I remember the first time I felt jealous.
I was 8. My parents let me sleep over at my friend Heather’s house. I remember feeling excitement about giggling with her, playing with her toys, and sleeping in a different bed. When I got to her house, she immediately showed me her room. My eyes focused first on the bed.
A four poster, white canopy bed.
The exact one I’d wished for.
Suddenly, I didn’t much like Heather because of her bed. And I didn’t much like myself either, although as an eight-year-old, I could not articulate my feelings.
So it began at the early age of 8. So it continues in my head, to this day, whenever I let it.
Her wedding was bigger than mine. Her husband cooks every night. His wife always wears makeup. Their kids don’t watch TV. Her son is more social at school. His daughter doesn’t throw tantrums. Their yard doesn’t have weeds. His dog doesn’t snore.
Their house is bigger!
Their car is newer!
They both have better jobs!
She got promoted!
He won the lottery!
Their cat solves mysteries!
Ok, that was a reference to “The Cat Who” series by Lillian Jackson Braun.
You get the point.
At times, comparing and contrasting has been encouraged. For instance, when we are instructed in a classroom setting, to “compare and contrast” an author’s work or an artist’s painting. These critical thinking skills are vital to how we perceive ideas, cultivate theories, and explain passions. When we are looking for the good, comparing works in our favor. When we are seeking out the lesson, contrasting helps us learn. I once compared and contrasted the works of Walt Whitman and Robert Frost, to the great determent to both poets, I’m afraid. While I may have misunderstood both poets on a deep level, the exercise helped me appreciate poetry and how to read it.
The literary form of comparison is not what haunts me.
It’s the personal form. The game that my mind plays, when the voice inside my head says, “But she has that, or he gets to do this, or they always…” A chasm appears. I’m on an island. It’s empty and lonely and dry. When I engage in the game, I always lose.
In the Bible, there is a story about two brothers. One fed sheep, the other worked a farm. The farmer became jealous of the shepherd. He fell short of his brother.
The farmer murdered the shepherd.
The farmer played the game, and the outcome was brutal.
Comparing blinds me. Comparing makes me lazy. Comparing makes me feel inadequate. Comparing turns me into a bore. I screech to a halt. My heart freezes over. I repeat the same complaints. I annoy the people who love me the most.
Is it any wonder that Paul in the New Testament says those who participate in comparing themselves to other people are not wise?
About 10 years ago, I thought, that if I was married and had kids, I would be satisfied. That was the goal. I would achieve contentment at that stage. Yet, here I am in 2016, with a husband, a son, a dog, a mortgage, a steady job, and healthy body, and still fighting the feelings of scarcity.
When is enough enough?
The word “comparison” in German is “Vergleich.”
“Vergleich”, when broken down to translate literally, means “Just like”.
Doesn’t my brain have fun with this one?
I want a family just like theirs.
I want a job just like his.
I want a body just like hers.
Just. Like. Them.
Comparing creates a void. All I can see is what I don’t have. All I focus on is what is just out of reach. Beyond somewhere… Over that next hurdle…. When this or that changes….
In the book of Proverbs, an unknown writer gives a list of things that are never satisfied. The grave, the barren womb, the land that always needs water, the fire that never says, “Enough.”
The heart that never finds contentment.
A friend said to me last week, “You don’t know what they are struggling with–those people who have the things or life you think you want.”
It made me pause.
None of us is excluded from suffering or pain or struggle. We all harbor grief and pain and heartache. Yours won’t look like mine. And that’s ok. What we all need is a little more support, and a whole lot less judgment. We need a whole lot more, “I’ve got your back,” and a whole lot less of gossip behind closed doors. We need so much more of loving each other and rejoicing with those that rejoice, and fewer and fewer remarks of complaint and derision.
Mark Twain said, “Comparison is the death of joy.”
The only way to revive the joy of your life is to stop playing the comparison game. Power down the console, and examine your life. It’s extraordinary, vibrant, pulsing with opportunity. I hear my son, saying “Thank you” clearly for the first time. I see my husband smiling at me across the dinner table. I sit at my work desk and do the best work I know how to do. I plant seeds, clean dishes, and vacuum rugs. I create things. Little by little, in the ordinary ways of living, grace seeps through my aching heart, and opens me up for light and wonder. If I’m looking at my family and friends, and the moments and the opportunities right in front of me, I don’t have time to think about someone else’s life. I’m too enthralled with the gift that is my own. No one gets to live my life, except me.
It is a good and perfect gift. “Coming down from the Father of lights,” the apostle James exclaims. “In whom is no variable or shadow of turning!”
A friend told me some good news on Friday. Really good news. Ecstatic news.
I felt joy — pure happiness for her. Like giddy, bubbling, little-kid-with-a-new-toy kind of joy.
I turned off the game in my head….
Saw the bright-blue sky of my overflowing life.…
And it was enough.