When I Compare
It is a constant theme that comes up in almost every friendship chat or women’s group I find myself in. How we are all struggling with comparison. Doubting ourselves. Doubting the circumstances in our lives, doubting our decisions. Afraid of being less than, afraid of failure in some department of our lives. We hear, “be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” “the grass is greener on the other side.” We know the truth in these sayings, yet the struggle is real. Personally, my most recent struggle in comparison relates to my motherhood/career balance. When I was working full-time I compared myself to the content, Martha-Stewart full time at home mom. When I quit my job to stay home, I compared myself to the successful, career fulfilled working mom. Thankfully and undoubtedly, the Lord was using these experiences to teach me a valuable lesson. He seems to have His way of always bringing good from struggle ;)
“What is it that you deeply desire?” asked my spiritual director. I paused. This natural tendency to compare was stemming from a deeper desire. A desire to be loved. To be happy. To be deeply accepted where I am, in this moment, regardless of my circumstances. Jesus does this. And only Jesus can do this. “I have loved you with an everlasting love” Jeremiah 31:3, “You did not choose me, but I choose you,” John 15:16, says the Lord. You, right where you are, just as you are. Created uniquely in His image, with a particular plan for your life. I want to allow that truth to become a part of me.
Nonetheless, the temptation to compare may be something we will never overcome. But, we can choose to shift our focus when the temptation arises. We can prepare for the battle of doubt in our soul. We can choose to become aware. We can call on Him.
The saints give us the example of using these temptations as an opportunity to recognize our own humanity, our own weakness, and our need for Jesus. They teach us to turn the temptation of doubt into a moment of seeking the grace to change our focus to the divine, true eternal longing in our hearts.
One of my favorite saints, St. Therese of Lisieux, discusses in my obsessively new favorite book, The Love That Keeps Us Sane, an interior cure to comparison & doubt. She advises to guard our senses against curiosity, to keep to our ‘own business’, or to what God is calling us to in our own lives.
Her sister Celine writes, “I noticed that she never asked for news. She never asked a question to satisfy her curiosity.” Author Marc Foley expands, "Therese was vigilant against the natural inclination to veer the conversation back to what sparked her interest. She was on guard against giving into vain curiosity. Instead of asking a question out of curiosity, Therese choose to let her novices talk about what was important to them. By attending to the person that God had placed before her, Therese attended to God’s will. This was minding her own business. Minding one's own business helps preserve our sanity because it eliminates the envy and resentment that come from comparing our lot in life with others. It allows us to live in a sane state of mind." pgs. 47-51
Therese found peace & sanity, and protected against comparison & doubt by cultivating an attitude of gratitude. She attended to what God was asking of her in her own life, and prevented her mind from wondering what God may be asking of others. What a great example to follow.
In attempt to learn from saints like her, here are my 5 Practical tips I use to cultivate gratitude when I'm tempted to compare:
- Call on Jesus. Ask Him to fill the desires of my heart, thank Him for loving me unconditionally.
- When comparing to a specific person, I repeat St. Teresa of Calcutta, Mother Teresa, quote “They are all Jesus in disguise.” Remember the person I am comparing to is a beloved child of God, has Christ within them & is struggling to get to heaven just like I am. Offer a prayer for them.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Make a list of the things I love about my life, the blessings I am grateful the Lord has given me, and how He has carried me through past struggles. I often look back & am amazed on what God has done.
- Call or text a good friend or family member. Refocus attention to that person, ask them how I can be praying for them and that I am grateful they are in my life.
- Think of something I can do in that moment (or soon after) that brings me joy. Something to distract my thoughts out of comparison and focus on what God has given to me. Maybe pull up a picture on my phone to look at the recent blessings in my life, pull up a scripture quote that brings me comfort, cook a nice meal, listen to a beautiful song, take a shower & do my hair or makeup, exercise, read a good book. *For more on this idea: - I recommend listening to this amazing podcast interview! Among the Lilies-Living a Life of Joy
* Note: If the comparison is triggered by social media, immediately put away the screen, and begin at step 1. What has helped me with Facebook comparisons is “unfollowing” friends or things I don’t want to see. My newsfeed currently consists of Catholic articles which are rarely negative.
I choose you, He said. You, right where you are, just as you are, in whatever you choose to do. He created each one of us uniquely in His image, with an everlasting love. He looks on our little lives, just as they are, with that unconditional love. Now that brings me joy, fills me with gratitude, and that is something we can never compare.
With Joy, Alex