I used to get a migraine when my son was invited to a birthday party. Not when the invitation was given. That would just produce a knot of terror and a nauseous smile. The migraine would fog over on the morning of the party, or sometimes the night before. Usually I was quite grateful because it meant we didn’t have to go.
My migraines were auto-immune. They had everything to do with me and nothing to do with the well-meaning party-throwing mom, her child or mine. I was just deflating the jumping castle for everyone. I was allergic to my stressed-out selfish self.
I couldn’t stop comparing.
I compared my (visually impaired) son to the other (sighted) kids who could see the jungle gym and find their party packs. It just about killed me that he toddled about quietly – listening to the party. (At that stage, he didn’t notice or care that there was stuff going down and he wasn’t part of it. He was as happy as any kid knee-deep in Nik Naks.)
I compared myself (severely disabled in all things artistic) to the artsy-craftsy supermoms. The birthday cake always looked like something featured on Top Billing. This year my husband iced my son’s cake. Go figure. The personalised sweet buckets, hats and freebies would leave me cringing over my lame attempts at a Fizzer, a Chomp and a Liqui-Fruit in a brown paper bag.
Birthday party comparisons made me feel pathetic and inferior. Sometimes I would briefly swap self-pity for arrogance. I would convince myself that these other moms had nothing better to do – nothing nobler – than to create fabulous parties.
Measuring up, crumbling down
Lisa-Jo Baker puts it well: ‘Comparisons will kick you in the teeth and hijack your dreams every time.’ Comparing punctures your confidence. It embezzles your energy and joy. It ruins relationships. It marshals its minions of pressure and tension. It gives the devil a foothold. You find yourself closing up, pretending, boasting, avoiding, seething, making stupid financial choices and so many other totally un-beautiful things.
Maybe you’re okay with birthday parties. But maybe your debilitating comparisons are in another area. Like if you catch yourself thinking:
She’s so much thinner than me.
I wish we could spend tons of money on our home like they can.
The way her husband looks at her… I wish I got that look sometimes.
How come their kids are just brilliant at everything?
Now she’s engaged and I’m still single. What’s she got that I don’t?
Her baby walked at nine months! Mine’s not even crawling.
I’d kill for a job like hers.
Maybe if I had a PhD like her people would take me seriously.
She’s got more followers on twitter than Justin Bieber. What’s wrong with me?
The Bible is littered with the debris of lives devastated by comparison. I’m talking real disasters. Saul compared his popularity to David’s; then tried to kill him. Jacob loved Joseph more than his other sons. The others compared themselves to Joseph then tried to kill him. (Like, is there a pattern here?) Sometimes the comparison catfight went both ways. Rachel compared herself to Leah (who could have kids). Leah compared herself to Rachel (who was pretty). The Pharisee compared himself to the tax guy. Epic fail. The disciples were always comparing and competing and jostling to be the favourite. Jesus reckoned they should get over themselves and be like kids.
Solomon (and Rudyard Kipling) said it years ago: comparing yourself to others will make you either bitter or arrogant. Either way, not pretty.
And yet it’s so, so hard not to compare. What do we do?
Please continue reading the rest of this article in Radiant’s Nov/Dec issue on page 15.