“How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.”
On a recent Sunday, my church’s pastor hit a personal nerve with his sermon. It had to do with the three largest words in the title of this post and how comparison and escapism-turned-to-avoidance can be very dangerous for our Christian faith. I would say these actions are dangerous for anyone, regardless of a person’s religious or spiritual inclinations and beliefs.
I bet you can say that you have practiced at least one of these verbs during your lifetime.
Confession: I’ve acted upon all at different points in my life, in very small amounts and in extremely huge pieces.
With comparison, the presence of media and peer or family pressure can inflict a sense of “I’m not good enough!” on all who succumb. Television and social media will inform that we’re not thin enough, our hair doesn’t shine enough, our teeth are not white enough, our homes and vehicles are not big enough, and we don’t earn enough money. Peers in grade and high school may tell us we’re “dumb” or not cool enough for the cool kids club. Family members can evoke much of the same, whether well-intentioned or mean-spirited. We begin to compare our lives, successes and physical appearance to others at an early age and it continues to our last dying breath. I’ve made some heavy comparisons with others. At times, the “others” are people I don’t know or have never met, which is stupidly unreasonable. Yet, that does not deter me from comparing lifestyles, physical abilities and appearance, and financial success.
Our pastor reflected, “Making comparisons with the goal of finding your self-worth is damaging.” I agree with that statement. So, why do I engage in this behavior? Why do I compare in an unhealthy manner?
I had low self-worth as a child, teen and young adult. I was taller than the other kids (Jolly Green Giant was one of my nicknames) (I find that funny now at a mere 5’8” tall). I had an overbite that was not fixed with braces. I was shy and gangly and had acne. Mom found it easier to criticize than praise (I still love that woman). And boys never asked me out. It was difficult to climb out of that hole and, as an adult, I continued to struggle, even after I met and married the husband in my early twenties. Although the now ex-husband gave praise to my appearance and food preparation abilities in the beginning years of the marriage, I compared our lifestyle with the Jones’s and wondered why we didn’t have a house with a two-and-a-half-car garage and white picket fence. I compared financial status and marital happiness status. As I turned forty-something and menopause turned parts of me into jello, I began a futile comparative study – an aging and changing body against that of a twenty or thirty-something year old with tight skin. I wanted to go back in time.
I have been slow to realize that making these types of comparisons only damages self-worth, it does not lift one up. Unhealthy comparisons can exacerbate one of two negatives: 1) They can deeply hurt our self-worth and self-esteem, or 2) they can drive us to do anything to get what we want; we’re willing to step over people and take prisoners at any cost.
On the other hand, comparisons in the vein of self-improvement can create positive goals. For instance, if I compare the neighbor’s diligent exercise habits with my sometimes lazy habits and this motivates me to walk into the gym on a regular basis, that’s a good comparison. If a co-worker compares his hot-dog-and-diet-soda lunch with the boss’s healthy green salad and unsweetened tea, it might compel him to stop eating french fries (he’ll work on the hot dog later). That is a comparative change in the right direction. It’s the type of comparison that helps rather than hurts.
“People love escapism and there should be a place for it.”
I know this one all too well. I practiced escapism during the latter years of marriage, when I didn’t want to face reality and the prospect of divorce. I was afraid to take a step forward, so I sat myself in front of the computer and escaped into the world of an indie artist, his fans and blog sites. I sat for hours, days and weeks on end watching videos, chatting on community forums and scouring the internet for related news. I naively thought that this escapism would bring me out of darkness and into happiness. Of course, it didn’t. It merely caused avoidance of the inevitable. The computer was the hot sand and I had my long neck stuck far into the grains of binary code. It took another five years for me to come up for air, to face the situation and take action. I wonder what I would have done with those five years had I not turned my attention elsewhere.
On a positive note, I made long-lasting personal connections and engaged in several fun road trips with girlfriends while practicing the five years of escapism. I wouldn’t change that, although I wish the connections would have been with a strong marriage in tow.
As with making comparisons, escapism doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Escaping to the garden after an especially stressful day at work, rather than prepping dinner, is a healthy way to detour from reality for an hour. Daydreaming can be a positive aspect of escapism. The imagination of daydreaming begets creativity which begets science fiction and fantasy novels.
Has anyone heard of Harry Potter?
“A day can really slip by when you’re deliberately avoiding what you’re supposed to do.”
Or days, a week, longer.
I have not only been a daughter to my parents, but also their power of attorney. I have filled out forms until I’m blue in the face. Forms to get a special mail box at their apartment, forms to move them into assisted living, forms to apply for dad’s veterans’ pension, forms to apply for Family Care and Medical Assistance, forms for the doctors, forms when dad passed away, forms for supplemental insurance, forms for Cabulance…forms, forms, and more forms!
I am a public servant. Our agency has hundreds of forms, some of which I fill out on a regular basis. I certainly didn’t want to look at more forms when I got home in the afternoon. This is where avoidance came about. I remember being so stressed out over the mom and dad forms, that I would let mail sit on the kitchen table for days, sometimes a week or more. Not that I didn’t perform my POA duties or let a deadline pass as that would have been disastrous. I simply avoided and procrastinated until the last possible minute. There were days when I escaped back into the computer, not wanting to face yet another brown envelope containing you-know-what. Perhaps if I didn’t look at the forms, they would go away.
Or perhaps not. Now that I look back on this, it was pure silliness. Avoidance didn’t resolve the paperwork stress, it only made it worse.
Avoiding the Interstate during rush hour traffic is okay. Avoiding sugar when trying to lose weight is a good idea. Swerving to avoid a fender bender is financially sound (as long as you don’t end up in the ditch). Utilizing your best motivational interviewing skills to avoid personal conflict with the neighbor is a wise decision. Avoiding the co-worker with a snotty nose and infectious cough is health-wise smart.
I have to admit that comparison, escapism and avoidance continue to weave themselves into my psyche. It’s difficult to escape. As I sit here at the computer, escaping into the blogosphere, I am avoiding a mountain of personal and parental filing that is hiding in the closet. I avoided attaching a mirror to my bicycle for a month, only to find out it wouldn’t fit into the handlebars. I spent this past week comparing my thin and wavy hair with the desired thick hair of my roommate.
The actions never seem to end.
“Faith was never meant to make us feel good about ourselves.”
And it’s the same with making comparisons that tell us we don’t measure up. Do those comparisons ever make us feel good? The answer is “no.” I will never again be the 25 year old with a flat stomach or non-dimpled thighs. I need to let that go, along with any other comparisons regarding physical, financial or other situations that may not be under my control. In engaging in this negative behavior, I overlook the wonderful life that I have in reality and the person that God made me to be. I need not escape into the computer to avoid negative comparison or any fill-in forms that come my way.
In having breakfast with a friend this weekend, she commented on how busy I am…that I’m always doing something. In contemplating this statement, I realize that I need not compare any aspect of my life with others. I am always doing something. I may not be jetting off to Monte Carlo and hobnobbing with society’s elite, but I enjoy the company of family and many friends. I may not have a job with a six-figure income, but I have been blessed at my workplace with wonderful bosses and co-workers. I may not have the body of a 25 year old, but I am in good shape and stronger than I have ever been in my life. I may not be in a loving relationship with a man, but that’s okay because I’m so damn busy…
What about you, dear readers? How do you compare yourself to others? What are your forms of escape? Share the one thing that you work to avoid.