How to Avoid the Vicious Cycle of Comparative Living
Updated: Mar 28, 2020
One thing I have noticed in the midst of this crisis we are in due to the Coronavirus is that people seem to be a lot more active on social media. I think social media is a tool that can be very useful and beneficial and I also think we all need to be careful about how much time and attention we give to social media. A few days ago, I was on social media and I read what one of my friends posted, “Social media is STILL merely a supplement for relationship. Just like you can't depend on your chewable vitamin for nutrition, don't depend on a post for connection.” I agree. Furthermore, I have noticed that social media can promote a vicious cycle of comparative living that I think we need to be careful about. This comparative living can take two different forms:
1) When you see what everyone else is posting you feel dreadfully inferior. Of course, people generally only post the good stuff online and the reality is that no one has a life that is picture perfect all the time.
2) When you see what someone else posts you compare yourself and you feel superior. You might say to yourself, “How could someone post that? I would never post something like that!”
Both of these thought processes represent what I call “The vicious cycle of comparative living” and neither one of these forms of comparative living is healthy. I should also mention that comparative living is not limited to social media users. You can be a slave to comparative living without having any social media accounts. It’s all too easy for one mom to compare herself to another, for one cook to compare themselves to another, for one athlete to compare themselves to another, for one musician to compare themselves to another, for one teacher to compare themselves to another, for one preacher to compare himself to another… You get the picture. We need to recognize that God has made us each to be unique. We need to learn from each other’s strengths, instead of comparing ourselves to them.
So, as a follower of Jesus, I always want to view things through the lens of what God says. God’s word tells me that I do not get my value by comparing myself to others. We are all made in the image of God, and God loves us, “For God so loved the world (yes that includes everyone) that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16. Further, God says of those who do believe in Jesus, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, my identity is found in Christ and what he says about me and not in comparisons I draw from what I see on social media.
God is clear in his word that we are not to compare ourselves to others in a judgmental way. One example of this is the parable Jesus told in Luke 18:9-14, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax
collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” It’s pretty clear that God does not honor the comparison game. Furthermore, in the parable of the prodigal son (found in Luke 15:11-32) at the end the brother of the prodigal son compares himself to his brother in a condescending way that shows his pride and jealousy. Jesus is clear that this comparison game is wrong! Many times, in God’s word we are warned against the sins of pride and jealousy and these are also part of the vicious cycle of comparative living.
Jesus is clear that this comparison game is wrong!
In Galatians 6:4 it says, “But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.” The point here is that we are to avoid comparing ourselves to others. We aren’t to say, “Well at least I’m better than so and so”
Bottom line: Avoid the vicious cycle of comparative living. Recognize it as a slippery slope to be avoided. If you find yourself looking at yourself as inferior because of comparisons, remember that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace and forgiveness and remind yourself of how God loves you and of what God says about you in his word. If you find yourself looking at yourself as superior to others because of comparisons, remind yourself of what God thinks of this sinful behavior, and ask God to help you overcome it.