Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like comparison is a huge temptation these days. I know it is for me. By comparison, I’m talking about the tendency to look at someone else’s life or gifts and feel sad, upset, or even to fall into despair that you do not have the same kinds of gifts or talents that that someone has. Comparison is one of the perilous steps that can cause us to descend into the mortal sin of envy. It seems that wherever we turn these days, we are told that we should be doing more, producing more, and being more than we could ever conceivably do or produce or be in one lifetime. But it is so easy to forget that we can’t do it all or be it all, especially since that this message is so rampant in American culture and I assume it is prevalent in other cultures as well.
The worst thing about it is the tendency to compare ourselves to others can come on at any time and can be triggered by the slightest things. The temptation to compare is like a determined rodent: it’ll come in through whatever opening it can find, no matter how small. It can happen when you’re talking with a friend or a coworker about how their lives are going, or while you’re scrolling your social media feeds when you have a spare minute. Each person struggles with comparison in different ways, but it all ultimately ends the same way: less love of self, difficulty with loving our neighbor, and distance from God.
I’ve been thinking about how this tendency to compare ourselves to others started. And I’ve concluded that comparison, like all sin and humanity’s tendency to sin, has its origin in the fall of Adam and Eve from original grace. More specifically, it originates in what the serpent tells Eve about the forbidden fruit and the effect those words have on her. Let’s look at the text.
“ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die. For God knows when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” (Gen. 3:4-5, RSVSEC).
The first thing that should strike us about this passage is that Satan not only lies to Eve, but presents her with two extraordinary lies. He presents her with an alternate, more improved version of herself, one who is deathless, one who knows only what God is supposed to know. Though we can’t know what Eve was thinking when she heard Satan’s tempting words, I imagine she was beguiled and disheartened. Beguiled because it was such a huge, overwhelming idea and disheartened because she would have worried that she wasn’t enough as she was. She was trapped between what she knew she was, and what she was told she could and should be, and she had to decide what to believe. She had to choose truth or falsehood, like we all have to when we fall into the temptation of comparison.
Now I want to be clear about something. It is no bad thing to want to be more than you are or to want your life to go in a different direction. But like all desires, they need to be kept in check lest they become temptations. Those kinds of desires become bad if you let them become your life, or if you let them destroy the joy you find in yourself, your life, and in your relationship with God. Eve and Adam yielded to the temptation of the alternative self Satan told her about. And it cost them everything.
Theodore Roosevelt wisely said that comparison is “a thief of joy.” As evidenced by the story of Adam and Eve, it can steal so much more than that. Comparison is a danger that, if unchecked, threatens to pull us down into mortal sin. So this Lent, don’t let comparison steal your joy any more. Rend it from your hearts. Dismiss those temptations as the lies they are. God made you who you are and placed you where you are for an incredible, unique purpose. You are enough and necessary, just as you are.
God bless you, this Lent, and always.