The Comparison Game

The Comparison Game

The Pitfalls of Playing Me vs. Her

by Jasmin Howell | February 1, 2018

I couldn’t focus. My thoughts were zoned in on how much prettier she was than me. So much taller, more put together, her hair more perfect, her clothes more elegant, her manner reserved and poised. I momentarily took an inventory of myself. Bouncy, out-of-control curls, old comfy jeans, layered sweaters, and chunky handmade hemp jewelry. My boho look — which I had liked just moments before — suddenly seemed so dumpy compared to her tailored striped pants and caramel-hued turtleneck. Her legs seemed to go on for miles. I looked down at my own short ones — made longer only by the heeled boots I was wearing! The soft brown waves in her long hair shimmered in the afternoon sunlight. She looked like royalty, while my bleach blond highlights and crazy curls suddenly felt cheap and unkempt.

I could never be her friend. The thought came suddenly … and felt devastating. It wasn’t because I wouldn't have liked to be friends with such a lovely-looking person, but because of my certainty that she wouldn’t want to be friends with someone like me, I stood at the doorway to the room, indecisive, making exacting observations of all the ways I was inadequate compared to her. But God was placing a prodding on my heart — to go be her friend. Insecurity threatened to overtake any other thought I might have had. I was seconds from turning away and leaving, when I thought she looked a bit lost amidst the piles of luggage. Did she need help? I reasoned someone like her would be fine on her own, right? In a split second I had a choice to make — to listen to the voice of comparison, turn around, and walk away,  or to look deeper and see how I could set thoughts of myself aside to serve her.

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After a brief internal wrestling match, I pushed aside the voice of comparison and stepped into the room with more confidence than I felt. A verse from Galatians 1:10 spurred me on: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (ESV). I knew that God wanted me to be outward in that moment. So I went over and introduced myself to her. The instant look of relief on her face startled me — as if somehow my presence was exactly what she needed in that moment. “Do you need help?” I asked her, trying to shelve thoughts of being too short, too frumpy, and too common to be her friend. 

Asking her that first simple question led to the growth of a fruitful friendship that has stood the test of time for fifteen years. I later discovered that she was feeling as insecure as I was, but for different reasons! Comparison could have cut a wonderful friendship off at the knees, and in other circumstances it has done just that — placing unnecessary roadblocks in my relationships with other women.

Humility, Not Rivalry

Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (ESV). Humility seeks to serve others the way Christ served each of us, counting us as more significant than even His own life, “…who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross…” (Heb. 12:2 ESV). With Christ as our example, joy is a result of turning outward! 

Comparison, on the other hand, is rivalry, and it is a temptation common to all women to pit ourselves against other women in a game of “who’s better,” whether in physical beauty, fitness, worldly possessions, academics, wealth, popularity, or success. No matter what quality we use as our measuring stick for comparison, the effect is always the same. We end up looking inward and judging ourselves as either the winner or the loser in the scenario. We may judge our own quality as better, and elevate ourselves above another woman. But more frequently we judge our own quality as lesser and feel squashed and despairing. Even though comparison always has an external focal point (i.e. the other person), it essentially causes us to look inward, with our eyes fixed on ourselves.

My mom used to tell me often as a young girl, then later as a young woman, and sometimes still reminds me today: Comparison is the thief of joy. I thought she made this up, but I recently discovered this memorable phrase was first penned by Theodore Roosevelt. And even though this phrase isn’t found in the Bible, it is — in essence — a biblical concept. The joy we have as Christians comes from putting our full hope and assurance in Christ, not looking for it in worldly attainments — whether that is beauty, popularity, or something else entirely. (Each one of us knows what measuring stick we've been using!) Godly joy evaporates the moment we start to play the worldly game of “me vs. her” and allow it to begin influencing our behaviors and attitudes toward other women, affecting how we see ourselves, and distorting the truth that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” — that God’s works are wonderful and without error. (See Psalm 139:14.)

Comparison is dangerous because it is one of the main tools the enemy uses to paralyze us in serving and loving one another, keeping us from meaningful relationships and life-giving community with our eyes focused squarely on ourselves — which is the exact opposite of God’s desire for each of us. Comparison keeps us separate from other women, creating invisible barriers; while humility leads us to think less about ourselves, our insecurities, our needs — and instead give more thought to other women in our lives, not with eyes for comparison but with eyes for service.

