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E25: Comparison is the thief of joy
PODCAST: God has a plan that is very specific for you! And if you’re looking around to the left and right at what other people are doing, how are you going to find that plan?
It was Theodore Roosevelt who said: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Have you ever looked around you and been tempted to make comparisons between your life and the lives of the people around you? Whether rating your life positively or negatively in comparison, this is actually a very dangerous thing to do. Join Kathy and Julia as they discuss why comparing yourself to others can cause so much damage.
Transcript: “Living the Gospel” podcast, Episode 25: Comparison is the thief of joy
This is ActiveChristianity’s “Living the Gospel” podcast. Join us as we explore different aspects of the gospel according to the Bible, and how we can put this into practice in daily life.
Kathy: Hi everybody! Welcome back to “Living the Gospel.” You’ve got Kathy and Julia with you again today.
Julia: Hi everyone!
Kathy: So, today we are going to talk about a topic that, personally, I think is relevant for a lot of people.
Julia: For everyone, I would say.
Kathy: Yeah, so, the title that we have for today is “Comparison is the thief of joy,” which is a quote, actually, from … I believe it’s attributed to Theodore Roosevelt.
Julia: And it might be the truest thing I’ve ever read!
Kathy: Exactly! I mean, this is how … I’m pretty sure we’ve all experienced that, that comparing ourselves to other people does not make us feel good in any way.
Julia: No, of course not.
Kathy: And of course, we know that to compare ourselves is to measure ourselves against another person. Where either we come up short, or we think that we are better.
Julia: It really is, it’s ranking yourself and ranking others.
Kathy: It’s actually crazy when you think about it like that, you see how ridiculous it is.
Julia: Like, I would never sit down and rank my friend group, but that’s actually what comparing yourself to others is.
Kathy: Right. You think of this person as above you and this person is below you, and you probably act towards those people then, according to that as well, right?
Julia: For sure! For sure! It’s poison for relationships.
Kathy: It is poison. So, it is something, though, that I believe that all people deal with.
Julia: And it can be in many ways, right? What do we compare? Looks, personality, abilities, spiritual, for sure. You know, status in life where you’ve come.
Kathy: Popularity, financial stuff, how well off you are or you’re not? What kind of house you live in, what kind of car you drive, what kind of clothes you wear, there’s so many aspects!
Julia: But why do we compare ourselves to others?
Kathy: It’s interesting, because I was talking about this with a couple of friends just last night. The three of us are all actually in quite different situations in life, and it’s interesting because I feel like, no matter what situation you’re in, you can look around you at other people and think that what they have is better. Or that they have it easier somehow or that people like them more because of this, or that they are better off because … No matter what your situation in life is, you can compare yourself. As we were talking about it, we talked about how actually, what it comes down to – and this is what I’ve experienced for myself – it comes down to my own ego. I think that I deserve something, or I think that I should be a certain way, or that my life should be a certain way and there’s many different factors that kind of contribute to why we think like that. For me, one of the best weapons and the best tools that have helped me to work through this, is a story about the apostle Peter in the gospel of John. And Peter, you know, Julia and I have talked about Peter so often recently.
Julia: Peter is my favorite apostle! I just want to put that out there.
Kathy: But he is such an interesting man!
Julia: He’s very interesting.
Kathy: And the way that he’s written about in the Bible, we can see a little bit of his personality actually, right? And he comes across as sort of impulsive and possibly that he had a lot of fear of man, because there are a couple of stories about him, right?
Julia: In the days before they were baptized with the Holy Spirit, some of the stories we read, yeah, the fear of man, it shows and I think a lot zeal without a lot of wisdom, which is common for us when we start out as a disciple right? For example, the story of him denying Jesus three times because he was scared for his life. The story of him just getting angry and hacking that guy’s ear off when they came to get Jesus. And also, the story about when he kind of showed a lack of wisdom when Jesus told them what He was going to suffer and Peter was like, “Far be it from You, that You should have to suffer that!” And Jesus actually turned to him and said, “Get behind me Satan!” Because he didn’t understand what God’s plan was, right? Yet from that extremely relatable human nature, God was able to make such an incredible man of God out of Peter, and he wrote those letters that are such an invaluable help for so many.
