I consider myself fortunate that I am getting to go through life with a bunch of guys who are serious about developing deep relationships and becoming the men they were made to be. In addition to all of the family hangouts and double dates that our group of friends make time for, the guys meet once a week to really dig in. Lately, in order to refocus and catch up with where each of the guys is currently at in life, we have been running through an exercise in which you rate various categories of your current life (both numerically and emotionally) in as much detail as you need to get it out.
This past week, one of the guys started his recap by saying that he had rated himself higher across the board a few weeks ago but, in listening to some of the others share in previous weeks, he was thinking his “scores” were now lower in almost all categories. I don’t think this was really the case for my friend, but my immediate thought was “there’s that damn spirit of comparison again!”
In case you aren’t aware, the spirit of comparison is real - and it is ruthless. And we’re not talking about just keeping up with the Joneses anymore. There are studies linking the use of social media - a comparison minefield - with the increased rates of depression and suicide in teens and young adults. I’m sure you’ve noticed, but hardly anyone ever posts about their crappy day or puts a photo of a terrible meal up on Instagram. Of course everyone else’s marriage, kids, vacation, fish taco are going to look great when you’re not seeing the whole story. I’m guilty of it too - I recently posted a picture of my wife and I scooping poop-filled water from a broken washing machine (literally a crappy day!), but presented it as a celebration of our upcoming anniversary. “Look at us and our great marriage that we can work together on this problem!” I didn’t bother to edit the post later to include that we had an argument that same night...
There is a passage I love in The Horse and His Boy from the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. After a long and trying journey, we see Shasta encounter Aslan, the great lion. Not knowing to whom he is speaking, Shasta begins to tell his tale:
Shasta was a little reassured by the breath: so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman. And then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the Tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis. And also, how very long it was since he had had anything to eat.
“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.
“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.
“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.
“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and -”
“There was only one: but he was swift of foot.”
“How do you know?”
“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”
“It was I.”
“But what for?”
“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no-one any story but his own.”
There is a story we are supposed to live in - our own. There are things we are supposed to know, supposed to change - about ourselves. When we allow the spirit of comparison to drag our focus onto what others are experiencing, we enter a losing battle. There will always be some aspect of someone else’s life that we will believe is better than where we think we are. Read that again - than where we think we are. Because at the end of the day, if our judgement is clouded by comparison, what we aren’t seeing clearly is ourselves. When we use other’s lives as the measuring stick, we lose sight of the unique things that we are meant to offer, and we miss the opportunity to more fully live out of that.
This is definitely an uphill battle, guys. Our culture is constantly telling us we need more, to keep striving, to keep pushing ourselves to achieve some nebulous standard of comfort, beauty, wealth, power. But the first step is to decide to fight. We need to recognize that the deck is stacked against us, so that we need to be extra vigilant.
I am writing this post as much for me as for anyone else. I mentioned a few times in the last season of the podcast that I had the opportunity to go to a highly selective retreat in the spring. In the joy of meeting all of these men who are on the same journey as I am, whose lives are aligned to mine as closely as my tight-knit group back home, I had to spend most of the ride out to camp praying off their stories. While everyone on the bus was sharing “getting to know you” accounts, all I kept hearing was “you haven’t done that, your family doesn’t do that, you aren’t that successful in ____.” Even while actively trying to insulate myself from comparing my life to theirs, I almost couldn't help but to listen in, to measure up.
Comparison is a powerful adversary, and it will chew you up if you let it. It can even make you think that someone else’s suffering is something you are missing out on - because they will come out so much better on the other side, or at least have a cool story to tell. The truly sad result is that you lose sight of who you are supposed to be, in the effort of chasing someone else’s story.
I hope you’ll join me in wrestling this spirit of comparison to the ground and kicking it out of your life. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. You will get to be you again, and that is worth the price.