There is a line in the Desiderata (Latin: ‘Desired Things’), a prose poem by Max Ehrmann, that has shaped my view on comparing myself with others, since my childhood. It simply says “ If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.” One of my sisters calls it my motto and I wish I could say that I’ve always adhered to this wise counsel, but there were those times I strayed and was brought face to face with the harsh reality of the comparison trap.
It is good to learn from others and therefore observing other people is a necessity at times. However, when we start examining others to see if they measure up to ourselves in what they have or have achieved, we are setting ourselves up for loss. Most types of comparison result in either of the responses outlined in the Desiderata. Either you become vain, because you estimate that since the person you compare yourself with is of less worth than you, that you must be all that and then some, or you become bitter. The bitterness can creep in when you fail to see the blessings that you do have because you are busy desiring what others have and you can’t seem to attain. That bitterness is an open door to jealousy and is rooted in covetousness.
Both responses can leave you missing out on the many blessings that comes our way throughout life. Now when I consider the issue of being vain, I don’t think of it in terms of wanting to look your best and be the best you can be. I’m talking about becoming obsessed with yourself and looking down on or despising anyone who you assume don’t measure up to you. Sadly, this even happens with some who believe their “humble” look or words makes them closer to God than others who may not look as wretched as themselves. I’m about to get sidetracked…Remember that scripture that records the prayer of the Pharisee and the Publican in Luke 18:10-14? Be warned that there are many Pharisee-like Church folks, that have mastered the art of appearing to be more like the Publican in the story. False humility is also vanity.
However, no matter what form vanity takes, when we become self consumed, we are likely to overlook people and circumstances that are blessings. The same goes for bitterness that comes from feeling you don’t measure up to someone. Many times people in this situation waste time trying to either out do, or destroy the person they are comparing themselves with. They fail to see their own unique value that God has given to them, so that they can accomplish their purpose on earth. they fail to appreciate the many blessings that they already have and may even grow to despise some of those blessings. There enters an unthankful spirit. If you know someone like that feel free to point them to my post on ‘Thanksgiving Brings Increase.’
For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. 2 Corinthians 10:12
When the thought about comparison came into my mind, I started thinking about the story of Saul and David. I was wondering if there was any indication in the early story of Saul, that proved he had shown a tendency to compare himself to others or of being jealous of others. At first I could find none. Saul appeared to be a humble man, he wouldn’t even put to death the men of Israel who were originally against him. As his life progressed however, he gives us a full demonstration of 1 Corinthians 10:12 (NIV) ‘So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!’ A word of caution to help us avoid being said of us, what David said in his lament after Saul’s death in 2 Samuel 1:19 ‘how are the mighty fallen!’
Where did Saul’s fall begin? If we leaf through his story in 2 Samuel, we will note that it began with fear, people pleasing, other acts that could all be lumped under pride and blatant disobedience to God. In summary, he became more concerned about His image before other people, than pleasing God. So when the people started praising David’s accomplishments, he compared himself to David and ignored some important facts. He forgot about his higher position and forgot to be thankful that David was working under him and that God had not yet totally destroyed him, in spite of rejecting him as king. Instead of humbling himself and enjoy what he had left, while someone else fought the battles, he wasted many miserable years trying to destroy David. Saul started well, but his end was a tragedy.
It reminds us of the importance of being careful to examine ourselves according to God’s word. Check up on yourself every now and then. Honestly seek to discern if you have allowed any person, position or thing, to become so important in your life, that you are willing to disobey God to attain or keep them. If we are honest, that suggestion is easier said than done. It’s so easy to lie to ourselves about ourselves, in an effort to commend ourselves, but we have help. Ask God to reveal the truth about you, to you and listen for His answer. It may come in many ways. Sometimes the Holy Spirit will speak in your mind, sometimes it may come through listening to a sermon. It may come through something you read or pop in during a conversation with another person, even a child (guess how I Know). It may be a reassuring message that you are doing well. However, if you feel the blessing of conviction, confront it and let God help you deal with whatever might have gone amiss in your life.
Take heed today if you have fallen into the comparison trap. Grab hold of the mirror of God’s word and let it pull you out.
Heavenly Father, how great and might You are, full of compassion and plenteous in mercy. Today I ask You to search us and reveal to us any tendency to unfruitful or destructive comparisons. Help us to appreciate and be thankful for what You have given us and to work diligently for good desires You have placed in us and rejoice with others when they are blessed. Thank You for everything my Lord and God. In Jesus name. Amen.