From the time we are in kindergarten (if not before), we get snagged in the quagmire of comparison. It happens earlier than that when parents, grandparents, and neighbors chat about when we take our first step, say our first word, or sleep through the night for the first time. These milestones get written in baby books and shared by new moms over coffee and pastries as subtle comparisons begin.
In the beginning of childhood, we don’t notice that we are measured in areas such as appearance, performance, or competence in any number of areas. But such measurements that are largely subjective start to develop the vague notion that bigger, taller and faster are better. That can creep in as well with objective measurements taken in the pediatrician’s office related to weight, height, and head size that get evaluated on a continuum suggesting what is “average” or “normal”.
By the time we get our first grade card, most of us have a sense of how we fit in the world. It comes from a combination of little things like whether or not we are picked for a team, a performance, or to play a game. We don’t need a rocket scientist to tell us we are “less than” when we are chosen last with any regularity. We know someone considers us to be “not enough”.
All of these start to stir and mix within us and propel us to look for areas where we have a chance to compete, not be last, or left out. We observe what we do and start making self-evaluations that often lead to devaluing parts of us that don’t seem to fit what the “in” group values. So if we play the piano, read well, or do a great job with chores and responsibility, we conclude these things are less valuable in neighborhoods where making a base hit, kicking a soccer goal, running a mile, or swimming the length of a pool are what matter.
Our teen years take a heavy toll as competition heats up for spots on teams; roles on stages, and scores on college entrance exams seem to mean everything. In each case our inner conversation asks, “Do I measure up?” or “am I good enough?’
In adulthood, we discover that long-held habits die hard even when we should know better about this comparison game. The enemy’s relentless skill in creating doubt in who we are, whose we are, who we were created to be, and what the Lord’s purpose for us might be halts us from moving forward and clouds the truth. We measure ourselves with a spurious standard based on various cultural or societal norms, family or peer values, and the voices in our heads that either tell us we are better than we are or worse than we are.
We are not good judges of ourselves. Only the Lord has the truth and wisdom to measure, to gently correct and pour grace over our failures. He exhorts us to get up and move forward. Our unique design for His purposes stay within His focus. His view is different because as Jerry Bridges says in The Discipline of Grace, “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”
When we read His story, the Bible, we get a clear view of what He values and how often He uses someone that no one else would have chosen. Those things within us that others may have dismissed or deemed as less valuable get used as the very things He designed to display His glory.