Tuesday, October 16
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.