I have fought most of my life for a place to belong.
These battles are too often fraught with comparison. Am I like them? Do I look better or worse, am I as smart, as skinny, as pretty? Have I done cooler things with my life, more important, more Kingdom-focused?
Cambodia has not been helpful when it comes to comparison, and my Khmer friends are incredibly observant. Part of this stems from their care for the people they love. Losing weight means you might have been sick while gaining usually means you’ve been healthy (in my case anyway). Even though I knew the heart behind the words, it was still hard to hear their comments as they described how I looked last time they saw me versus now or how I compared to my teammate.
When I first moved to Cambodia I still had the pale skin of a girl just past a frigid Midwestern winter, and I heard comments on my “beauty” as I walked to the market from my little apartment. Daily exposure to the sun altered that skin tone over the months and as I grew to understand more and more of the language, I started hearing the descriptions change. “She’s not very beautiful” cut pretty deep.
It wasn’t just my outward appearance that I felt didn’t fit or measure up among local friends as well as fellow expats. I wasn’t very good at the language and my confidence nose-dived over the months and years causing anxiety as I tried to comprehend and respond. I wasn’t outgoing enough, I wasn’t the pioneering type with undying perseverance and innovative ideas. I made stir-fry with strange vegetables which apparently I also did not cut up correctly, it was difficult for me to eat fish with the bones still in, and sometimes I could go several days without eating rice (gasp, unbelievable!).
It is hard to love freely when we keep hold of a measuring stick.
When my eyes are focused downward, my mind travels down the rut of comparison with every encounter, conversation and relationship. I stick points in my favor (Master’s degree, check. Nice smile, check. I can read the language, check.) or take them away when I’m lacking. I don’t want to play that game anymore.
I want to walk and love and live with a confident hope that doesn’t depend on what others think of me, if I fit in the right group or not.
I’ve been coming back to the beauty of the first chapter of Colossians and this reminder of where my hope comes from. Verses four and five tell us, “For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, which comes from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven.”
The beauty of eyes turned upward fills my heart with awe at all the Father has done for me. It is not based on if He loves me more or less than another person, but all about His unending faithfulness and undeserved mercy.
What would it be like if I looked at each person I encounter this way, the way He sees them? It means forging a whole new pathway for my brain to follow, one that doesn’t immediately move to compare. The person I meet at the market with a tarp full of juicy mangoes, the woman who makes noodles to sell across the street, the expat with a quick temper or ministry far different from mine, all of these people are dearly loved image-bearers who need to know their worth. There is a place for them to belong in the Kingdom, just as there is for me.
Does comparison affect your ability to love others well (please tell me I’m not the only one!)? How has the Father helped you to let go of the measuring stick?