Comparison as the Thief of JoyCulture — By Sarah Boerner on May 19, 2014 at 7:00 am
It’s been famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” This reminder was recently quoted in a Christian talk, and my gut reaction was, “That makes sense.
We shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to others but finding our value in Jesus.” While this conclusion is true, it doesn’t dig into why comparison is so harmful or where our true value comes from.
In fact, when I hear somebody say, “We’re all valuable to God!” my mind leaps to the concept of participation trophies. While the idea is well-intentioned, it doesn’t actually accomplish the purpose of a trophy. A trophy recognizes outstanding performance based on a valued goal, especially when compared to other performances with the same goal. In comparison, participation trophies set a minimal, basically valueless goal and rewards everyone for completing what is actually closer to a necessity. While it’s true each individual is valued by God, it could be a type of minimal value, similar to a participation trophy.
However, when I was reading Psalm 139 I realized two things. First, whatever value we have to God, it’s never a small amount. “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful to me.” Even if God gave every single person a trophy for value, the fact that each of us has value does not diminish the worth of His regard. Instead, it contradicts the notion of a participation trophy since His regard is not minimal or an assumed fact. In fact, His regard for us is larger than anything we could conceive and more precious than anything on this earth.
God’s value for man is unlike the concept of a participation trophy but it’s also not like a trophy system that compares performances. See, a true trophy system evaluates performances in relation to an overarching goal but we’re not created with the same goal in mind. Psalm 139 tells us we were each created with a unique goal or purpose, “in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Since God created each individual with a unique goal or purpose, there is no need to compete by the exact same standards.
Since God uniquely created individual purposes, comparison becomes the thief of joy. We are the most happy when we are fulfilling our purposes but when we begin comparing ourselves to others, we believe the lie that our purpose is the same as someone else’s. In this framework, we will never be happy because we are chasing a specific purpose that isn’t ours. We then begin to falsely compare and compete in the delusion that we are striving against one another for the same goal. Instead, our joy is found in fulfilling God’s purpose that’s uniquely created for us.
However, it’s also important to remember that we shouldn’t be anxious or worry about figuring out the specific path ordained for us. We were ultimately created with the overarching purpose to glorify God, and the psalmist in 139 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” If we love God and seek Him in a way that remains true to our individual nature, it is then possible to discover our specific path and simultaneously glorify to God.