We’ve all heard some version of this wisdom, whether it’s an anecdote, an object lesson, or a punchline: if you want to feel better about your problems, just look at someone else’s. You’re going to be far happier with your own than theirs.
The irony, of course, being that the same is true in reverse, most of the time. Everyone prefers the “devil they know,” once they get over the “grass is greener” phenomenon. Right? We always think someone else has it better…until we hear or see what their woes are, then we snap into defensive mode: “Wow, glad I don’t have to deal with that!”
This has always rubbed me wrong, but I’ve never really taken the time to really work out why…or what the better way is. But I think it’s an important thing to examine.
I readily admit I’ve done this as much as the next person. I’ve seen someone else’s trying situation and said, Thank you, Lord, that I don’t have to deal with that! I don’t know if I could handle it. The irony, of course, being when then I have to learn it for myself. That happens quite a lot, doesn’t it? I seriously had the thought not two weeks before my son’s Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis that I was so glad my family was generally healthy and we didn’t have any strange dietary requirements. Cue counting every single carb that enters his mouth and having to figure out the ratio of insulin that will keep him healthy.
So now, let’s take a look at the heart of this issue. What it comes down to of course is that old enemy of mine: comparison. After struggling with a competitive spirit and the pitfalls of comparison all my life, I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that Bob Goff has it right when he says, “Comparison is a punk.” IT IS. Sometimes it’ll make you feel good, like in the above “wisdom,” but it’s a trap. ALWAYS. When we compare ourselves to others, we’re walking a line with a cliff on either side that we can stumble over.
Cliff 1: I’m Better
The “problem wisdom” here assumes that you’ll fall over this cliff and be so relieved that you only have your own problems to deal with and not theirs. Yikes. So glad I don’t have to deal with x or y or z. So glad I don’t have that issue or problem. So glad I’m not them. Thank you, Lord!
Cliff 2: They’re Better
But it can just as easily topple the other way, right? Oh man, look how much better they have it! How successful they are! They don’t have any problems! Lord, why? Why do I have it so bad? Why does nothing good ever happen to me? How am I supposed to praise you through this??
One cliff is no less dangerous than the other; but the fact that this “just look at their problems” wisdom commands you to veer away from one cliff and straight off the other is what sends warning bells a-clanging in my soul. Because a cliff is a cliff, my friends. Comparison is dangerous whichever direction it leads you.
I’ve examined the defeat side before (you can read a guest post I wrote about it for my literary agency’s blog several years ago here), but today I want to focus on that “victorious” side. Why is this dangerous?
Well there’s the obvious pride factor, first of all. Any comparison that leads you to an “I’m Better” mindset can send you straight into that puffed-up pride that we know God warns us against. Maybe when you’re looking specifically at problems you have, this doesn’t seem like a true danger, but I think it really is. Because while you may not be saying “I’m the best” you’re still saying, “I have it better than them.” You’re exalting yourself. You’re saying you’re more fortunate. You’re placing the value of your life on your circumstances. This is Bad News with a captial B-N. Because those circumstances WILL change, guaranteed.
But the second issue is that it affects the way you view your neighbor. You’re not looking at them with compassion, but with pity. You’re feeling sorry for them. You’re casting them down in your mind and deeming them less-than. You’re focusing on their misery. You’re valuing your neighbor according to THEIR circumstances.
But is that amputee defined by the limb they lost? I sure hope not. Is that person with an auto-immune disease defined by what they have to do or not do to regulate their body? Is that person with chronic pain defined by what level they are on the scale today?
NO. They are defined by the fact that God loves them and has called them His child. That person suffering from a physical or psychological or emotional situation is royalty in the kingdom of God, just like you.
We ALL have things we deal with. But here’s the thing: our problems are not what define us; they are what shape us into the people we need to be to do God’s work.
Sure, other people’s problems can look intimidating to us, because we don’t know how to live with them (yet, sometimes). But instead of being either overwhelmed by the mere thought, pitying them, or dismissing them because they don’t seem “real” compared to our problems, maybe instead we ought to ask ourselves, “What is God teaching them through this? What strength is He giving them? Is that a strength I lack? Is it one I need? Can I cultivate it? What can I learn from them? How do I love them through this issue? Is there a way I can show them how much God loves them, and how even this has made them more precious in His sight, not less?”
I think if we could honestly view others in that way, then we’d stop approaching the “less fortunate” as charity cases or people who “need us” and start viewing them as people who we can jointly serve and be served by. They may have something that requires a neighborly hand from you…but I guarantee you they also have a strength that YOU would benefit from.
And of course, here’s the real clincher: if we stop viewing problems–our and theirs–as immense burdens we have to bear and instead view them as what we need to learn from, the things that will make us stronger, our entire outlook is going to change. And we’ll stop saying “woe is me” altogether…and start saying, “Praise you, Lord.”
What problems are your facing today? What problems are your family, friends, and neighbors facing? How can you change your perspective on them and view them all through a lens of God’s love?