“Comparison is the death of joy.” Mark Twain
When we’re waiting, one of the biggest challenges can be the temptation to compare ourselves and our situation with other people’s. It is easy to look at other people who have the thing we long for- the spouse, the child, the job, the opportunity- and to allow dissatisfaction and jealousy to creep in, but it is certainly not a recipe for joy.
We see this in Shrek the Musical. (You know I always love a musical theatre link!) I love how the song “I Know It’s Today” captures the frustration of waiting. In the song, Princess Fiona has been stuck in a tower for several years, waiting for her handsome prince to come and rescue her. She swings between confidence that her “happily ever after” will come, because she knows that’s how fairy tales end, and despair as she wonders if her moment will ever arrive, but the whole situation is made worse by the jealousy she feels as she compares her situation to other fairy tale princesses: “I’m still waiting. They’re all living happily.” She longs to skip over the messy middle pages to reach the happy ending.
Comparison is tempting, but it is never helpful.
In the Bible, we meet Leah and Rachel- two sisters who both end up married to Jacob. This was always likely to be a recipe for disaster, and sure enough the situation gets difficult. Rachel becomes jealous of Leah because Leah has several children while Rachel can’t conceive, but at the same time Leah is jealous of Rachel because Jacob loves Rachel more.
Rachel is waiting to have a child, while Leah is waiting for Jacob to love her.
The irony is that each of them has what the other wants, but neither of them is happy because they are comparing themselves to one another and focussing on what they don’t have.
In my current wait, this would be an easy trap to fall into. I can see other people moving ahead on the path I feel called to walk and it would be easy to begin the comparison game, but I know this would not be a good idea for several reasons:
- We can never fully know another person’s situation. We may look at their life and think they have it all together or envy their success in a particular area, but quite possibly they are struggling in other areas that we know nothing about. The image we have of them and their life may not tell the full story. Unlikely as it seems, they may even be envious of us.
- God has a plan to work all things together for good. That doesn’t mean everything is good in itself, but that God can work good in it- even in our times of pain and waiting and longing. We can’t always see how, but maybe we could at least give him the benefit of the doubt.
- Comparison and jealousy are never going to change the situation. They are only going to make us feel miserable.
- We can’t always choose our circumstances, but we can choose our attitude and gratitude is a much more helpful choice.
“It is not happy people who are thankful, but thankful people who are happy.” (Unknown)
As we focus on what we have rather than on what we don’t have, it leads us to a much healthier and happier place.
Ultimately comparison is unhelpful because it takes our focus away from where it should be. After Jesus has risen from the dead, he speaks to Peter about his future, and Peter’s immediate response is to turn to look at John and ask, “What about him, Lord?” Jesus answers, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.” (John 21:22)
In other words, “Don’t worry about my plan for him. Focus on my plan for you. Focus on following me.”
God’s plan for each of us is different, and I know that I don’t want to miss his plan for me by becoming fixated on other people and his plan for them.
I think Elisabeth Elliot’s words on the secret of contentment sum it up:
“The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.”
Join me throughout November and December as we explore the topic of waiting. Click here for an index page of all the posts in the series.