When We Let Go of Comparison

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?

18 Comments

  1. Dana Jaehnert Bhalla September 17, 2018

    Sarah, this is exactly what I needed to hear today. Being so different and living in Asia—there is so much comparison. I especially related to the difficulty of people commenting on weight. I laughed at the part you wrote about food…. having not eaten rice for the past 3 weeks—everyone asks-what DO you eat?! Lol. Being so individualistic, and coming to a collective culture, I’ve been realising that individuaity and difference is not as much accepted. That has definitely been a struggle in the fight to belong. This can push me further into individualism and desire to isolate. This of course has to do with cultural integration as well. I want to live confidently in this hope that we have, and keep my focus upward. It’s a daily releasing of expectations, and giving grace for the difference that keeps me somewhat sane. ☺️

    1. Sarah C Hilkemann September 17, 2018

      Dana, I’m so glad these thoughts resonated with you! I really identify with what you said about being different when that isn’t valued. There are so many times when I just wanted to be understood by my local friends and yet it felt impossible! I need this reminder to keep my eyes focused in the right direction many times myself. 🙂

      The question, “Have you eaten yet?” in Khmer is literally “Have you eaten rice yet?”. I always struggled with how to answer this question when I hadn’t eaten rice for days! 😉

      1. Dana Bhalla September 20, 2018

        It’s basically the same in India! Have you eaten yet literally translated to, “Have you had roti (chapati, flat bread) yet? And my answer unfortunately in that case is no… “Niem bai” must be part of the phrase used in Khmer. My friend whi stayed in Cambodia for almost 2 years taught me and I’ll never forget! We went to Cambodia together for a month, and we always talked about eating rice.. ?

  2. Abbie Smith September 17, 2018

    Such vulnerable and wonderful thoughts, Sarah and Dana! Thank you for being so willing and honest. I could relate with so many of your lines. Just last night (in Savannah, Georgia), I went with a friend’s church to a gathering of African American women. It is awful and confusing how segregated the southern church in America can still be. Walking into a room of about 200 black women, and me as the only white, was eye-opening and such a reminder of how quickly I lean into comparisons as a way of feeling safe, or secure, or welcomed…verses finding my grounding and safety and security in Christ – as Christ’s daughter, eternally welcomed to the Table by way of his love and sacrifice. Thankful for your reminders this morning, and a keen awareness that “all other ground is sinking sand” as I step into this Monday. O Lord, help us cling to you! And cling to our unity as sisters in you.

    1. Sarah C Hilkemann September 17, 2018

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and this experience with us, Abbie! Even though I wrote the post, it was a good challenge and reminder again for me as well. 🙂

      1. Dana Bhalla September 20, 2018

        Abbie, comparisons are definitely an “orientation reference” sometimes and that’s not all bad. But when the result is continued segregation or “othering”, then the issues continue.. and comparisons keep groups apart.

  3. Bethany September 17, 2018

    I was sitting with the Lord about the issue of comparison just this past week. He showed me a picture of me as a small child, fighting with another child over a plastic toy in primary colors. Jesus was squatting down beside me, telling me to let go of the toy, but I knew that if I did, I would lose it – the other kid would run away and get to keep it, and I wanted it. But I knew that one of us would have to let go, and deep down, I knew it would have to be me. So I did, and it hurt to watch her run away with what I wanted. But when I stopped looking after her and looked back at Him, He handed me a soft, furry, rainbow teddy bear. That was when I understood that what I wanted, what I was fighting over, wasn’t even really what fit me. I saw someone else with it, and I wanted it, so I tried to take it. But when I finally let go, my hands were open to receive what Jesus actually intended for me to have, which was so much more colorful and comfortable. That other toy was cool, and it was perfect for that other kid. But it wasn’t mine.

    A lot of times, I see abilities and talents in other people that I want, so I try to push myself to be that, to achieve that level of _______. And I feel like it’s out of good motives, because I want to help others with _________ (music, leadership, writing, etc). But the last thing he told me was, “Only give what I’ve given you. Don’t try to copy what someone else has and try to give that away.” Because it will never be real. It will never be true.

    Our sermon this week was also on the gospel’s power to change our perspective of others and see them as the new creations God has re-birthed. To that end, I loved your thought, “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. …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.” So thank you for your post… confirmation and a timely reminder to see myself and others with “God glasses” and be thankful that we are strong in each other’s weaknesses.

    1. Sarah C Hilkemann September 17, 2018

      Bethany, what a beautiful picture the Father gave you! Goodness, yes, I so often wish I had others’ gifts and mine feel lacking in comparison. Yet, what a joy it is to wait on the Lord and live out the gifts He has given us! Thank you so much for sharing this!!

    2. Michele September 23, 2018

      I love that picture! Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Ruth Potinu September 17, 2018

    Yes, thank you for this. I relate so much to the comments even when meant to be a compliment are often hard to take that way. I remember one lady telling me less then a month after I gave birth to my son. You used to be tall and thin and now you are short and fat. Also, cutting up strange vegetables 🙂 I often get scolded by the ladies in the village for not cutting something up right or leaving the skin on the potatoes. Hard to have so many eyes watching so much of the time.

