Recently I discovered a blog that is so very refreshing to read. Full of Godly insight and endearing personal stories, it has become part of my morning routine to check for updates. But the longer I’ve read the blog, the more I’ve noticed something. I’ve begun comparing myself to its writer—wondering how she would handle certain situations I face and how she would react to my life–and then I try to mirror her.
I think I compulsively compare myself to others.
It’s always someone. For a few frustrating months last year I intently focused on trying to be as thin as my friend from church. It was consuming. Even now, when I get dressed in the morning I try to wear things I imagine my fashion-savvy boss would approve of. I journal furiously, wishing my thoughts felt as meaningful as those of my new favorite blog’s author. This kind of thinking covers me, to the point where no matter what I am doing/wearing/thinking, I seem to be cautiously calculating exactly how I’m shaping up next to someone else.
Why do I do that?
I imagine I am not alone, however. In listening to some of the everyday conversations that happen around me, normal social comments start to seem a bit curious under this train of thought. “I wish I had your hair!”
“Where’d you get that shirt? I want one!” Even our fascination with networks like Facebook and Twitter seem to support our need to compare ourselves to others—after all, what are these sites if not a giant exhibition of what we’re doing/thinking/wearing every moment? If you’re wondering how someone you admire would handle a situation you’re in or what they’re doing with their time, chances are it’s not that hard to find the answer. (I’m not trying to diss the social networks—nothing is good or bad on its own.) We all seem to be at least curious as to how other people are handling life.
It’s not new, either. Even the disciples were obsessed with their status compared to others—walking in the very presence of God’s son, they still found time to argue over which one of them was the “greatest” (see Luke 9). What is it in us that tells us we must always know “where we stand?”
I have a few theories. The first is a bit existential—stay with me. God told us that we are made in His likeness. We were made as images of Someone Else. He also tells us in Matthew 5:48 to be perfect, as He is. Little fabric bracelets even join the chorus—politely asking (as long as our arm is in view, I guess) What Would Jesus Do?
What I take away from this is that we were made to be a bit discontented with ourselves as we are. In recognizing our fallen-ness and the hurt it causes God, we are bound to want to change. That is biblical, and we shouldn’t be afraid of it. We can certainly pervert that desire, but I don’t think it’s wrong to have it.
The other theory I have regarding our constant need to compare is that I think a lot of us, frankly, are simply unsure of who we are. Have you ever had that moment, walking by a mirror, where you notice some glaring physical discrepancy and do a double-take? Maybe you found you had lettuce in your teeth from lunch two hours ago and had no idea… or some fly-away hair that was threatening to garner you the Alfalfa nickname forever and you had absolutely no clue. I know it’s happened to me before, and my first thought is always a horrified “is THAT what other people have been seeing?”
I think we ask that more often than we may realize; and not just about our physical appearance. I would wager that in comparing myself to other people (and trying to be more like them) I might just be trying to get to a place where I can be in control of the Maria I am exhibiting. I desperately want to control my impression; even if only to know what it is.
The danger here, of course, is that in setting my sights on being “exactly like” a really thin friend or a clever author, I am only aiming for another fallen situation. That’s why Jesus’ example is so precious—there is not one mistake He made that we are in danger of repeating if we unwaveringly mimic Him. I need to tell myself that whomever I am striving to be like in whatever moment; if she is not God, she has her own issues. She will have her own, dark separation from God through sin, and, frankly, she will probably have someone else she really wishes she were like. I need to stop replacing my hero God with Suzy Q.
But before we do anything, friends, I think we should learn who WE are. Try to capture your compulsion to figure where you measure next to your Facebook friends. Discover the desires and the personality God gave you alone, and let those shine out as He intended when He gave them to you. Of course, we should work to change the parts we may find that don’t glorify Him. But before we can do any of that, we have to know what we’re dealing with. In Psalm 4, David suggests “when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.” Isn’t that a lovely picture? Stop fixating on Suzy Q. Before you hitch your wagon to another “example,” go somewhere quiet, friends, and meet yourself.
Maria is a recent college graduate from Ohio who just got married and moved to Arizona because she likes an adventure. She loves to write, run and sing and she is amazed every day by the love God has for her, even when she doesn’t comb her hair.