Kathy: It also is written what Jesus said to him, “You are the rock upon whom I will build My church.” So, he was a real person…
Julia: In whom God was able to do something amazing!
Kathy: Yeah, exactly. But this particular story, we got a little bit sidetracked …
Julia: Because we love Peter.
Kathy: Yeah, but in this particular story, Peter is questioning Jesus about something that John did. And Jesus turned to Peter and He said to him, “What is that to you? You follow Me!” So, that is just the most incredible exhortation of how it should be with us! I can look at someone else, but what is that to me? God has a work that He wants to do in my life. I can’t find those works by looking at someone else and saying, “Oh, I should have it more like them,” or, “ I wish that I had a little bit more of the personality that I could do this and this for people,” or different things but …
Julia: But God actually made me a specific way because He’s going to put me in circumstances that He’s planned and He needs me to have the personality and whatever it is that He’s given me in order to carry those things out. So it’s written here in Psalm 139, which is something awesome to read over and over again, to get faith about what’s written about yourself or what God has said about yourself and the kind of person or the kind of future and plan that He has for you; it’s an amazing book. So, in verse 16, starting there, it says … This is David talking to God in song; it says, “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them. How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!” And in another spot, it says … Oh, sorry, just earlier than that, it says, “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” So, God has made us all very deliberately and we’ve talked about that maybe a bit in a previous podcast, but to compare ourselves to others and think, “I wish I was more like this; I wish I was more like that,” is actually, you can almost say its exalting your thoughts above God’s, because He has decided that I should be like this, and who am I to say, “Actually, wouldn’t it be better if I was like this?” You know?
Kathy: And also to think about, when we think about the other side of comparison, which is to compare ourselves favorably against other people, when I look around at these other people that I’m comparing myself to, God also made each one of them, exactly as uniquely and individually as He made me. So if I’m looking at this person and wishing, “Oh, they should be more like this and this,” or like, “Why are they acting like that?” First of all, none of my business, and second of all, God made this person and He loves this person just as much as He loves me – and I’m looking down on them and I’m despising them? That’s so ugly!
Julia: It is, and it’s crazy how close to home it lies. Like, I had a conversation with, I think it was maybe with our nephew, Brian a little while ago, just about how crazy it is that as humans, we swing so quickly and so wildly between having zero self-esteem and being so arrogant, over and over again and that’s our nature, you know? So yeah, we can look around at other people, and I know for myself, that’s what I just said is so true of me, that I can go from looking around and be like, “Everybody is so much better than me! I’m useless! I’ll never accomplish anything.” And then five seconds later, I’m working with somebody, let’s say at church, on a task that we’re doing together and I’m just so annoyed with them, like, “Why can’t you just do it my way? The way I do it is clearly the best and makes the most sense!” It’s so stupid!
Kathy: When you say it out loud, it just sounds so … Like, “Oh my goodness, why would anyone be like that?” But we have to acknowledge that these things are in our flesh! Because if I don’t acknowledge it, I can’t overcome it.
Julia: Exactly. But God’s intention, like you just said, is that He’s given us our personalities and our circumstances, whatever it is, and put us in these situations because He needs this type of person in this situation. For example, using the example of working whether it’s at work or in your friend group or in your family or at church, there’s these verses in 1 Corinthians that are super good, 1 Corinthians 12 – and they’re actually talking about the church at that time – 1 Corinthians 12:14: “For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” That’s the wisdom of God, that that’s how He’s put us into our whatever, social circles, work, everything, and all these different people and we use the word “ministries” sometimes, are very needed.
Kathy: God has a plan that is very specific for you! And if you’re looking around to the left and right at what other people are doing, how are you going to find that plan? And the thing that we should be comparing ourselves to is the word of God, because that actually is, I think about this quite often, I remember hearing this actually many times probably at church, but that we are to become the word of God on two feet. And it’s such … If I have that picture before me, I’m going to become the word of God, that people can see the life of Christ in me and can taste and … Actually, was it Peter who says that about Jesus, that we tasted and handled the Word in Him?
