“We’re not the embassy kids!” So came the desperate cry from my fellow classmate. I’m sitting in my Algebra class at the Incirlik American High School. It is a Department of Defense Dependent School located on Incirlik Air Base outside of Adana, Turkey and our professor came to teach at Incirlik High School after having taught at the embassy. No doubt our professor means well, but his constant refrain of, “But if the embassy kids can comprehend it so can you” is leading to frustration and despair in some of my fellow high schoolers. It is at this point, that one girl defiantly shouts out, “We’re not the embassy kids!” – a war cry if ever there was one. This, of course, leads to laughter from the class and a flummoxed professor attempting to engage in damage control.
The above memory still makes me chuckle whenever I think of it. But as I reflect on that moment, I realize that, whether well-intended or not, comparisons can have a damaging effect. Most of the time, they lead to a de-moralized and envious individual. Rarely, do comparisons benefit someone or improve one’s situation. 1 Consider the following examples, some of which we are told and some of which we tell ourselves:
“Why can’t you be more like your brother?”
“I wish I was as thin as she is.”
“Why am I not as smart as they are?”
“How is it that my career stuck in a rut when everyone else is promoted?”
“I’m technologically illiterate compared to the younger generation.”
“Everyone else chooses to ___________ (fill in the blank, i.e. drink, smoke, do drugs, etc).”
“If only I had the sweet sports car that he has.”
“Why am I still single when all of my friends are married?”
And then there’s always the implied: “But the embassy kids could do it.”
The above is just a smattering of samples and doesn’t even begin to tap into the sorts of insecurities that media and advertising play on through their comparisons. Furthermore, comparisons in relationships and of individual abilities can be damaging to our psyches. Some comparisons, if accepted as children, can haunt one well into adulthood and may never fully go away. Thankfully, as a person with dwarfism, there were some comparisons that I managed to resolve early on. I realized when I was younger that I would never be good at sports. That is a simple truth, and there was no point in comparing myself to others who could play sports better than I (which would have been about everyone, anyway). But as a person with short stature, there is a certain freedom from accepting and embracing the truth that I am a child of God. It doesn’t matter how I stack up with anyone else in areas pertaining to physical ability, intellectual achievement, or even spiritual progress. All that really matters is my relationship with God and how I choose to respond to my neighbors around me.
Scripture has this to say about the matter: “Look at how great a love the Father has given us, that we should be called God’s children. And we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it didn’t know Him. Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:1-2) This verse is stating that as children of God, the end goal is to become like Christ. And while we will not fully achieve this goal here on earth, it is also clear from this verse that the reason the world does not understand the Christ-follower is because we are already being transformed. Our standard upon which to make comparisons and base behavior is Christ and His Word to us.
To give an example, I am currently in between jobs now that I have returned to the U.S. from Germany. It is very tempting for me, on the basis of our cultural tendency to view our worth on the basis of what we do, to compare myself to everyone else who does have a job. But I also know that once I do obtain a job, then the temptation will become to base my worth on how much I earn and wish I was being paid just a little bit more. The truth of the matter is that the art of comparison making is easy and comparisons flow freely in our fallen world. But when I begin to rest in the truth that I am a human being, not a human doing and that I am first and foremost a child of God, then the yoke of working becomes easy and the burden of finding a job becomes light.
So if your feeling stuck in life and drowning in a mire of comparisons, then take heart! For ultimately, that girl in my class had it right – we’re not the embassy kids. Thankfully, we’re far better – we’re the beloved children of God. And that makes all the difference.
1 I won’t say that all comparisons are bad. In fact, sometimes comparisons can be good, especially when one compares one’s bad behavior to a general standard or to an idea that is good. For instance, a smoker might compare his addiction to a general idea of what healthy behavior is and realize that smoking doesn’t qualify. In addition, not only can such comparisons be a motivation for halting bad behavior but they can provide incentive for engaging in good behavior. Someone who has grown up in a family setting where neither parents went to college may observe the people around her and decide that going to college is something she desires for herself. In both instances, the comparison is with what that individual desires for him or herself. The comparisons are not unhealthy ones rooted in what others unrealistically and insensitively expect of us or in our envious desires of what others have.