Why do we torment ourselves by playing The Comparison Game?
It’s part of human nature – evaluating the looks or accomplishments of others and comparing them with our own. We may not even realize we are doing this, until the dark emotions of discouragement and discontentment begin to churn within us. As someone once said, “To compare is to despair.” We can quickly determine how we measure up with another in importance, our giftings, accomplishments or the Cute Outfit Quotient. It’s been called the “sidelong glance” – instantly sizing up someone out of the corner of our eye, or being sized up ourselves. Social media doesn’t help us here – the status of friends and coworkers boasting of or “sharing” their successes are in our faces 24/7.
This is especially true in ministry, if we are honest enough to admit it. We look at others’ successes, number of followers or celebrity status and invariably end up feeling like losers. We all know better, but still have to fight the impulse to join in The Game.
If our need for validation depends on how we measure up with others, we will inevitably lose. Why? First, while we may come out a winner temporarily, it is just a matter of time before someone younger, more successful, or smarter walks into the room or posts on our feed and totally ruins our day. Secondly, the resulting feelings of inadequacy quickly throw the door open to more grievous sins such as envy and jealousy, which are devastating to our spiritual lives and relationships. Third, feeling superior leads to becoming smug, self- satisfied or self- righteous, none of which are spiritually profitable. In the end, we must see that The Comparison Game is one that is rigged. It can’t be won in the long term. There may be the occasional victory lap, but the outcome of the game has already been fixed, and we lose.
There is a small story in John 21:18-23 that specifically speaks to The Comparison Game. Peter has professed his love for Jesus three times, with Jesus’ exhortation to “Feed my sheep”. However, in verse 18, Jesus prophesies about Peter’s future, indicating the kind of death Peter would suffer. Peter, as if suddenly realizing this conversation was not going so well, casts a “sidelong glance” at John and asks Jesus, “What will happen to him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to live until I come again, what is that to you? You follow me.” (John adds a tidbit of info, that it was this comment that fueled the rumors that John would not die until Christ returned). Jesus bluntly calls Peter out, to not compare his path to John’s, but to keep his eyes firmly fixed on Jesus and follow Him. We must do the same. The only way to win at The Comparison Game is to refuse to play it.