Are you doing as well as __________ [[Fill in the blank]]? Are you doing better than __________ [[Fill in the blank]]? How do you measure up against your peers, your competitors, your role models? These are comparative questions. And asking them all the time leads you to live a comparative life. And if you’re living that sort of life, you may feel swept away by it. In fact, you’re probably miserable, exhausted from ambition, or egotistical — maybe all three.
A comparative life is a nagging habit, a spiritual reflex bringing you to view yourself in relation to others. We all struggle with it. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t compare what I’ve done or what I’m doing to what someone else has done or is doing. Sometimes it isn’t even conscious — it’s like a sore in your mouth that you can’t help touching with your tongue. You know it would heal if you left it alone, but you can’t.
God doesn’t call us to a comparative life with others. In fact, there’s only one person you should compare yourself with: your yesterday self, what the Apostle Paul called “the old self” (Rom. 6:6). If that’s your comparison, here are some of the benefits.
- You can make concrete changes in your life. Yesterday I parked my car too close to the door inside our garage. Today, I’ll stop the car a few feet before that. One concrete observation leads to one concrete change. And these sorts of changes are easier to make because they’re part of your own routine (not someone else’s).
- You’ll be less frustrated with your own spiritual formation. Our spiritual formation is a slow, slogging process. We get frustrated when we see someone else doing something that we’ve always wanted to do, acting in a way we know we should act, living a life we want to live. Don’t look at other people. Look at your yesterday self. As you read Scripture and prayerfully rely on the Spirit, God himself will encourage you with the changes he is making in your heart and behavior.
- The Spirit of God will change your ambitions and desires. When we’re focused on other people, we imbibe their ambitions and desires. They soak into our souls. But when we focus on our yesterday self, the Spirit of God helps us to see what needs to change, what ambitions are unholy, what desires are too earthly. Our souls are wood, and God is a whittler. Keep your eyes fixed on your yesterday self, and you’ll see God shaving away what he doesn’t want in your shape.
I don’t often write pieces like this, but I’ve been witnessing how destructive a comparative life can be. It confuses you; it brings chaos; it hurts those you love because those who love you, love you, not a comparatively better version of you.
We need to remind ourselves each morning to leave the comparative life behind because if we don’t, we will become less and less aware of who God created us to be and where we should be putting our time and attention.
Here’s to leaving the comparative life behind.