Relationships, Not Ratings

When I was in the ninth grade, I went on a school trip to Spain, and one memory stands out to me like it happened yesterday. Some of the girls from my class and I were walking down the street when we passed a crowd of loud young men who were calling out to us. It soon became clear that as each of us passed in front of them they were calling out numbers. 8! 6! 5! 10!  They were rating us; assigning us each a number that they thought reflected the measure of our beauty. I don’t remember what number I received — only the frustration I felt at their actions — and they were total strangers! 

If we aren’t careful, we can be like this with other women in our lives, mentally rating them in comparison to ourselves — sisters, coworkers, women in our Bible study, even a best friend. Except we don’t shout these things out loud — that would be ludicrous! No, comparison takes place first in the mind and heart — in the secret places of a woman’s life — and it can be an area of great bondage. It is here where the battle rages and here where we must learn to stand firm and shut the door when the temptation arises to look at another woman as a set of qualities to be assessed (beauty being only one point for comparison), instead of seeing her through the eyes of humility.

When we develop a habit of comparing ourselves to other women, it can have some (or all) of the following consequences:

1.) Despair

Have you ever had that sinking feeling in your stomach when the insecurities and flaws you see in yourself suddenly seem magnified in comparison to another woman?  You suddenly feel hopeless, flawed, ugly? Despairing emotions flood in, and everything you feared about yourself seems to be proven true with this one encounter. The enemy is a deceiver, bringing condemnation and despair. And he wants nothing more than to have you wallowing in it, tallying up the list of your insufficiencies, absorbed in your sadness. Romans 8:1 boldly proclaims, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (ESV). If comparison is leading you to despair, turn your eyes from worldly comparison and fill your mind with the truth of the Word of God. Then despairing emotions will lose their strength.

2.) Envy

When unchecked, envy (or jealousy) can turn into a seething, bitter way of life. James 4:1-2 says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel…” (ESV). Desiring what another woman has can become all-consuming. This covetous attitude can be focused on one woman and some element of her life that you desire (or even think you deserve). Or, this attitude can be turned toward a group of women (such as “all married women” if you are struggling with being single). Envy is usually accompanied by a sense of anger and frustration, often directed at the other woman/group of women, whether openly or secretly. But this anger can also be directed at God because He hasn’t given you that thing that you want. The end of the passage in James concludes: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jms. 4:7 ESV). Banish envious thoughts before they have time to take root in your life.

3.) Pride

Sometimes, when you compare yourself to another woman, you may find yourself the “winner”… pleased that you look better, are more talented, etc. When you judge that your qualities, looks, or successes are better than another woman’s, then pride has already snuck in. When we are pride-filled, we award ourselves the upper hand and in our hearts can begin to look down upon other women who we are called to love with the love of Christ. In Romans 12:3 we are called “not to think of [ourselves] more highly than [we] ought to think, but to think with sober judgment…” Pride is thinking too much of yourself. The best cure is to think on all that Christ has done for you; think soberly of your own sin and the grace you have received, then turn and give that same grace to others.

4.) Justification

Justification is looking at your life in comparison to another woman’s life and saying to yourself: I may not be the perfect Christian, but I'm not as bad as her! We view our own actions and choices compared to those of another woman and use our seemingly “better” situation to justify our own complacency. We see failings and weaknesses in others and use them to justify our own. In one of her newsletters on this topic, Elisabeth Elliot says that the enemy will gladly cooperate with this attitude, “impressing on our minds others’ small failings which we are happy to magnify. Thus we justify ourselves and build our self-esteem … But when were we given the office of judge?”

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When I first saw my beautiful friend all those years ago, I quickly took an inventory of all the ways we were different and instantly gave her the higher rating. What a trap that could have been! It was only when I put her needs before my own that the burden of comparison started to fall away and I had freedom to pursue friendship. 

Each woman is made in the image of God, cherished and loved by Him, created to reflect His nature, and given unique qualities by Him for this purpose. When we look at another woman with these eyes, we can serve her in love and experience the joy of putting her needs above our own — the way that Christ asks us to — instead of sinking into despair or envy! It is very difficult to get stuck in comparison when your primary aim is to love the Lord, and to love the women He made and has put in your life!