to protect our own self-worth by diminishing the work of the ones we envy. “You are engaged in devaluing when you have belittling thoughts about another person, such as petty criticisms.”
(And Scripture has a lot to say about it, too.)
Cheap shots are delivered. Snickering ensues. We might get annoyed at the Facebook posts of the person who ran another ten miles, lost another ten pounds, gained another ten followers. And when they’re not looking? We might try to knock them down about ten notches.
People: We’ve got to stop this. Life is not a competition. We’re actually all on the same team, and it’s called the Body of Christ. And no one is living in paradise, and we’re all living in a world where Jesus said it plain: “You will. have. trouble.” Jesus did not footnote any exceptions in the fine print.
What if we started celebrating other’s victories, instead of trampling on their parades? What if we started living out God’s call on our lives, without worrying if we’ll measure up to some invisible standard? What if we picked up some pom-poms and cheered on our friends, instead of picking up sticks or stones?
What if we ditched the lists?
Any of us can look back on our childhood lives and remember the lists that shaped us: honor rolls published in the local paper, school-play casting calls, homecoming courts, birthday party invitations, and more. When we grow up, the lists grow up with us: the Fortune 500, the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World, the Top 100 Bloggers, the richest, the sexiest, the most relevant. Even Christian leaders have come up with online lists to tell us which authors are the most influential.
In a world of list makers, how can we begin to live only for the Maker’s list?
What if we all linked hands and elbows, and sat on the curb of life, and brushed away each other’s tears, and squeezed each other’s hands, and cheered wildly when it went well, and cried a hot mess when it all fell apart, when there was “trouble in paradise.” What if we did that?
What if we sat at the curb, and we curbed our comparing?
How much of our best selves do we leave for the vultures? We could spend our whole lives wishing for something different, … and then turn around to realize that we missed the “something different” we were created to live.
What if we kept our eyes on the incomparable God, our hearts in His inexhaustible love, and our feet rooted in His unfathomable grace?
I want me some of that — some incomparable joy. In the Now.
I am so in. I’m writing this because I’ll need to remember it. And maybe you do too?
There’s a spot on the curb right beside me. I pledge this to you: I’ll never compare your beautiful life to mine, and I’ll never cut you down when you’re not looking.
“But in all this comparing and grading and competing, they quite miss the point.” ~ 2 Corinthians 10:12
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt
Let’s not trample what we’ve been given in order to get to what we wish we’d got. ~ Lisa-Jo Baker
“When the Lord makes it clear you’re to follow Him in this new direction, focus fully on Him and refuse to be distracted by comparisons with others.” ~ Chuck Swindoll
“The problem with comparison is that you always feel either better than someone else or worthless compared to someone else.” ~ Dillon Burroughs
“Follow me.” ~ Jesus Christ
1- Thomas23 on Flickr
2 -Emily Carlin on Flickr