The comparison game is the worst, isn’t it? As wonderful a blessing social media can be for staying connected to loved ones, it can be a curse, too. It takes us into other people’s houses and even right in the middle of their vacations, making us want what we can’t have.
Seeds of envy begin to grow. A tiny flame of want becomes covetous desire and then full-on envy. We forget the photos and stories are supposed to be ways to connect and share our loved ones’ lives with us so we can stay in touch and see their faces even when miles separate us. Instead, we view these posts as proof that “everyone else” is wearing this, doing that, going here or there, and spending all sorts of money we don’t necessarily have.
We compare ourselves to others, believing these posts to be truth and not a brief snapshot in time. Perhaps we start feeling negative about ourselves and our lives: we feel bad about ourselves, or think we don’t look good enough. We begin to develop unhealthy cravings and wishes. Our bank accounts suffer, for we often think we need to purchase what they have to get the joy we believe we see in their lives.
But comparison doesn’t lead to joy. It steals our joy. In fact, studies repeatedly show a strong link between social media scrolling and decreased self-esteem and poor self-image—including other problems including anxiety and depression.
The Bible warns us repeatedly to be happy with what we have and to shut down any tendency to compare ourselves to others. As the apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (NIV).
Here, then, are five faith-based ways to stop comparing yourself to others:
Sometimes it can feel like a cliché: I am a wonderful creation, God’s precious one. But it’s an important truth, and treating it like a cliché can be a slap in the face to God.
David’s praise in Psalm 139:13-16 crystallize this truth: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
Think about that—truly meditate on it. We are no accident, but created by design. God planned us, knit us together in the womb, and wove us together in the depths of the earth. God ordained our days and knows us even before we became conscious of our own selves.
How does God feel when we compare ourselves to others and want what is not ours? Are we, perhaps, treating blessings as though we can earn them, instead of knowing them to be a gift from God to be celebrated?
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The concept of gratitude can be a tough one to grasp because it might sound trite. As followers of Jesus, most of us are already grateful for the big blessings in life: our salvation, our loved ones, our very lives.
But when it comes to the little things, we often quickly forget how blessed we are and begin to listen to the lies of culture: I deserve this. I can do anything I set my mind to. Why me, or why not me?
But James 1:17 reminds us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
When we look at our good gifts for what they are—blessings from above, from God Himself—we can be more grateful for what we do have and celebrate when others enjoy God’s gifts, too.
Many times, we feel envy or even jealousy because we see what someone else has and want it for ourselves. “Why can’t I have that?” we might ask. “I want that, too!” Whether it’s a brand of clothing, a spouse, a fun trip, or a job, we see the surface and not the deeper truth. We forget that God gives each of us blessings, gifts (material and spiritual), purposes, and more for one key purpose: to fulfill His plan. It is not because we’re all “supposed” to have, enjoy, and participate in the same things. Different is good, and we’re supposed to be different to fulfill God’s plan for the Kingdom. (Besides, earth isn’t supposed to be heaven—the best is yet to come.)
In Romans 12:4-8 we’re told, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
If you get a comparison pang when you see a friend posting a selfie with her husband, yet you’ve lost a spouse or lament why God hasn’t brought that special person into your life, check your motives for the new kernel of envy and ask God to help you be content in your current (different) situation.
In Isaiah 45, God reminds us He is in charge. He made us, and He calls us by name. He made darkness and light, prosperity and disaster. “Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’?” (Isaiah 45:9).
A potsherd is a fragment of any broken pottery jar—nothing compared to the Almighty God, who does and is and knows and created all things. But when we dare to question God and God’s motives, or covet someone else’s life or spouse or possessions, this is tantamount to “quarreling with (our) Maker.”
Comparison and envy can also be a form of idolatry: rejecting the Lord in favor of some other supposed solution or happiness-bringer, some seemingly wonderful earthly item we believe will solve our problems and bring us joy.
In the Ten Commandments that God gave Moses on top of Mount Sinai, God commanded, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3), and “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. … your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (20:17).
Coveting violates God’s Law and can be a form of idolatry—and the consequences are real.
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Earthly things can’t bring us joy. Take a look at the number of miserable millionaires (and billionaires) who have most any material item they wish at their fingertips, and they’ll confirm its truth.
Jesus offers something far better (and longer lasting): peace.
As He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
And as we’re told by the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
The deep, most important truth is that things don’t equate joy. People don’t equate joy. Our hope in God is what leads to joy and transforms the relationships in our lives.
So be present in the moment. As God urges in Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
Be still and enjoy all we have right now. The air in our lungs. The sunset on the horizon. The dog or cat at our feet.
As Romans 8:5 advises, “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”
Set your mind on the Spirit and have the true path to joy.
If countering comparison with these five truths doesn’t help, consider other measures, like stepping away from social media with a “social media fast” or by putting time limits on how often you go on, gauging your reaction after each session. If you go on a particular social media platform and notice you come away feeling poorly about yourself or wanting to restrict food or go shopping for things you think you “need” to have, this could indicate a problem with comparison.
Remember: Even Jesus needed a respite. He regularly took time away to pray and be alone, whether going into the wilderness for 40 days after His baptism or heading out to pray after a miracle or when the crowds pressed in.
You, too, might need to step away for an hour, a day, or a season. Pray on it and see what God might be calling you to do.
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Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.