Aiming for Worthy Goals in the Comparison Game

Do you ever play the comparison game? The one where you measure your worth based on how you stack up compared to the people around you? If this were a sport, I’d most likely have a trophy case filled with dust-coated awards. We must know that much of our comparison game playing is useless as it only makes us feel badly about ourselves. What’s worse is making our comparison game about things unworthy of our attention.

I remember when the hubs and I first moved to the tundra and bought a house. We were eager to make a few cosmetic improvements, including new flooring. But before making a final decision about flooring, the owner of the flooring store suggested we visit a home of one of his satisfied customers. We did and their flooring looked great. But that wasn’t all that looked great. The entire home looked pretty great, i.e. better than mine–newer, bigger, and with amenities we could not afford. Worst of all, those very nice homeowners had the audacity to look several years younger than the hubs and me!

I pouted in the car on the way home. The hubs asked what was wrong and I lamented over how that young couple had a nicer home than us and how it seemed unacceptable since we were obviously at similar life stages. Had we fallen behind? Had we chosen wrong careers? Was life simply unfair?

“Shame on you,” he said. (seriously, that’s exactly what he said.)

When I raised my eyebrows at his remark, he continued… “No matter how nice a home we buy, there will always be someone with a nicer one.” In other words, there is no end to the path of dissatisfaction.

I settled myself, chastened. The hubs is a good man.

The comparison game can still be a struggle for me, albeit less so when it comes to counting other people’s money. We are fortunate in that our economic circumstance is mostly the result of conscious lifestyle choices and we don’t lack for any necessities and many luxuries. Plus, I no longer desire a bigger house to decorate, heat or clean. I’m not even much interested in cleaning or updating the home we’ve now lived in for over 15 years. These days, I’m not much into “stuff” as a measurement of my worth.

But I do believe there are some suitable measurements against which to gage our performance. For example, I follow the work of other editors and writers and when I discover something praise-worthy, like a beautiful web design or a well-written essay, I want to up my game. I want to do my job well, and hopefully, I will continue to get better by comparing myself to those who do it better.

Some of my friends are great cooks. Others exercise more than me, which isn’t hard to do, but is still admirable. Some folks seek lifelong learning opportunities, travel more, read more and volunteer more. I don’t feel it’s wrong to compare myself to these people–not to shame myself or feel badly about my chosen lifestyle–but to be inspired toward living a more useful life.

Like during a recent dinner date with three of the loveliest friends I could ever ask for; I asked each woman what she was currently reading. I love books and believe a person’s choice of reading material to be insightful. (This is also a good conversation starter.)

One of the women talked about how she is trying to read the bible more. Not books about the bible. Not bible studies. Just plain old digging into God’s Word. Not alone at night before bed or during the early morning hours, but daily at times she would most likely be seen by her children. She spoke of wanting to leave, at the end of her life, a worn and dog-eared bible and memories for her children of regularly having seen their mother immersed in a biblical search for understanding, guidance and encouragement. What a legacy–better than any financial success, career accomplishment or dedication to any particular beauty or fitness routine.

I willingly and humbly compare myself to this woman. And I do not measure up. But I pray that one day I will.171587210

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Holding Your Breath in Denial by Jane Dibbern

Let me introduce you to today’s guest blogger–my friend, Jane Dibbern. Jane has been a mentor of mine for many years and I wrote about her in a blog post titled, Chicks I Dig. I love Jane’s ready laughter and willingness to dish about episodes of Downton Abbey or Mad Men. But more importantly, Jane is a teacher gifted with biblical wisdom; a strong-minded leader with a heart for women, parenting, strengthened relationships and a healed world. I thank her for sharing a bit of her wisdom here, in her own words…

photo by Angela Johnson

photo by Angela Johnson

Growing up, I lived in towns that sat beside the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio rivers. When you live in a river town you spend a lot of time on bridges. Back then, bridge decks had metal grids. That meant you could see the river running below and your tires made this humming sound of danger as you drove across. Because of that, bridges made me a bit anxious. To combat the anxiety, I decided that as soon as the car hit the bridge, I would hold my breath. In my 5-year-old brain, I thought if I held my breath, I wouldn’t weigh anything and that would mean there would be less weight on the bridge and the chances the bridge would fall into the river would be lessened. Okay, I was an anxious kid, alright? Anyway, for many years I held my breath every time I crossed a bridge. Even today, when I drive across the Wakota Bridge over the Mississippi River, I wonder if I should hold my breath.

I think I held my breath because I wanted to deny feelings of fear. Denial gave me a sense of control. I was able to rationalize and then justify my breath-holding decisions. Denial is easy to slip into. We want to believe all is well and not acknowledge or face our problems. There is a great term for that. It’s called idealistic distortion, meaning we believe it is easier to hold our breath and hope that we’ll get to the other side. The only problem with breath-holding denial is that the bridge is still there, the river still runs underneath and holding my breath only leaves me breathless, not weightless.

So what things do I deny? Many things. My pride drives part of my denial. But if I pretend my marriage, my kids, my work, my house, and my family are all under control, then I am a fool who is almost out of breath. As a Christ follower, it’s not easy to admit the days and weeks that slip by without a single glance at God’s Word, or that sometimes I have negative, judgmental opinions about people. What if my friends knew that some days I get too busy to pray?

I believe the biggest driver of denial is fear. Therapy taught me to think differently about fear and to catch it before it makes me want to hold my breath (or deny its existence). I’ve had to learn to be brave and courageous and learn to ask for what I need from the people around me and from God.

photo by Angela Johnson

photo by Angela Johnson

From God’s Word (Bible), I’ve learned strength and trust from the Psalms, boldness and confidence from the writings of the Apostle Paul, and encouragement and forgiveness from Jesus; something I’ve also learned from family and friends.

“Therefore we will not fear, though the earth (or bridges?) give way, and mountains (bridges?) fall into the heart of the sea (the Mississippi?) though its waters roar and foam and mountains quake with their surging.” -Psalm 46:2-3 New International Version (and Jane)

Oh yeah, about those fears I had about rivers; listen to this~

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her (a bridge?), she will not fall ; God will help her (Jane) at break of day.” Psalm 46:4-5 New International Version (and Jane)

Okay, theologians, I know I may have stretched scripture a bit, but if those verses helped me breathe and face life without denial – I think God is probably okay with that.

Think about the denials in your life next time you cross a bridge. Don’t hold your breath—instead take a deep breath, say no to denial and trust the bridge.

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