Generally Speaking: Comparison: Never a good plan

By MARILYN TINNIN COLUMNIST,

It seems to me there are a lot of unhappy people in the world today.

I read a lot of op-eds and such in the Wall Street Journal, a lot of online news blogs and still more in our local newspaper.

I see many disgruntled men and women of all ages. Somehow, most of them missed the memo that said, “Life is not fair. Play the hand you are dealt and don’t waste your energy letting someone else’s hand distract you.”

I want to scream, “Stop comparing the apples in your basket with the oranges in someone else’s.

Take what God has given to you, and use it in a way that honors Him. I guarantee there is deep contentment in approaching life that way.”

As a preschooler in the early 1950’s my cultural exposure, though limited, was broader than some of my peers.

You see, my family was among the first to own a television set – not because we were affluent but because my daddy sold appliances along with farm machinery in his concrete block building on Highway 82.

Only in the Mississippi Delta of that era could you have found such a combination!

Our family’s single black and white TV beamed two Mississippi stations into our living room from 7 a.m. til about 10 p.m. seven days a week. Almost a decade passed before we got a third network!

We also had this huge steel antenna that protruded above our roof line, and every time we changed a channel we had to pause for minutes on end while the antenna turned itself to find the new signal.

Ratings were yet to be invented, but everything in those days would have earned a “G” for general audiences.

The most popular sitcoms were “Father Knows Best” and “Leave it to Beaver.”

The subject matter revolved around traditional families, children who got into a few innocuous kerfuffles, and wise mothers and fathers who managed to turn the small crises into character lessons.

To be honest, those programs were not a far stretch from life at our house. There was little room to compare our lives to someone else’s glamorous celebrity existence.

What my friends and I knew about the world beyond the city limits of Indianola was almost nil.

The Weekly Reader, an age appropriate newspaper we received at school, introduced us to far away countries and gave us a bare-bones awareness of global issues like hunger and political instability in hard-to-pronounce third world nations.

Along with those stories we had some national news of note.

“Of note” were things like adding Hawaii as the fiftieth state or the minting of a new penny by the U.S. Treasury.

If there was a pop culture, we did not know about it. Elvis had been drafted – we did know that.

Those of us with older siblings listened to rock and roll on AM radio. Eventually everyone had a television, and we all tuned in to American Bandstand to see what the kids in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania were wearing as we studied their dance moves. Otherwise, I doubt we would have learned to “bop” or to “twist” down here in Mississippi.

By the time I was a college student and later as a young married, telecommunications had expanded so much that it did not take any time for a fad, a fashion, or a trend to become a hot item from coast to coast.

The world was more connected than before, and it was easier to compare a life in small-town Mississippi with a life in Malibu or New York City. I began to feel a little intimidated in the supermarket checkout line.

Glossy magazines bearing the images of perfectly air brushed models with toned bodies and white teeth and sporting captions that promised “how to” everything in three easy steps did catch my eye and make me second guess my life choices.

But by that time I was grounded, and despite a momentary “What if” I always landed back at Truth – God’s word – and I was okay. I was pretty sure I would not have found life as a Hollywood sex goddess very fulfilling.

I am not sure it is as easy to stay grounded today.

Social media has dramatically changed everything about modern life. Much of that change has not been positive. Between Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook, we see friends and acquaintances posting countless selfies of perfect lives, exotic vacations, and front row seats to the Super Bowl or the World Series. The fact that we can photo shop and edit every detail for the world to see has made it really hard to be content with “regular” when everyone else seems to have “amazing.”

Pinterest is my snare. I have found myself wasting more time than I would like to admit checking out “the right fashion for women over 50,” “the best tablescapes for the season,” or “the latest in home décor.”

It’s not wrong to care about those things, but it is wrong when the pursuit of such things starts to eat up precious hours, and the pretty pictures start to cloud my reason. My desires collide with my true needs, and I become dissatisfied with everything about my life. And I am not a teenager. Maybe that is what disturbs me most because I know better!

Comparison has a way of leading to envy, discontent, and the inability to see God’s blessings in our own lives. Wallowing in our own self-pity steals our peace and our joy and side-tracks us. We fail to remember God has a purpose and a plan designed uniquely for us.

One of my favorite things about the bible is how God reveals the flaws of human character. He did not hide even the more embarrassing episodes of the Patriarchs. Comparison is a frequent problem.

Read the true stories of King Saul’s resentment of the young David (I Samuel 16 – 31).  Read about the rancor in Jacob’s family with sons who felt slighted by their father’s favoritism toward their brother, Joseph (Genesis 37).  About a thousand years later, Jesus rebuked his own disciples in Matthew 18 when they began to argue among themselves over who was greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Why should it surprise us that we continue to struggle with the same old same old? 

We have only added to the problem – income inequality, class warfare – even gender warfare.

There is just a whole lot of one group not liking another group – and that is without even considering the craziness in the two houses of Congress!

One of the best antidotes to comparison is the cultivating of a grateful heart.

I have noticed, too, that thankfulness seems to beget thankfulness. Start every day reminding yourself of this: “This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). It works.

God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him. John Piper

Comparison is the thief of joy. Theodore Roosevelt

 

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