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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Breaking Free Part 3: Overcoming The Comparison Trap

It's been two years since Danielle and I started down this road toward debt-free living. It's been a challenge, a fun ride, a ministry, and a blessing, all rolled into one adventure. This week we'd like to look back on our journey, share some of the intricacies of how and why we do it, and hopefully encourage you to gain some ground in your financial battle.

Overcoming the comparison trap
It's so easy to fall prey to comparison.

"Bob and Mary have a nice house. They're the same age as us. We should have the standard of living they do!"

"My wife and I have a bunch of kids to feed, but neither of us can get a job. We must not be as good as John and Jane who are both doing quite well."

"My two best friends have both gotten new cars in the last three years. I must be a loser if I don't get a new car soon."

"Mary is so beautiful. If I looked like her I wouldn't feel so insecure."

The examples above may seem ridiculous at face value, but they're actually not that far off from the kind of thinking we all experience from time to time.

Jacey, over at The Balanced Wife, has a wonderful article on comparison. Regarding her financial situation, she writes: "It wasn’t jealousy or bitterness I was feeling, but something more like shame. I felt behind, like a new bar had been set for what people my age were supposed to have, and I didn’t measure up."

Money management wizard Dave Ramsey talks about this feeling in Financial Peace University. He says, as adults, we try to recreate the standard of living we had as a child, or, for those less fortunate, we try to create what we always thought was the ideal.

My wife admitted once that this was the case for her. After we got married, she wanted a house. A big house. A house to raise a family in. She wanted to cook dinner like her mom always did and expected me to keep up the property like her father. Imagine her disappointment when, over time, she realized that married life wasn't going to be all that she saw growing up. She doesn't have the time to cook meals all week. I'm not the Mr. Fix-It that her father was.

We both had expectations that were dashed pretty early on in our marriage.

Breaking Free from Comparison

Theodore Roosevelt said, "Comparison is the thief of joy."

Comparing ourselves to other people is one of the first major obstacles we have to overcome to find financial peace. And I do mean "peace." Because you can find financial freedom without overcoming comparison, but the road there will be longer, more stressful, and more irritating, because as you continually compare yourself to others you'll be unhappy and you're likely to make those around you miserable. Financial peace is a much more rewarding road.

The comparison trap is a dangerous one, because comparison, by nature, is always negative, unfairly putting the worst of ourselves up against the perceived best of others. Comparison usually ignores facts, and often accepts too many broad assumptions. Comparison is inaccurate. It wastes time. It fails to realize that everyone is unique and that nothing in life is a "one size fits all."

When the Apostle Paul wrote "godliness with contentment is great gain," he wasn't just speaking philosophically. He had learned the secret to contentment in every circumstance in life. While that secret eludes most people, it need not elude any true believer.

Here are six practical steps to overcoming comparison.

  • Learn to give thanks

Not just for good things, but for all things. Thankfulness is a matter of simple obedience to God, but it is also evidence of a Spirit-filled believer. Not feeling thankful? That's ok. You don't always have to FEEL thankful. Just give thanks anyway. God won't ignore your obedience. (1 Thess. 5:18; Eph. 5:18-20).

  • Learn to rest in God's providence

God is always unfolding His purpose in our lives, a purpose that is for His glory and our gain. So when bad things come our way, who are we to shake our fist at the sky or grumble and complain when, in the long run, God is only doing what is best for us. (Rom. 8:28; 1 Pet. 4:12-13).

  • Learn to be satisfied with little

Paul learned to make this choice. And that's exactly what it is: a choice. You can choose to be content just like you can choose to smile at the clerk at the checkout line, or choose to have a good attitude toward those you don't necessarily enjoy being around. (1 Tim. 6:6)

  • Learn to live above your circumstances

Life happens. And if I am to be truly honest, life can really suck sometimes. No one knows this better than the apostle Paul—abused, imprisoned, tortured. He didn't take pleasure in the pain itself, but in the power of Christ manifested in him. Clinging to Christ when life gets hard is so crucial to truly being content. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

  • Learn to rely on God's provision

Danielle and I took a major step of faith when we decided to sign up for Christian Healthcare Ministries as an alternative to Obamacare. It means our trust isn't in an insurance company, but in the hands of God, who, through thousands of other believers, will help us cover the cost of our medical expenses. I have faith in this, because Jesus promised that he will never leave us and that he will supply all our needs. (Heb. 13:5, Matt. 6:26)

  • Learn to care for others

Really practice this one, because as we focus on meeting the needs of others, an amazing thing happens: comparison takes a back seat. Focusing on others means learning about them, and as we learn about them we can find empathy and understanding. Loving others rubs out the assumption-based aspects of comparison and replaces it with facts. (Phil. 2:3-4)

Associations are powerful, and the company we keep can influence our decisions in many ways, even without us realizing it. When people around us start buying houses and going on vacations, we feel like we deserve the same. But once you choose not to be swayed by this kind of thinking, there is immediate freedom from comparison.

While Danielle and I feel strongly about debt, we don't shove our beliefs on others, nor do we look down on friends and family who spend more money than we do or take out loans. Their choices don't threaten ours, and when you don't feel threatened you're in a much better position to love people where they are without judging them.

(Adapted from What Is The Secret to Contentment?, by John MacArthur.)

Other posts in this series

Part 1: My Personal Wake-Up Call
Part 2: How To See Some Hope
Part 4: The Things We Didn't Give Up

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