Robbie and I got engaged in 2011, and after our engagement party night, we went out for coffee with some friends. Robbie asked this married couple, “So lay it on us – what’s your advice on marriage?”
I don’t remember the entire conversation, but the piece of advice the wife spoke that night stuck with me and is still with me today.
“Don’t compare yourself to other couples. Make decisions together, not because other people did it that way.”
It wasn’t even a week later that an opportunity arose for us to do this – to make a decision that was right for us, even if some of our closest friends had made completely different decisions.
This area – comparison – it isn’t just about couples. It’s about everyone, and it’s something that I think because of media (and social media) is quite a prevalent discussion in our culture today.
The Usual Process of Comparison
As I was thinking about this area of comparison today, I was thinking about the process we go through when we compare. Some good things can lend to this common habit of comparing, and it’s discovering where in the process, it turns from those good things to bad ones.
Often it starts off with a simple observation. It can be an observation about someone else – “She has really nice hair” – or an observation of your own self – “I really need to get back into exercise.”
Observing someone’s nice hair or even your own desire for good habits aren’t bad. Those are both nice and ok things to observe.
After you make the observation, though, is often when the opportunity to compare begins. “My hair could never look that nice.” “Sally has a great exercise routine everyday when she trains for marathons! She’s really fit!”
We determine, negatively or positively, our course of action based off of what someone else is doing.
I want to make a point here that it can be negative or positive. Collaboration, sharing ideas, pinterest – I have no issues with these at all, and in fact, within the right framework, they are incredible ways to learn and grow from other people. We should be doing that.
So how do we know if we are just collaborating and sharing good ideas or if we are determining our course of action based on someone else’s?
I think peace or anxiety are good indicators to help us to discover where we are at in the comparison game.
As an example, in my original story up top, I did not feel peace at the beginning. I felt quite anxious actually. I had some very dear friends to me, friends I respected and admired, who had made certain decisions, and because I respected and admired them, I put this pressure on myself that I had to make those same decisions.
We can laugh at the old saying, “If your friend jumps off a bridge, does that mean you will too?” but I find that although that example is quite extreme, there is truth, albeit subtle, in that compare/follow process.
After feeling that anxiety and sense of striving with a particular decision, I received that piece of advice from my friend, and the next day, when the rubber met the road and I had to make a decision, I took a step back. I took a breath, and I reminded myself that my own decision in this area is ok, and in fact, it was good and right.
It didn’t make my friends’ decisions any less right, but because I made the decision out of my own prayer with God and with Robbie, it was right for us.
I think comparison is a topic that could fill an entire blog, but one of the most simple revelations I had through this little piece of advice was that I was ok making my own decisions. I was responsible for the decisions I made. I was the one who had to feel the anxiety, or in this case, feel the peace.
“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10