Julia: I think it was John actually, but anyways …
Kathy: That can happen in me as well, that if I’m comparing myself to the word, if I’m getting to know it, if I’m digging into it and finding out, then God gives me light when I do that, right? And I get to see how it really is with me, not how it really is with the others, how I really am, what is in my flesh, the things that hinder me from being like it is in the word. So God shows me that and I overcome those things and I become more and more like the word of God and that’s all that matters; that’s what I’m comparing myself to and that’s what I’m becoming, that’s my end goal. Then I’m conformed into the image of the Son. It’s written about Jesus that He is, He became the Word, or the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and that can actually happen in my life as well, right? Not that I am already perfected as Paul said, but that’s what I’m pressing forward to. Pressing forward to that goal of becoming like Jesus, and I cannot do that if I’m looking to the right and to the left.
Julia: Exactly. It’s written that we should run as if only one wins the prize, and you can interpret that as meaning running the fastest, but you can also interpret that as keeping your vision fixed right before you, because if you watch people running in a race, if they are turning around to look around at how the others … and “Where are they?” they’re losing time. So their focus is driven straight ahead. And actually, when you were speaking there, something just came to me, it just reminded me of a quote that I heard from somebody who I respect a lot, is that, “God will never speak to you about somebody else. He will speak to you about yourself.” So, it’s not that you know, I’m out here, getting all this light from God about how other people should live their lives, right? God will only speak to me about what I should do and He prompts me so quietly with the Spirit, and it’s so important that I’m focused in, so that I listen and that I work with that, instead of looking around, how the other people are doing. Because for sure it can be so easy, as soon as God shows me something about myself, right away I see that everybody else is doing it wrong. But God, His only intention is that I work with the word.
Kathy: It just reminds me of this verse too in Micah, I love this verse and we actually have this verse up on our wall. It says, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” That’s what the Lord requires of us, and it’s that simple. We don’t need to make it more complicated than that.
Julia: And the thing is that, Satan would like to try and use this idea of comparison to do … I think mainly to do two things: to discourage us perhaps, to drag us down, right?
Kathy: He will do whatever he can to discourage us and drag us down!
Julia: Absolutely! And to drive a wedge between us and those with whom we would otherwise have a good relationship and possibly even those, let’s say, who we have very necessary fellowship with about our goal of becoming like Jesus. If he could drive a wedge in there, nothing would make him happier. You know whether it’s … For example, you were talking about how you had a conversation with your friends the other night. You can compare yourself about spiritual things very, very easily, somebody who you think has come further than you, and also about earthly things like, for example, like probably, well, I don’t know what your conversation was about last night, but for example, both of us are single, in our thirties, and we have a lot of our friends who are married with kids, right? So it can for sure be easy for us to look at them and be like, “Oh, it must be so nice to have someone to come home to and they have so much …” They have attained, they have checked all these boxes that, kind of, the world thinks you should check by a certain age. And then they can also look at us and be like, “Oh, they have so much freedom; they can sleep in on Saturday …”
Kathy: And we do!
Julia: And we do! All these stupid things, but the whole point … All of this just creates dissatisfaction, when you could just be thankful for what you have and what situations God has given you, right?
Kathy: And that is something that I’ve actually really worked with and have learned is, thankfulness for what God has given me. And I know, I personally know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that everything in my life right now is this way because this is exactly how God wants it to be for me.
Julia: And I think you and I have both worked with this a lot, and I think, speaking for myself and I’m sure for you too, I have actually come to a place now where I am extremely thankful for how God’s made it, without effort. I’m no longer tempted to be unthankful for the situations that God has given me and that has been a work, but that has also removed so much despondency and discouragement and loneliness and all these things from my life, and freed me up to be good to those who are around me without this envy and this bitterness coming in and driving that wedge in, like Satan would like to do, you know.
