Comparison, Competition, and Contentment*

Rehearsal dinners can be an awkward thing for a single person. Having married late in life, I have several such experiences under my belt. One evening in particular stands out as I walked into a beautiful room full of beautiful people and suddenly felt, well, less than beautiful.  I sat down in the lone single chair at a table full of happy couples, all using the joyful occasion to reflect on their own courtships and marriages.  Hhhmmm….what could I contribute to this conversation? 

As I sat in silence, my insecurities began to get the best of me.  After about an hour’s worth of misery, the time came for friends and family to stand up and say nice things about the bride and groom. I had nine years worth of wonderful memories from which to draw, but as each perfect person stood up with her perfect clothes and her perfect speech, my lack of perfection kept me clammed up.  I left the dinner as soon as it was socially appropriate, got about two steps out the door, and promptly burst into angry, pitiful tears. 

Have you ever compared yourself to another person and lost?

I’ve been on the other side, too. In my own estimation, I have several blue ribbons from my internal competitions with other women. My silent comparisons have led to either a swelling of my ego or a pervasive desire to try harder, blog better, shop more, and eat less.

What is it within that drives us to compare and compete? Why do we feel the need to use other people as a measuring stick for our own value? And what is the alternative?

Like many forms of bondage, unhealthy comparison is rooted in disbelief. We doubt the character of God and His great love for His children. We question the truth that He has given each person a unique set of strengths and weaknesses, a unique position in the world, and a unique journey. The grandeur of who He is and what He has done gets lost as we self-protect, self-promote, and self-focus. The body of Christ becomes fragmented and divided as we envy others' successes and amplify their shortcomings – even if only in our own minds.

Comparison steals our joy as we base our worth on shaky ground. Competition serves to fragment the body of Christ. But the Bible reveals another way, the way of contentment. 

Easton's Bible Dictionary defines contentment as follows:
"a state of mind in which one’s desires are confined to his lot whatever it may be (1 Tim. 6:6; 2 Cor. 9:8). It is opposed to envy (James 3:16), avarice (Heb. 13:5), ambition (Prov. 13:10), anxiety (Matt. 6:25, 34), and repining (1 Cor. 10:10). It arises from the inward disposition, and is the offspring of humility, and of an intelligent consideration of the rectitude and benignity of divine providence (Ps. 96:1, 2; 145), the greatness of the divine promises (2 Pet. 1:4), and our own unworthiness (Gen. 32:10); as well as from the view the gospel opens up to us of rest and peace hereafter (Rom. 5:2)."
(Easton, M. G. (1893). In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.)

One of my favorite professors has often said, “If God calls you to be a farmer, why would you stoop to be a king?”  When we are secure in the love of God and His unique wiring of us, contentment becomes our close companion.  We are satisfied with our status and our situation.  We are free to pursue risks without fear, celebrate the beauty we see in others, and utilize our God-given abilities to the fullest.  In essence, we have nothing to prove and nothing to lose.  Today, I choose contentment over comparison and competition.  Will you join me?

*This blog adapted from a previous post from March 2011.

Dr. Michelle Pokorny serves as an Adjunct Professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, teaching D.Min classes on Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Disciplines, and Soul Care. Michelle developed a passion for women’s ministry during her college years while serving as a counselor at Pine Cove Christian Camps. Her desire to see women thrive in their gifting led her to DTS to gain a solid biblical and theological foundation. After receiving her MACE in Women’s Ministry, Dr. Pokorny began working with East-West Ministries, International, where she served in Human Resources and on the International Women’s Ministries Training Team. Michelle's doctoral work focused on burnout and soul-care among Christian leaders. Michelle is married to Mark and their favorite hobbies include traveling, exercising, and enjoying food and laughter with friends and family. They have one active toddler, Alexander.