The Saddest Kind of Comparison (and How to Quash It)

If you’ve been reading Waxing Gibbous for a while, you may recall a post or two about a quote from The Chronicles of Narnia that graces the wall above my kitchen sink:

“I am telling you your own story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”

Comparison trap

During an especially difficult time in my life, these words from The Horse and His Boy helped me understand that the things that happen in the lives of other people are part of “their story,” and it is neither our responsibility nor our business to know why God allows them to happen.

Even now, many years later, this realization frees me up to live my life and trust that God is directing my steps, without continually getting bent out of shape by comparing myself to someone else.

It’s a powerful lesson, to be sure.

But in the weeks after I posted my little series about the comparison trap, I kept having this nagging thought that I wasn’t quite done with the topic. I had expressed my ideas about comparing ourselves to other people, but I knew my work on this subject wouldn’t be complete until I wrote about one more thing: my disheartening tendency to compare myself to myself.

Let me explain.

I love to hear stories about people who have been through hard things and come out on the other side transformed and outspoken about their faith. They seem peace-filled, joyful and thankful, and watching how God uses them as a result of their trials is nothing short of inspirational.

But what about those of us who look in the rearview mirrors of our lives and feel sad that—because of how our struggles have changed us—we may never perform or feel a certain way again? We may never be asked to do that big thing again. We may never get to exert that amount of influence or be looked to for that type of help again.

We look at how we are now, compare ourselves to how we used to be, and grieve the loss of our old selves.

It’s the saddest kind of comparison, because it’s all based on a lie.

The lie is that how we were before—before loss, before disease, before the wilderness, before age, before disability, before the Mack truck plowed into us and wrecked our previous existence—was better. That we were more complete then, more desirable, more effective, more useful.

I wish I had the perfect quote about this that I could paste on the wall over the front door to inspire me every time I left the house. But I haven’t found one yet.

Truth be told, it’s almost easier to stop comparing my own story to someone else’s than it is to stop comparing the current chapter of my life to some chapter from the past.

I’m not talking about surface comparisons such as pounds on the bathroom scale or the number of gray hairs I see in the mirror. Most of us will never look or feel at 40 or 50 exactly how we did at 20 or 30, and part of growing older includes accepting that fact.

No, I’m talking about the reality that difficult seasons and earthquake events in our lives can sometimes alter our ability to minister, permanently lower our energy level and even radically change our personalities.

This very thing happened to one of my favorite authors, Tricia Lott Williford, after the sudden death of her husband, Robb.

“I spent the first thirty years of my life as a hypersocial extrovert—we’re talking off-the-charts, people,” she wrote recently. “But then … I became an introvert. The blinds closed, the porch light flipped off, and I just wanted to be a l o n e.”

Tricia might be an extreme example, but the principle is universal: trials change us.

Some of these changes are for the better. As Romans 5:3-4 says, “Affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.” Who wouldn’t want all that?

And yet, when we look at the trial-altered versions of ourselves and examine all our scars and weak spots, it’s tempting to think we’ll never measure up again, that our best days are behind us, that we’re well past the point of making a difference for the Kingdom.

But even though we feel less useful, in God’s eyes, we are not.

According to Ephesians 2:10, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Those jobs God has assigned to us? They might be different now, but they don’t dry up just because we think we’re washed up. As the 18th-century English evangelist George Whitefield put it, “We are immortal until our work on earth is done.”

In other words, if we’re still here, God has something for us to do.

Here’s the thing. None of us gets an advance copy of our life story. We aren’t even privy to sketchy outlines. But we do know the Author of our stories. More importantly, the Author knows us.

And as He weaves the chapters of our lives together, every chapter—however difficult—lays the groundwork for the chapters to come. If even one were missing, our stories would not make sense.

It’s tough to break the comparison habit, especially when it comes to comparing yourself to yourself. But please—don’t believe the lie.

We weren’t better before. We’re more useful now.

Lois Flowers

P.S. I’m linking up this week with Grace & Truth, Kelly Balarie at Purposeful Faith, Holly Barrett at Testimony Tuesday, Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory and Holley Gerth at Coffee for Your Heart.



22 Responses to The Saddest Kind of Comparison (and How to Quash It)

  1. Christine says:

    Hi Lois
    I listened to a beautiful sermon from Alistair Begg about the power of weakness where he says something like this: “Have you ever considered the possibility that your limitations and your handicaps may prove to be the key to your usefulness in the service of Christ”. If you’re interested, here’s the link.
    https://www.truthforlife.org/resources/sermon/power-weakness/
    I think we’re so prone to looking in ourselves for strength, there’s always a certain amount of pride in what we think we can do for God. But it’s only when we know we’re empty, that we realise it’s always God working through us. His power is made perfect in weakness.

