“I’m pretty much the only one in my entire class who doesn’t have an Xbox or a PlayStation or a Wii, you know,” my son said reproachfully to me a few months back. I’m sure he tried to use this to make me feel guilty so I would cave in and buy one for him, but instead I turned away to hide a smile as I secretly gave myself a pat on the back. He may have meant it as a guilt trip, but I took it as a compliment. You see, we were both comparing ourselves to other families, but with completely different results. He saw his lack of gaming system as a disadvantage compared to his peers, something that made him inferior. I, on the other hand, saw it as a victory that we hadn’t yet caved in to peer pressure from other families or even from our own kids. Score one for us!
Ah, the comparison game. We all do it, and we need to stop. Our society is particularly wired to set us up for comparison. We check Facebook and see all these glowing updates of friends who are doing things we aren’t doing, and we feel inferior. We may even feel good about ourselves until we start comparing ourselves to other people. Maybe you’re proud of the fact that you’ve lost 15 pounds of pregnancy weight until you run into Janie at story hour who has lost 25 pounds and is still taking it off thanks to the amazing fitness class she joined. Perhaps you feel good about the container gardens you planted on your patio until Susie shows you her garden that takes up her entire backyard, in addition to the huge pantry she fills every year with produce she cans herself. Maybe you’re thrilled about the $5000 salary bonus you received at work until you see on Facebook that your high school classmate Bob just got promoted to VP of his company and is making $500,000 a year. Perhaps you’re excited that your family has managed to read “Little Visits with God” three nights this past week until you hear that Frank’s family has done Vespers each night by candlelight and then reviews the entire catechism. See, here’s the thing- there’s always going to be someone out there who is doing better than you are, whether that’s reality or just perceived on your part. You know every little failing on your own part, but Facebook isn’t honest enough to show you the faults of everyone on there. So you see the best parts of other peoples’ lives and compare them with your own and feel inferior. There will always be someone out there who exercises more, has more blog followers, looks more fashionable, cooks more healthful meals, keeps a cleaner house, does more creative activities with their children, has children who are better behaved than your own… Oh, the list just keeps on going, doesn’t it? So what can we do?
First of all, know this- the only person you should compare yourself to is you. Are you living up to your own standards? If you are, then great! Don’t worry about other people who are surpassing those standards. Chances are, they really aren’t anyhow. They may put their best face forward in public, but in the privacy of their home, they’re probably feeling inferior just like you are. I know my house isn’t the neatest house in the world. There’s a castle set up on the coffee table behind me with Lincoln Log cannons and towers built around it. There’s a wooden railroad track set up next to it on the floor. It’s a terrible mess, but you know what? My kids built those the other day in a rare moment of camaraderie while the TV was off, so I’ll keep it up as long as they still enjoy playing with it. Then again, sometimes I let them watch a movie just so I can take a nap or catch up on writing. Yes, that would be using the TV as a babysitter, which is generally frowned upon. But you know what? I know I’m not the only one who does it, and if I take a nap that energizes me and puts me in a better mood, it’s worth it to me. My house isn’t run like clockwork by any means, but I’ve come a long way since my first son was born. I’m way more efficient than I was 10 years ago when I only had one tiny baby to care for, and chances are, you’d have to admit the same thing in your own life. You learn how to multitask, how to take shortcuts, and what you can just let go for the time being. 10 years ago I could never have envisioned having four children. The thought overwhelmed me, but here I am now doing so on a daily basis. When I compare myself to that “me” of 10 years ago, I have to admit, I’ve come a long way.
A few years ago a friend recommended the book Mommy Grace: Erasing Your Mommy Guilt by Dr Sheila Schuller Coleman. There’s a chapter in there called “Martha Stewart…(No Matter How Hard I Try to Be)…I Ain’t!” It tells of her experiences at a cookie exchange. She had thrown together a batch of peanut butter chocolate chip cookies at the last minute, then scrawled the recipe on plain paper and ran off photocopies to hand out. When she got to the cookie exchange, the house looked beautiful, and the other moms had brought perfectly decorated dainty little cookies that were displayed on trays with little white doilies. Their recipe cards were typed out in special fonts and laminated on designer index cards. She was embarrassed at how inferior her attempts looked in comparison. When she got home, she put the container of cookies on the counter and went to bed. She dared to look in the container a day or two later only to discover something amazing. The leftover PB chocolate chip cookies were all gone, while her sons and husband hadn’t even touched the perfectly decorated cookies the other women had made. At that moment she realized that she was the best mother in the world for her own sons. God knows what He’s doing with you as well. He gave you the gifts and talents that are unique to you, and He doesn’t want you wasting your time comparing yourself to other people. He likewise gave them the gifts and talents unique to them. Be thankful for the personality and talents God gave you, and don’t compare yourself to other people.
On the other hand, maybe you’re more like me in my opening example, using comparisons to feel better about yourself. I patted myself on the back for not giving in to peer pressure for a gaming system, as if I was somehow superior because of it. Maybe you can identify with Janie from story hour, viewing your great physique as an indicator of how wonderful you are. Perhaps you’re like Susie and look down on people who buy canned tomatoes at the store instead of growing and canning their own. Maybe you’re like Bob, using your position and salary as an indicator of success in life. Or maybe you’re even like Frank, looking down your nose at people who aren’t as “holy as thou.” If you see yourself in these examples, please stop. Do not look down upon others just to make yourself feel better. Again, the only one you should be comparing yourself to is you. Don’t elevate yourself by looking down at someone else.
So let’s all agree to stop the comparison game. There’s no way we can ever keep up with the Joneses, so let’s just stop trying. Live the life God has given you to live and be thankful for it. You have just the right talents, interests, and personality for the life God has given you. Work with what He’s given you and give yourself grace for any perceived shortcomings when compared to someone else. And with that, I’m going to turn off Facebook and go outside. I need to go water my container garden.