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The Thief of Comparison

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

The school year is in full swing, the holidays are just around the corner, and life is busier than ever. In the midst of it all, I want to encourage you to take a moment to slow down and examine where your mental energy is going. When you are exhausted and worn down, it is easy to lose sight of all the blessings in your life. When you are constantly going from activity to activity and getting very little downtime (and perhaps very little sleep), your nervous system defaults to a sympathetic fight-or-flight state. One side effect of this is a tendency to focus more on your surroundings and what is happening around you. In today’s society, that often looks like comparing our lives to that of others. It could be something as benign as the clothes we wear or something that truly affects our livelihood, like our job status or income. If our brains are stuck in stress mode and continually seeking out danger, it sets us up to be on the lookout for “competition” everywhere.

Comparison has always been a temptation but never has it been such an epidemic. Social media has taken the spark of comparison and set a raging fire ablaze in our culture. Everyone now has access to a never-ending barrage of advertisements and media, subtly or not-so-subtly telling them that they need a certain product to be happier, more beautiful, or more fulfilled. We can see into the personal details of others’ lives in a way that would have never been possible a decade ago. Although social media can be used in positive ways and can be a source of community and connection, it can also be a slippery slope.

Numerous studies have linked social media use to higher rates of depression and anxiety in young people and teens, yet more recent research shows that adults are not immune to its effects. Mitch Prinstein, chief science officer for the American Psychological Association, has given a warning against excessive social media use. “Our brains were not built for this kind of social interaction. And social media is kind of hijacking the need for social interaction with something very artificial and insufficient. Social media is the empty calories of social interaction.”

Since social media is selective and curated, most of what you see is specifically chosen to portray the company or individual in a positive light. You may see photos of influencers with six-pack abs working out in the gym wearing the latest athletic wear, but you may not know that the photo was heavily edited or that the individual is struggling with an eating disorder behind closed doors. Your neighbor might post a romantic photo of herself on a beach vacation, but she may secretly be struggling in her marriage. If you compare the artificial highlight reel of someone else’s social media feed to your imperfect life, it will lead to despair. It’s important to remember that no one’s life is perfect. We are all struggling with something. As the saying goes, “everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

This season may as well be the harvest time for a feast of comparison. As the holidays approach, picture-perfect homes, extravagant decorations, and lavish gifts will soon fill our phones and social media feeds. Despite the reality that many people are struggling financially and not able to purchase brand new decorations, social media may make it seem like everyone else has covered every inch of their home in holiday cheer. You may see the picturesque Thanksgiving table on Pinterest and wonder why your home feels more like a chaotic mess than something to be thankful for. Here’s the truth: the holidays aren’t about the lights, the food, or decking the halls. They are about family, connection, and remembering all that God has blessed us with. If you decorate simply or not at all, you can still make your house a place of warmth and comfort. If your table looks a little disheveled, be grateful for the little ones who made the blessed mess. Turn off the screens and cease striving for someone else’s life. Tune in to the beauty of embracing the life you have.

We know from a mental health standpoint that comparison can be detrimental, but what does the Bible have to say about it? It turns out, there is quite a bit of Biblical guidance warning us of the pitfalls of comparing our lives to others. Early on in the Old Testament, the Israelites are called to refrain from comparing their lives, relationships, and possessions to others. “You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.” (Exodus 20:17)

Before His ascent back to heaven, Peter is given a calling to preach the Gospel. Moments later, He questions Jesus about what will happen to the apostle John. Jesus responded, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” When we are constantly worrying and focusing on the lives of others, we can’t be all in on what God is calling us to do. This may be common in society today, but it is not how we are called to live. Comparison will steal our understanding and ability to fulfill our own unique mission. Paul affirms this in 2 Corinthians 10:12 “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves against one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.”

So, how can we live a life without comparison? While it may be inevitable that we fall into its snare from time to time, we don’t have to live in slavery to it. Limiting our social media consumption and being more intentional with how we use it can be a great first step. If there are accounts that make you feel inferior or less-than in any way, unfollow them. Do a social media audit and unfollow or mute anyone who brings up feelings of envy or jealousy. Spend less time scrolling and more time connecting with others. When you have honest conversations with people, it becomes very evident that a social media reel is not REAL life. This holiday season, be thankful for what you have. Embrace the messy and invent new traditions that don’t involve going all-out on your budget. Your life is a gift that can’t be outmatched by anything in a box under a tree.

We are here for you through it all.

We are so thankful that you have chosen us to walk with you through this journey.


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