The Discontented Life: "Comparison Traps" Part 3 of a new series by Jennifer Zabel

Jennifer Zabel is part of the Awesome Marriage Global Management team.  She resides in Edmond, Oklahoma with her beloved husband, Mason, their three daughters Ella, Claire, and Hays, and their lab Goodie.  Besides her most coveted title of wife and mother, Jennifer has previously held the titles of Registered Nurse, Miss Oklahoma 2005, and Lash Stylist for her company The Lash Lounge, LLC. Jennifer and her family attend Life Church. Paul, of the bible, really had it all figured out in the area of comparing. In Philippians 4:11, he says “not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.” This is a man who suffered greatly on earth, having been imprisoned falsely, shipwrecked three times, and beaten and ridiculed for his proclamation of the Good News and faith in Jesus. Despite his many hardships, he found himself contented, full of joy and peace. I don’t know about you, but I long for the kind of spiritual maturity that Paul exhibited. While there may be tiny glimpses of true contentment in different areas of my life from time to time, I seriously have a long way to go. Unfortunately, I have noticed four prominent areas that I continually struggle with, the first being Physical Comparison. In this area I am wishing my hips could be as small as my friend so-and-so’s, my clothes could be as cute and nice as my friend so-and-so’s, and my hair could be as beautiful as so-and-so’s, ETC. ETC. ETC. Ugh! So vain! The second grouping that traps me into human contrasting is in the area of Relational Comparison. I scrutinize and analyze my friendships with certain friends and how their other friendships compare to ours (“am I not her favorite friend?”) I compare my marriage and the ways in which we do things to that of my peers (DANGEROUS…their marriage is NOT my marriage. Different people, different dynamic.) I compare my family history with that of others’ families. Most often though, my comparison of the way I mother my children to the way some of the amazingly wonderful mothers that I am know mother theirs, is what sends me into a tailspin.  If my comparisons don’t fall into the first two categories, then often they will find themselves in the Financial Comparison compartment. I get into trouble when I begin looking at the manner in which others’ handle their money as a measurement of my financial fortitude. “We haven’t saved like they have,” We don’t have as nice of furniture as they do,” “they are able to give way more than we can,” are a few thoughts that have actually gone through my ill-focused head. Surely, if I haven’t beat myself up enough about being an ugly, out of shape, money wasting, poor mother that is a bad wife and even worse friend (compared to everyone else), then I take it a step further and begin to look at Talent and Gift Comparison. My cooking never comes close to being as good as my mother’s or sister-in-law’s. I am not even the slightest bit gifted in interior design like my best friend is. I am not one-tenth as musically inclined as my husband is. Nor am I able to be the type of encourager that my mother-in-law is. My gifts and talents seem dull when I compare myself to all the wonderfully made people around me. I would be willing to argue that if you are human, and if you have ever struggled at one time or another with the “cancer of comparison,” then your attempts to measure yourself probably fall into one of these four classifications (aside from spiritual comparison, and we will touch on that subject in the final blog of this series). These categories are really devoid of gender bias, as well. Although I am a woman, and obviously better relate to the struggles women face, I have no doubt that the inadequacies felt by men often begin when they compare themselves to others in these four areas. The comparisons may look a little different, but the root is the same. Men too make judgement about their appearance based on the appearances of those around them. If they didn’t, why would we need “Just For Men”?! Even though men are, as a whole, slightly less relational than women, they too wish their wife was as cool as their buddy’s, or question why their boss acknowledges their business partner’s business prowess more than their own. Financially speaking, many men feel they will never measure up to their father’s successes, their brother’s ability to manage money, or their hero’s wealth.  Talent and gift comparison is just as much of a struggle for men as it is for women, as well.  I think if we are all honest with ourselves, man and woman alike, an inward look would tell us that besides not truly knowing our worth in God’s eyes, a lot of the root of our comparing lies in good old-fashioned jealousy. “For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.” James 3:15. The bible also says in Proverbs, that “a peaceful heart leads to a healthy body and jealousy is like cancer in the bones” (14:30). In a strange way, it is a comfort to know that our all-knowing God knew that this would be a struggle for us mere humans, and that he has equipped us with his word to combat it. The way to do that is to maintain, as my mother-in-law says, an “attitude of gratitude” and train our minds to focus on all the good and all the multitude of blessings that Lord has already given us. We also must refocus our thoughts to the purpose and plans God has for our lives, not others, remembering that we are his “masterpiece.” “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” Philippians 4:8.

Jennifer Zabel