Compare to Despair

Have you ever given a friend advice or responded to complaints with words much later you wish you hadn’t used?

While it’s certainly not the only time this has happened, one particular instance is stuck in my head. Even today, weeks later, I found myself sitting on the floor in the den, playing with Martin, still thinking of what I should have said and what I would go back and say if we shared the same conversation again.

It wasn’t even a really important or life-changing moment, but my faulty advice has stayed with me and plagued me.

My friend called me complaining about a life-situation, comparing herself to another person she works with, and despairing in her own current stasis. My response should have been to point her to God’s provision, to remind her, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3). I should have at least mentioned the person she was comparing herself to has probably made many sacrifices she wouldn’t want to make, ones she may even believe would compromise her family and priorities.

I didn’t.

In that moment, I was focusing on myself. I was no better than her. You know, that whole speck-plank deal in real life.

When I listened to her words, they resonated in my own situation. I compared them to the children and dog running around like mad, the dinner I had on the stove, the homeschooling mess on the dining room table, the yoga pants I hadn’t managed to change out of the whole day, and I despaired. I started comparing her life to mine, and instead of pointing her to God, I pointed her to myself. I tried to make her see that others have a hard time, too. I tried to help her see that she wasn’t alone and that my life, in that particular area, was just as rough as hers, if not rougher.

I forgot God has always provided for me.

We do this a lot. We say, “Think of the starving children in Africa. They don’t have food to eat. Appreciate yours.” I know this sounds a bit cliche, but there’s a point to be made.

While it may be true we have a lot more than most of the world, it’s still a game of comparison. Weighing ourselves against people who have much less encourages a proud heart. It may make us thankful for the moment, but it also may make us believe our achievements were out of our own merit and completely deserved. In my experience, comparison leads to more comparison. If we compare ourselves in circumstances where we realize how much we do have, we will also find someone else to compare ourselves to who has a lot more. Compare and despair. It even rhymes.

We will say, “Think of the children in Africa,” but we will also say, “Think of Johnny Depp’s kids…they have their own island.”

This game is surely the way to a life of discontentment.

The remedy for a discontent heart, a heart divided by what we want and what we do not have, is to remember God has provided all we do have. We must raise our ebenezer, our “stone of help” to always remember how God has provided in all things and for all things.

I’ve found when I dwell on discontentment, the only way out is to speak truth to myself, to recall God’s financial, emotional, and relational providence in my life.

This friend of mine got the worst of me that day, and I hate it. I hate that my words could be a stumbling block to another person.  While I could just let it frustrate me and haunt me, I have hope because I see God’s discipline in this situation, instructing me on the station of my heart, the words I speak to another, and confronting my own discontentment. Take heart, “for the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Hebrews 12:6).