Dealing With the Comparison Trap

Dealing with the Comparison Trap

It’s natural to compare.

But it’s not helpful.

It starts when we are kids.

When my mom gave us chocolate cake and my sister got the biggest piece, I wasn’t happy! Personalities kick in too. I didn’t like it but kept silent. Other kids would make their complaint of this gross injustice known loudly!

When we’re five years old, we understand that behavior. But when it continues into adulthood it is nearly always unproductive, unhealthy and even harmful.

It happens so fast, it’s basically reflexive. We sit in someone’s shiny new car or walk into a beautiful home and comparison immediately kicks in. It’s easy to compare our talents, looks and opportunities to others as well.

And of course, we as leaders compare churches. Let’s be honest, we just do.

Some comparison is innocent and no big deal if it leads to appreciation instead of envy. But most comparison leads our minds and hearts in a wrong direction. It’s a waste of energy and produces a trap that’s easy to get caught in.

There is a difference between comparing to more than you have (Upward), and comparing to less than you have (Downward).

Comparing Downward.

This is when you compare to someone who has less or achieves less than you.

Two primary results:

1) Fortifies an unhealthy sense of inner well-being.
It is very easy to boost how you feel about yourself by comparing to someone who has less or accomplished less than you. This is obviously not a good practice.

2) Removes the edge that helps you improve.
If you are always the biggest fish in the pond, your view of reality is distorted. Any initiative to improve and grow is often diminished.

Comparing upward.

This is when you compare to someone who has more or achieves more than you.

Five primary results:

1. Diminishes gratitude.

2. Decreases contentment.

3. Weakens self-worth.

4. Lowers your confidence.

5. Steals inner peace.

There is a better way.

The parable of the workers in the vineyard is instructive to me. It’s found in Matthew Chapter 20:1-16. Here’s a quick summary.

The land owner went out early in the morning to hire laborers. He agreed to pay them one denarius a day. He continued to hire others as the day progressed. When it came time to pay, he paid them all the same, one denarius, regardless of how many hours they worked. The ones who worked longer were very upset and complained. Here’s how the landowner responded (vs 13-15):

But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?’

When we look at what others get in life rather than being grateful for what we receive it leads to unhappiness and discontent.

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Dan Reiland
Dr. Dan Reiland serves as Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY. He and Dr. Maxwell still enjoy partnering on a number of church related projects together.