Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The journey from comparison to contentment


I know you've seen signs like this on Facebook and Instagram:


Makes it sound so simple, doesn't it? Just change your attitude, and your heart will be at ease.

Some days that's much easier said than done. The last few days have been easier-said-than-done days for me.

Here's the photo I posted on social media on Friday:


You can probably tell that this an open suitcase. You may not be able to tell that it's sitting on my dining room table. Last Wednesday evening, right after we printed out our boarding passes, my husband and I were filling this suitcase with everything we needed for a trip the next day.

A big trip. To London.

That suitcase never made it to London, because Hurricane Michael made its way through North Carolina on Thursday, the day we were scheduled to fly. Our flight was cancelled, and there were no other flights available. (Believe me, we looked.) We had to cancel our much-anticipated trip.

First I was mad, then I was sad. And then in the very next breath I was embarrassed for feeling sad. What I was I thinking, I said to myself, when others were suffering much worse than disappointment over cancelled plans? Surely I had no right to feel sad, I thought, when others' suffering was so much worse than my own.

On an on went the conversation in my head until I finally recognized it for what it was: the same old comparison game. I was downplaying my feelings of disappointment by comparing my loss to the devastating losses that hurricane victims in Florida and Georgia were suffering. This is just one of the things I've learned from writing a book on comparison: we sometimes use comparison as a way to manage our feelings.

Well-intentioned Christians do this a lot, I think. When we're uncertain or embarrassed about our feelings of disappointment or sadness, we stuff them down and compare our losses to those of other people. Have you done this?

"I shouldn't complain about having the flu when she is facing surgery."

"I shouldn't be disappointed about not getting that promotion when he doesn't even have a job."

"Why do I feel so sad about this? After all, it's not nearly so bad as that."

Here's something I've learned: feeling management doesn't work. Feelings buried alive never die. You can't hang an attitude of gratitude hashtag on your heart.

Far better, I believe, to admit our true feelings to God and ask for His help in dealing with them rather than to minimize them by comparing our situations to those of other people. I believe and trust that God is able to comfort us when we’re hurting, to give us perspective on whatever we’re facing, and to give us compassion for our neighbors.

God can do all that and more. So much better to trust God with our feelings than try to manage them by saying “I can’t be sad because someone else is more sad.”

This I know for sure: the back door of comparison is not the way to contentment.



13 comments:

  1. This is such a beautifully written post, thanks for sharing it! I'm sorry your trip was canceled, I hope you're able to reschedule!

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    1. Thank you so much! This trip was a special opportunity, so re-scheduling it isn't possible, but I'm trying to keep it all in perspective. :)

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  2. You are so right.Stuffing feelings down never helps but usually hurts. Visiting from #HollyGerth.

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    1. Until I started writing this book, I hadn't realized just how much it does hurt to stuff feelings down. You're right! Every blessing to you.

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  3. Stuffing our feelings never works. What happens when we stuff a bag and keep stuffing it? Eventually it bursts and the contents spill out everywhere and make a mess. Same with our feelings. I feel my feelings, every last one of them then move on.

    I'm sorry your trip was cancelled and can't be rescheduled.

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    1. Thank you, Yvonne. Your image of stuffing a bag and having it burst is a good one! I'm going to remember that.

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  4. I sorry I hope you can go another time. I had that happen to me when I was going on a trip! Sometimes things happen for a reason. Maria

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    1. Thanks, Maria! I like the way you phrased that: sometimes things do happen for a reason. Lots of times people say "Everything happens for a reason," but I don't believe that's true; sometimes things just happen for no good reason. But it's good to ponder things as they come, isn't it?

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  5. Richella, I'm so sorry you didn't get to make that much anticipated trip and can well understand your disappointment. Still, I'm thankful for the lessons on comparison that you now get to share with us.
    Thank you!

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    1. Thank you, Marva! I guess it's because of writing the book, but I'm spotting little points of comparison all over the place these days. It sneaks in without our being aware of it!

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  6. I do this a lot, and have even been encouraged by others to do this too. But then, it starts to feel like I have no valid feelings because someone ALWAYS has it worse. Wouldn’t it be silly if we did that for the emotion of gratitude? Oh don’t feel grateful, they’ve got it so much better. (Ridiculous!)
    Makes the whole idea of comparing feeling so silly. :)

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    1. You are SO right, Katrina! Oh, how insidious those little comparisons are--and they add up to be not so little!

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  7. Wow! So true! I'll be using this with my children. Thank you.

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