Kathy: Well, it’s written about Satan that he is a thief who comes only to kill, rob and destroy. That’s his whole intention. So if I get these kind of thoughts, thoughts of comparison and dissatisfaction because someone else has something, or pride and high-mindedness because I see the way people are doing things, you need to remind yourself: “Those are not my thoughts; those are thoughts from Satan who wants to kill, steal and destroy!” So I have to remember that, I have to … Those thought patterns are not my own and … But just one other point I thought to touch on is, there can be a good side of … I almost don’t want to call it comparison.
Julia: Don’t then!
Kathy: But we can have role models. We were talking about Peter, the most amazing role model, and if I can learn from his life, the faith that he had, the work that happened in him, if I can learn from that …
Julia: Well, it can be an inspiration, right?
Kathy: It can be an inspiration. And the thing is, if I am looking at someone else and seeing how it went with them, then it needs to be coupled with faith in my life that it can go the same way as them.
Julia: Not the same way per se, but as well. In the way that God has planned for me.
Kathy: Correct. Yeah. We do have heroes of faith, we call them, right? These role models who can actually show us so much by their lives.
Julia: And some of them are in God’s word and some of them are around us. So yeah, to look at those people … For example, the pair of us have a friend who we look up to, who just like, if you want to look at her, just in every way, she’s nailing it. That’s what I feel like; I’m sure she doesn’t feel like that … We just like, she’s just simply the best, and she’s just …
Kathy: And everyone knows it!
Julia: Everyone knows it; she’s got a heart of gold, everyone loves her to pieces and it’s been a work for both of us I think, but instead of comparing yourselves and becoming despondent, to just drink of the good spirit that’s in her and use her as an inspiration to also just serve Jesus with that kind of joy that she does.
Kathy: Not to try and do what she does.
Julia: No! Were different people.
Kathy: But have that same enthusiasm for giving everything, to do these works that God has for me to do, right?
Julia: Because people can really inspire us.
Kathy: Yeah! Absolutely.
Julia: But it’s when we look at those around us who are, for example, an inspiration or really good example and, like you said, couple that with faith that God can also do a work in me, and not let that be something that leads me to despondency and, “Oh, why am I not like them?” Because God doesn’t want you to be like them, that’s why. Just use their spirit that’s in them, their good, yeah, use that as an inspiration instead and it can become a blessing for your life, actually.
Kathy: Paul does write, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” And that’s the thing, we’re all following Christ. We’re walking on the way that He opened through the flesh, so that we can be conformed to His image. And that’s the bottom line; that’s the point. Not that we all become carbon copies, these little robots who are all doing the same thing, but that we become transformed and He can be glorified through the work that He is able to do in our lives.
Julia: Well, that’s exactly the thing, and that brings such a freedom to be yourself. Among the people that we know who are, I don’t know how to say it … who we respect and admire the most because of their life in Christ, they all are still loaded with personality.
Julia: You know, when I think of so many people that we look up to and how hilarious some of them are and how “out there” some of them are, but they’re following Christ! And because of that, they’re free to have the personality that God has given them. God’s intention is that I have my personality, but purified. And then that’s the best person I can be. And it makes it so good for those around me.
Kathy: And like we started off with, those verses in Psalm 139, He made me who I am! He gave me this personality that He gave me. And I can use it for good!
Julia: So that I have that freedom and then also, I give everybody else that same freedom so I don’t look around at others and compare them to me then, or to anyone and think that they need to be different, but to let every single person have the personality that God gave them and thrive in their own area where God’s put them.
Kathy: I would encourage everyone and possibly many of you already do this, but just read Psalm 139 over and over and really believe that those words are written about you. That is how God created you and His intention for you.
Julia: Pray that God gives you faith to believe what’s written there, for sure. That’s all we have for today, but I think, I mean, I’m inspired to work with this even more, personally actually.
Kathy: And like we said, as you come into different stages in life, it can be different things that come up but in each of them, we have the same motto: “What is that to you? You follow Me!” And if I follow that, then I’m going to be happy in every situation.
Kathy: So, thanks again for listening everyone!
Julia: As always, you can find lots of good articles on the website to read if you want. We’ll see you next time!
Kathy: See you next time!
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version®, unless otherwise specified. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.