When is the last time you walked into a room full of women and just fully enjoyed everyone?
The talkative and the more reticent?
The natural leader and the sweetheart with the gift of helps?
The carefully coiffed and manicured and the all-natural girl without a speck of makeup?
My natural tendency is to compare, contrast, and to find myself lacking. In a conversation with the natural leader, I feel fluffy and not very bright. Standing beside Nature Girl, I’m overdone, but listening to Mrs. Loquacious, I’m a wall flower.
Comparison is a no-win game, and it’s a habit most of us take for granted. It’s the way we measure our worth in the world, our contribution to the Body of Christ, and even our role as wives and mums in our families. If, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of contentment,” the Apostle Paul must have wrestled comparison to the ground on his way to writing his letter to the Philippians:
… I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Philippians 4:11)
Richella Parham realized one day that she was deep into the comparison game, and had taken on an impossible opponent: “the mythical composite woman.” (3) Focused on the best features of everyone she knew, she came up short every single time because she was holding herself to an impossible standard. Her imagination had created a “situation” in which it was impossible to be content because she was always striving to measure up on every front.
Mythical Me: Finding Freedom from Constant Comparison is the record of Richella’s journey away from the distorted vision comparison fosters. In recognizing the problem, she was challenged to acknowledge truth about God that corrected her vision and to find the path of self-acceptance, well-lit by the love of God and well-watered by his grace. Of course this did not happen overnight…
6 Habits of Daily Living
Drawing on the rich resources of classic works on spiritual formation by the “Giants” including Richard Foster, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Henri Nouwen, doing the hard work of excavating painful memories in the presence of praying friends, and making peace with her own particular God-given set of physical, intellectual, and spiritual equipment, Parham found that changing her mind would involve changing her habits. Thomas á Kempis taught that “habit overcomes habit,” and so she set out to address the underlying insecurity that kept her in the loop of comparison by redesigning the habits of her daily living in ways that are straightforward and yet profoundly helpful:
- The habit of regular rest: This included a routine bedtime set, by faith, with full assurance that God was able to run the universe without her input for a few hours. A cheap alarm clock on the nightstand is a much wiser choice than a phone.
- The habit of handing the day over to God: Richella starts the day with the Lord’s prayer. Instead of looking in the mirror and coming up short in her own estimation every single day, she is cultivating the habit of acknowledging God’s power and glory, his Fatherhood, his nearness, and his acceptance.
- The habit of an open Bible: When words fail us, God has provided a book of 150 glorious poems to express whatever emotion we bring to the breakfast table. Reading a psalm and praying its truth reinforces God’s presence and his goodness. He is able to enter fully into my day with me.
- The habit of pausing and pacing: Trying to make it through a long day on the remnants of truth remembered from a mindful morning is risky. A pause for prayer, a few minutes of contemplation on the way to the mailbox, or a whispered thank you to God for the beauty of a road side view on the commute home from work are all little boosts to the understanding that every single day, we stand on holy ground.
- The habit of “help me” prayers: When Paul exhorted his readers to “pray without ceasing,” he may have been thinking about the expulsive power of prayer over temptation. Even a short “breath prayer” has often re-calibrated my own thinking away from sinful patterns, and if comparison is a product of envy, Richella recommends sincerely praying for the person you envy: “Lord, please continue to bless [name] and help them use your gifts well.
- The habit of fellowship: As we engage with other believers, our mythical composite person is shattered by the reality of other Christians with genuine struggles that, incredibly, look very similar to our own.
Struggling to present herself to the world as incomparable did not provide the solution Richella Parham sought for shattering harmful and demoralizing comparisons. The reality that only God is truly incomparable freed her to embrace her connectedness within his family and to put aside the habit of comparison. You and I, too, can embrace the better habit of resting in God’s love while delighting in the glorious comparability of all that he has made.
Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.
And if you are ready to shatter YOUR habit of comparison, maybe winning a copy of Richella’s book will get you off on the right foot? Simply leave a comment here on the blog or, if you’d rather, over on my social media posts related to this book. (U.S. readers only, please) I’ll put all the names in a bright orange hunting hat, and one of the adorable grandchildren will choose a winner. You’ve got until 12:00 a.m., Sunday, October 27th to enter!
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
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