    1. Sarah C Hilkemann September 17, 2018

      Hi Ruth! Thank you for chiming in to the discussion! Yes, it is so hard to have eyes on us all the time, isn’t it? It makes it much easier to feel self-conscious and then I just slip right into comparison from there. Hopefully we can all encourage each other to let that go! 🙂

      1. Ruth Potinu September 17, 2018

        For sure. P.s. I didn’t mean to post my picture along with my reply oops.

  5. Michele September 23, 2018

    The first time I read through this post I laughed about the way Asians love to make oral observations of everything we do, but sighed over memories of how that comparing tore at my relationship with my teammate 15 or 16 years ago… I had come two years before her and sort of made the decision that I would be as Asian as possible- whatever I could make myself do their way, I did. When she didn’t conform quite as much they made note, and of course they compared everything we did. On a recent visit back to that country my pastor’s wife and I stopped by her new house and she told her how nice it was and how mine (which she has seen on a visit to my ‘new’ country) is UGLY! We both laughed as I tried to explain how COMPLETELY different houses are here and how little control I have over the appearance, but later I realized, “Ah, vindication for J. That’s good, actually.”

    Today I’m just skimming over things on a relaxed Sunday morning (Have you Seen is part of my Sabbath routine), and I am glad I looked back- because last night I got news a partner church of over 20 years has dropped me and it threatened to shake me up again with all the comparisons to other ministries, which seem so much more valid (and I’m sure are in the eyes of the committee that made this decision). I had to consciously remember that I’m where I am doing what I do out of obedience to God and ask Him again what He sees and thinks. This post is a reminder that if I’m not careful, I can lose my ability to love and support the many ministries around me, which is a huge part of why I’m here. Thanks!

    1. Sarah Hilkemann September 25, 2018

      Michele, thanks for sharing these thoughts and your experiences! I definitely need reminders often to not see other work or workers as a threat- but it can be easy to start heading down that road. I love that Have You Seen is part of your Sabbath routine! 🙂

  6. Hayley September 25, 2018

    First of all, I just want to say thank you so much for writing this. I have been serving on the field in the Philippines for the last 6 months, and I have to admit this has been one of my biggest struggles here. I constantly get told “oh you’re so big” (which half the time I’m not sure if it’s referring to my height or weight; or both! I’m 5’10). Either way, this was a huge adjustment. Being on the field I’ve actually slowly gotten smaller and smaller (yeah not a huge rice fan either), but I still find myself comparing how I look to the locals. I even kid with some of my friends here that no matter where I go, I can expect stares from all around. I actually call myself an alien, because here in the province, seeing a foreigner is rare. Sometimes I wish I was short enough to ride anywhere in the pedicab without hitting my head, or so many other menial things that don’t really matter. I always knew Filipinos were blunt, and I know they never mean it in a malicious way…but sometimes I just can’t hear it for the 100th time that week. This post is a breath of fresh air for me that I’m not alone in this. I know that comparison is the thief of joy, and this is something I’m praying about diligently that I will stop doing this to myself. I know that God didn’t make any mistakes making me the way I am, and He definitely didn’t make a mistake when He put this call on my life. I said all that to really say once again, thank you. It’s totally relatable, and everything I needed to hear. Thank

    1. Sarah Hilkemann September 25, 2018

      Hayley, I’m so glad this was an encouragement to you- yes, you are definitely not alone! I’m 5’9″ so I’m with you on the height thing. 🙂 When my teammate and I lived in a more rural setting several years ago we were the only foreigners and probably the first most people had ever seen. It absolutely tore at my soul to be stared at and commented on every time I stepped out of my house. So I resonate with the pain that has caused you in your setting! You can’t change the comments being made but I hope that God ministers to your heart with joy and refreshing.

  7. Naomi Porter September 29, 2018

    This was so good for me to read today. Thank you so much. I am entering my second year living in India in partnership with a national organization and comparison is such a big thing here. I have struggled with this in my heart my whole life, but now I get to struggle with it within the context of those I am working with making direct comparisons between my teammate and I. I am slow in language learning and I currently have a role that is less seen so it seems I have been the perfect target for being told my teammate is better at everything and that I am not. I have spent so much time with the Lord fighting against the lies being spoken over me. Almost daily I have to sit down and remember that I am working unto the Lord and not to man. As much as I am trying to take in feed back and “do better” culturally within my context I have to remember that and the end of the day God has given me everything I need, and in Him I am enough.

    1. Sarah C Hilkemann September 30, 2018

      Naomi, I’m sorry the comparisons have been so painful! It sounds like you are doing exactly what you need to be doing- running to the Father with the hurt and asking for His eyes on the situation. Thinking of you, though, as you grow in understanding your worth in Him and that in you He is enough- and you are enough. You are not alone- He is with you and you have a whole bunch of sisters here who get it!

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