Comparison & Competition
Have you ever been to the shopping centre where you pass someone, quickly giving the person an up-and-down scan? It’s just a two second appraisal. And as you look at them, the truth is, they are also probably doing the same thing.
What are we doing? We’re comparing ourselves with each other. How does my figure match up to hers? Does he seem as confident/cool/effortless as me? On these measuring scales do I win, compared to them? Or do I lose?
Why do we do it? Essentially we tell ourselves what I’m after is to make sure I’ve got more of something than others, so that I can feel significant, satisfied and secure about who I am. Comparison and competition is the compulsive measuring of myself against the standard of others, desiring to be better.
Looking up and looking down
When we compare ourselves to others we will either ‘win’ or ‘lose’. If we lose, we’ll find ourselves doing a ‘looking up’ comparison. We might think, “His life is so much more interesting than mine,” or, “She is so much more confident than me.” If we win, then we’ll do a ‘looking down’ comparison, proudly thinking: “I just take better care of my appearance than her,” and, “I would never let my life become as disorganised as his.” ‘Looking up’ comparisons and ‘looking down’ comparisons each produce a different set of symptoms.
How do you feel when you compare and compete and come off worse? Perhaps you will recognise some of the ‘looking up’ symptoms:
Inadequacy, despair, self-pity: this may be fleeting or it may be more profound. You’re not the person you want to be. You’re just not good enough.
Envy: it’s not fair. They’ve got what you want. And you dislike them a little for having it. How come they get to have what you need to be satisfied?
Anxiety or insecurity: You’re not doing as well as others. If only you were as confident, or wealthy, or energetic or loved as that friend, there’d be no need to worry. But you’re not.
Guilt: you’ve let others down. You’re failing the ones you love. So perhaps they won’t keep loving you now…
Bitterness, grumbling: we can get bitter with other people, and grumble about all sorts of things. But in the Bible, bitterness and grumbling tend to be directed at God. ‘Why did God give me this life when he has given so much more to others?’ and this can leads us to ignoring God altogether – because if there was a God, he would’ve made you more like the other person.
Here are the symptoms of ‘looking down’ comparisons:
Pride, arrogance: You’re just so much better than that girl. You would never let your hair/marks/boyfriend look like that. Well done to you for getting where you are. When we see this kind of self-congratulation in others, we usually call it arrogance. When I see it in myself, I like to call it ‘self-confidence’! The Bible calls it ‘pride’.
Superiority: Pride in yourself leads to a sense of superiority over others. After all, you’ve got what he hasn’t, so you are, in a sense, better than him, aren’t you?
Inverted superiority: You’re glad you aren’t as arrogant as her. You feel superior that you don’t feel as superior as them!
Insecurity and anxiety: You’re doing better than him, but how about the next person you compare yourself to? What if they’re doing better than you?
The search for significance
Each day we look up and we look down, and feel anxious and self-sufficient, guilty and proud, despairing and smug. What we don’t feel is the sense of significance, satisfaction or security that we’re searching for as we compare Comparison and competition is the compulsive measuring of myself against the standard of others, desiring to be better.ourselves to others. One of the things I find the most unsettling about the Bible, but also the most liberating, is that it calls things what they are. ‘A great air of confidence’ to God is ‘arrogance’, a desire to be self-sufficient. He describes people who are “arrogant and never at rest … never satisfied”[i].
Perhaps you’re someone who always feels the need to be better – and, let’s be honest, it’s exhausting. You struggle to admit to yourself that someone does something better than you, because that will undermine your whole self-image and your sense of significance. Your identity is based on the idea that you are better than others. This comparison and competition is ultimately caused by our desire to put ‘me’ at the centre of the universe, and at the centre of our hearts, to feel more significant for our own satisfaction. Being made by God, uniquely formed by Him in His image isn’t where we find our significance, but rather it is by measuring ourselves against others. In the end, the treatment to this problem is as wonderful as it is challenging. It can be summed up simply as: let God be God. Instead of pushing God out of the centre of our lives, the cure is to reverse this by restoring God to His rightful place, finding all we need in Him.
A sobering view of self
Seeing ourselves as we really are doesn’t stop there. It involves not only seeing that we are not God; it means confessing that we have lived thinking that we are God, and He isn’t. The Bible calls this sin.
Sin is an unpopular concept in our culture, which tends to tell us that the answer to our problems and worries is to build ourselves up. The Bible does the opposite of this: it shows us that we are worse than we would like to think of ourselves.
If I’m honest, God’s way of looking at me is far more accurate than mine. When I honestly look at my own heart, at the pride and envy and bitterness that live there, I begin to see that I am truly what God says I am: a sinner. That’s the reality. It’s depressing. But at least it’s real. And in that sense, it’s liberating to know that I’m a sinner. If it were simply left at this, we would have to continue comparing and competing for significance or simply despair. The good news is that God hasn’t left us here and by letting God be God we can ask Him to be our Saviour.
Ephesians 2 verse 5 says that God “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions”. That’s how significant you are. God loves you enough not to leave you facing His punishment. In Christ, He came and lived and died and rose as a man so that you could be made alive.
That’s how loved you are. No one can love us any better, any more, than the Lord Jesus who gave up heaven and experienced hell for His people. If this is you, that’s the value God places on your head, simply because of His great love. It’s not image, circumstances or achievements that affect how He sees you. It’s God choosing to love us and you enjoying the blessing of being with Him forever.
[i] Habakkuk 2:5