Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Comparison Trap

Lately, I've been letting envy get to me. It's been insidious-- a tightening up of my stomach when I hear one-too-many in a series of perfect blessings in a friend's story, a sour turn in my heart as I hear about a friend's trip that I've dreamed of taking but can't, the wistful sigh, the unspoken fleeting thoughts-- "I wish I had the energy he did. I wish I had the opportunity she has. I wish things worked out that well for me. I wish my family had an amazing support network like hers. I wish God would give me the blessings he's given her. If God would only..."

These feelings are typically just a passing annoyance as I keep my nose to the grindstone and urge myself to remain focused on blooming where God has planted me in life, even if it's not a prime gardening spot. I try not letting the ample blessings of others get to me. But it seems that recently I've had these thoughts lodging in my head and irritating me more, much like a piece of food stuck in a sore tooth, or wood that lodges in a narrow place and clogs up a stream.

Being chronically ill as a young person is not easy. Having multiple problems, involving the well-being of my family, that restrict my life even further is even more difficult. And I know I'm not alone in my sadness when I see people who appear to "have it all," and I wonder, "Will God ever fulfill my dreams? Will he give me the desires of my heart?"

As this feeling of bitterness and dissatisfaction has been growing in me, so has the memory of an online sermon I heard a couple months ago from Erwin Lutzer. He was preaching a sermon series on Job that completely blew me away and said something in the message "God I've Lost Everything" that drove home a problem I've been having with my attitude toward God.

In chapter 2, verse 10, Job says to his wife: "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not adversity?" Why is it that we would only accept one and not the other and recognize that both come from God.

One day when we came home from vacation, I was speaking to my family, and I said, “You know, God was so good to us. We drove so many thousands of miles. We had no flat tires, no car trouble, no accidents.” And just as the words came out of my mouth, it dawned on me – let’s suppose we had had an accident, or a flat tire, or some tragedy – would that now have meant God wasn’t good?

If you have that theory, that God has to always be giving you “good” things (and I put good in here in quotes) in order for him to be good, then the time will come when you will believe that God is evil.

Job said that we accept good from his hand. We must also recognize that there is adversity that comes from his hand, and both of them come from a good God. They come from a hand with nail prints.

And as Christians, we do not superficially evaluate what is good or evil because we know that God has a plan that is much bigger than we are able to see. And sometimes that which is adversity becomes a blessing.

When I reread that, I am humbled by my immaturity and lack of faith in a God so much bigger than I can understand. Peter once asked Jesus what would become of the disciple John, after being given a tough message about his own future. Peter said what I so often do, "Lord, what about him?" Jesus responded to Peter, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me."

I cannot be so bold as to tell God how he should deal with me or with others because he is the awesome Creator. Isaiah points out in 45:9 how prideful it is for me question God's purposes: "Does the clay say to the potter, 'What are you making?'" I can't tell God his business. My job is simply to follow him.

If it is best for me to be shaped by adversity right now, to have him draw out the envy and the anger in my heart so it is no longer concealed, then I should thank him all the more because he has answered my prayer to "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23-24) I may not like the impurities that are rising to the surface in this furnace of trouble, but the fact is, these defects in my character have been in me all along.

Still, I see things I want but can't have. It's in my nature to set my heart on those things and become angry with God, as if he is a father who deprives his child of good things. But that is not God's true character.

"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Matthew 7:9-11

As my Father, God is filtering everything he sends me (adversity included) through his amazing, perfect love for me. What if giving me everything I wanted in this moment would really be giving me a "snake" spiritually speaking? What if God behaving as a supernatural Santa Claus would spoil me, allow my sin to fester, my patience to evaporate, and prevent me from growing in relationship with him? What if it would even block His ultimate purpose for putting me on this earth?

So how do I escape the snare of dissatisfaction and the trap of comparison?

Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 37:4

Am I delighting in the Lord when I constantly compare my life to others and covet what they have? No, in fact I'm breaking the 10th commandment. Delighting myself in the Lord includes praise and thanksgiving, not meditating on my unfulfilled desires.

Dislodging these logs of dissatisfaction in the stream of my soul will be difficult. I will still have the thoughts cross my mind that tempt me to dwell in self-pity. But I now have my plan from scripture to fight back:
1) Accept both good and adversity from God's hand.
2) Trust God that he is the perfect Father and does not hold out on me.
3) Give thanks to God for he is good at all times.
4) Worship God as Creator and Lord of my life.

Intrinsic in all of those is to take my focus off of what God is (or is not) doing for others and to simply follow Him, just as he instructed Peter. Even if I still feel that I continue to receive adversity from God, I must give thanks that he is using it in my life for an even greater purpose than I can understand. I can rely on the fact that he "works for the good of those who love him."

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Beautifully written, as always. I love reading your blog.

It breaks my heart that your life has to be so hard and that you have to face such terrible things. I don't know why God allows it, but I do know that we can trust Him.

Your reward in heaven will be great. One day all of these wrongs will be made right, and your faithfulness will be richly rewarded.