    There are some beautiful truths in your post. When you talk about grieving the loss of our old selves it reminds me of a CS Lewis quote –
    “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

    Thanks for the post.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Christine, I get tears in my eyes every time I read this Lewis quote. So powerful and encouraging! I’m listening to the sermon you linked even as I write, and I have a feeling I will be listening to it more than once. The perspectives you’ve shared today resonate with my heart and confirm things I’ve been thinking about for a long time … thank you so much for taking the time to comment.

  2. Pam says:

    Guilty, Lois! I am guilty of combatting this habit and seem to be going along pretty well and then notice there are glimpses of it again. It showed up here and there over the past few months when I started blogging. Your words of truth are wise, well-spoken, and needed reminders. Thanks so much!
    Blessings on your day!
    Pam

    • Lois Flowers says:

      It does tend to pop up when we least expect it, doesn’t it? And especially with blogging … I’ve only been doing this for a year, so I know what you mean about that! Thanks for your kind words, Pam … it’s so nice to meet you!

  3. Lois, you have hit on something here. And it’s true that we can get completely stuck because we’re not or life’s not where we were. Thank you for starting this conversation. Thankful that each chapter is sacred and of great value with our Lord.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      I’m thankful for that, too, Lisa. And the fact that you are able to have this perspective after all you’ve been through is so encouraging to me! Thank you for taking the time to comment … you are a blessing!

  4. I agree, this kind of comparison is the hardest, and when we jump on those thoughts it leads to defeat and depression. No fun. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, so helpful.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      That’s a good point, Judy. Thinking that we’ll never be what we once were is a direct path to thinking we’re worthless now, which is so not true!!! It’s good to hear from you today!

  5. Devi says:

    Hi Lois, I am a first timer here from Jennifer and Holley’s linkups. What you write here is so true, and I have found myself over and over again in the trap of comparing my current life to something from my life in the past. That being said, even though it is true, I think the grieving process is still crucial to moving forward, so I do allow myself to grieve the loss of whatever it is in the past and to grieve it well and that allows me to move more fully into the truth that God is working in my today just as he was in my past. Blessings to you as you write!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      It’s so nice to meet you, Devi. I think you’re right, that grieving past losses well allows us to embrace what God is doing now more fully. Maybe part of that process is learning to accept and appreciate how we have changed as a result of those losses? I’m still working on that! Thank you for your thought-provoking words today!

  6. Katharine says:

    Powerful, true, beautiful words! I needed this reminder today, so glad I was your neighbour at Tell His Story! Blessings!

  7. Kathy says:

    So glad I’m two doors down at #TellHisStory. Your words are so wise, our trials do change us, but since God’s promises are not to harm us but give us a future of hope, we rest assured the lie of negatively comparing chapters of our lives is not of God. I’m sure God prunes, and sharpens us for His better good! Thank you for your wonderful writing!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      I’m a gardener, so I love the pruning analogy, Kathy. And doesn’t it fill you with hope to know that every snip and deep cut the Master Pruner makes is done out of love for us? So glad you stopped by …

  8. Nancy says:

    This is your best blog yet!! So dead on. You nailed it – and I appreciate you digging until it came out!

  9. Tiffany says:

    Love this, Lois because I so believe in the power of our stories. And the fact that you’ve highlighted, that every chapter matters, is so beautiful. I know I’ve been tempted to rewrite the story, but yes…God has great purpose and every thing He writes over us is drawing us closer to the prize…more of Him. Blessed by your encouragement today!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      More of Him … yes! One of the biggest gifts that has come from the hard times in my life is the realization that apart from Him, I can do absolutely nothing. It sounds kinda bleak, but I think it’s so comforting and freeing. Thank you for your lovely words, Tiffany!

  10. Linda Stoll says:

    Powerful.

    Our stories change us for good or ill. They are our own, and any attempts to compare will only leave us feel unheard or unimportant or frustrated, disappointed.

    Thanks for going there today, Lois …

  11. Bethany says:

    Oh Lois,

    Such words. Honestly, I’m speechless. This hits my heart and it’s something I don’t think I’ve thought of quite this way before, but it is true. Thank you for so carefully and boldly sharing the Lord’s teaching this to you. I have been blessed, for once, and will be passing this on.

    Thank you dear lady,
    Bethany #RaRaLinkup

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Thank you for passing it on, Bethany. I wish every woman who struggles with comparisons could somehow understand this … it has made such a difference in how I look at the struggles I’ve had in my life. Your words are a blessing to me today!

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