The Vanity of Comparison

Used with permission © Paulius Gvildys
Used with permission © Paulius Gvildys

This originally appeared as a weekly devo for Western Hills Church.

Robin Williams was one of my favorite actors. I’ve followed him since the days of Mork and Mindy (nano, nano). That show is why I’ve always wanted a Jeep and why coat vests are still cool. Robin entertained us all at one point or another – from Aladdin to Mrs. Doubtfire to a new generation with the Night At The Museum movies. (Yes, he had his share of complete train wrecks of movies – Toys and World According to Garp come immediately to mind – but the greatness of Good Morning, Vietnam and Dead Poets Society more than trumps those.)

The temptation is to look at the exterior of the life of Robin Williams and ask why. He was rich. He was famous. Everyone loved him. He had a beautiful family. What real worries did he have in his life?

And therein lies the vanity of comparison. Comparison never is holistic nor comprehensive. Comparison is an empty, futile exercise. There is always someone ‘worse’ and someone ‘better.’ Someone always has more or nicer or cooler or bigger or better. It always ends with ‘they should be thankful.’

Or worse – “I wish I was like them.”

Our western culture pounds us in the face everyday with the vanity of comparison. My car isn’t as nice as theirs. My lawn isn’t as green as his. My clothes. My house. My TV. My technology. My bank account. My popularity. My skills. My smarts. My looks.

When we compare, we reveal that something is wrong with us. Our perspective is off. We tend to only see the shadow, not the thing itself. Often times when we compare, we only see what we want to see, not what is really there. And that cuts both ways – we don’t see what we already have or are, nor do we correctly see what we desire in its totality.

Before this weekend, every one would have traded places with Robin Williams. Almost everyone. Because all we could see is the shadow of fame, money, success, and laughter. Hardly any of us saw his depression.

I’m not suggesting that the disease of comparison is what leads people to depression. That’s ridiculously short-sighted. Nor would it be any smarter to say that if only Robin Williams had a relationship with Jesus then his problems would have been solved. Depression may be as complicated of a disease to deal with as any on the planet. And while a relationship with Jesus will help, it’s not a vaccine that prevents people from getting depression.

I am suggesting that the vanity of comparison feeds feelings of inadequacy and depression. I am also suggesting that this time of the year seems to get the best of us concerning this subject as our lives become more centered on school and social activities. It puts us in the places where we seem to compare the most.

So maybe as a new school year starts, we take a moment as Christ-followers and consider deeply the words of Paul in Philippians 4:10-13…

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that once again you renewed your care for me. You were, in fact, concerned about me but lacked the opportunity to show it. I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Paul rejoiced over the relationships he had in Christ. He learned how to be content in any situation because of those relationships and the one he had in Christ.

Community – being connected deeply to the Body of Christ – helps us stay connected to Christ himself. One leads to the other, the other helps the one. Our relationship with Christ will lead us to be more connected to His Church. More connected in His Church will lead us to be deeper in Christ. That will help us learn to be content.

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