The Lethal Game of Comparison

The Comparison Game. It’s one we all play. And, in the end, it’s one we all lose.

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, the woman on the latest episode of Fixer Upper – all present the newest ways in which we see what we don’t have. There are a gazillion articles online concerning comparison. I stopped reading them because they all said the same thing: Comparison is futile because it steals your own happiness; it is a perverted gauge of other people’s successes; and serves no positive purpose for either the subject or the comparer.

In many respects, the writers of these articles are correct: Comparison is futile. The majority of them emphasize that when we compare ourselves to another person in any respect, we lose our sense of self and lack appreciation for the successes and talents of others. However, hardly any of them get to the root of the temptation of comparison. Therefore, the solutions they offer only treat the symptom of comparison and not the true problem.

 

The Essential Vice

Those who know the Word of God will confess that the root of any struggle is found within the heart of man. Our hearts lead us astray from the Lord as we choose to surrender to our own desires.

The specific instinct fueling comparison is pride. The dictionary defines pride as, “The quality of having an excessively high opinion of oneself or one’s importance.” C.S. Lewis, in his work Mere Christianity unpacks the dilemma in his magnificent chapter on “The Great Sin,” that “essential vice, the utmost evil” of pride.[1] He says that “Pride is essentially competitive…[it] gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.”[2]

If you take a moment to look inwardly, don’t you find that Lewis speaks truthfully of what you think every time you check the number of likes you got on a picture or look in a mirror to see what you look like? It is not essentially about being admired, being beautiful, intelligent, wealthy, etc. It’s about having more or being better than someone else.

Therefore, comparison is simply a game — a lethal one at that. Comparison is our inward pride making an external pull to fuel itself. When we play that game, it usually goes one of two ways: egotism or envy.

Egotism is the comparison game gone “right” per se. It is when, through the act of comparison in any form, self is found to be better than the subject. This egotism produces a fluffy, but cruel self-esteem that feeds only on more comparison and being found better. It pits the sinner against all those with whom they compare themselves, and ultimately pits that sinner against God Himself. For what man is truly above any other? Indeed, God is greater than any man (Job 33:12). God is immeasurably superior to all of us, and unless we see that, we cannot know God. Lewis states the plight of the egotist simply: “A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as longs as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”[3]

The alternative response to the destructive phenomenon of comparison is envy. When we consistently play the comparison game with those in our sphere of influence, or even those we merely see on a screen, we will find that there is someone whose life seems to be flourishing in every way ours isn’t. The hopeful, but tired single girl will see the perfect wedding pictures of that college friend who said she never even wanted to get married, the wife who struggles with infertility will be invited to endless baby showers and gender reveal parties, and the woman struggling for financial stability has a Facebook feed packed with the carefree and beautiful vacations of her peers. That feeling that creeps up inside every one of us as we dream for another woman’s life, socioeconomic situation, house, or even husband blinds our eyes from seeing reality as it is. In reality, no one has a perfect life, marriage, or bank account.

Envy is a coping mechanism for feeling inferior that breeds bitterness, anger, and deep sorrow. Proverbs 14:30 says, “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.” When we envy another person for any reason, we create unrest in our heart that rots us to the core. In a similar way to egotism, envy shoves a wedge between people as well as the envious person and her God.

 

Freedom from an Over-Awareness of Self

In essence, egotism and envy are not all that different; they are really two sides of the same coin—the coin of pride. Egotism and Envy are similar because they are both self-centered. And at some point, each of us experiences the brute force of these sinful reactions to the successes and failures of those around us.

Egotism is a crooked perspective on our importance that steals the paradoxical joy of being “small” compared to God. In our flesh, none of us would admit the desire to feel small, because we equate that smallness with insignificance. But this is not the case. We are small by nature—weak, helpless, able to control so little—but because we are all made in the image of God, we have an incorruptible value and worth that is not defined by our worldly accolades.

Envy is a crooked perspective on the successes of others and their relationship to our worth. When we envy someone we refuse to see either our own or that person’s individual worth as being created by God in His image. In our struggle with feeling small, we feel that the person who has or is what we want doesn’t deserve it as much as we do, so we inadvertently degrade that person’s worth.

Recognize that each of has a struggle with pride—to have an inordinate desire to be, or at least feel, more significant than we are. This will flesh itself out in egotism or envy when we play the comparison game. But, sisters, we are not enslaved to that monstrous game!

Because of Christ’s redemption on the cross, those who are “in Him” have their lives hidden in Him (Col 3:1-4). This is a statement of identity—those who have placed their faith in Christ are new creations (2 Cor 5:17). If you are a believer, walk in the freedom and joy of being chosen by our great God.

Jesus died for you in your weakness, and not because of your strength. Therefore, don’t try to prove yourself through the comparison game. For, as Lewis sums it up, “The point is, He wants you to know Him: wants to give you Himself. And He and you are two things of such a kind that if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble—delighted humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which has made you restless and unhappy all your life.” [4]

 

 

 

[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins), 1952, 103.

[2] MC, 104.

[3] MC, 105.

[4] MC, 127.