Excerpt from Mythical Me

It’s often said that com­par­i­son is the thief of joy,” but why is that true?

The act of com­par­i­son takes our eyes off God and places them on our­selves and the peo­ple we’re com­par­ing our­selves to. When we most need to see and under­stand the love of God, to begin to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Eph­esians 3:18), we look away from him. Just when keep­ing our eyes fixed on God would reveal his good­ness and mer­cy, we focus else­where. And that lack of focus on God is dev­as­tat­ing, because joy comes from God. 

Dal­las Willard writes, A joy­ous God fills the uni­verse. Joy is the ulti­mate word describ­ing God and his world. Cre­ation was an act of joy, of delight in the good­ness of what was done. It is pre­cise­ly because God is like this, and because we can know that he is like this, that a life of full con­tent­ment is pos­si­ble.”1

Sure­ly joy is one of the gifts that God wants to give us. In fact, joy is list­ed in Gala­tians 5:22 as a fruit of the Holy Spir­it. Along with love, peace, patience, kind­ness, good­ness, faith­ful­ness, gen­tle­ness, and self-con­trol, joy is meant to be a hall­mark of life in step with the Spir­it of God. Eugene Peter­son writes that joy is what comes to us when we are walk­ing in the way of faith and obe­di­ence.”2 But when we’re com­par­ing our­selves with oth­ers, our gaze shifts from God to our­selves and the objects of our com­par­i­son, less­en­ing the joy of con­nec­tion to God. 

In addi­tion to dis­tract­ing us from the good­ness of the love of God, com­par­i­son sep­a­rates us from oth­er peo­ple. Com­par­i­son places us on one side of the scale and anoth­er per­son on the oppo­site side. By its very nature, com­par­i­son sep­a­rates us from oth­er peo­ple rather than con­nect­ing us to them. We need the fel­low­ship of oth­er peo­ple, but we break that fel­low­ship with com­par­i­son. Com­par­i­son is an act of sep­a­ra­tion, not rela­tion­ship build­ing. Just when we need to feel the embrace of oth­er peo­ple, we set our­selves apart from or even against one another. 

Com­par­ing our­selves to oth­er peo­ple steals our joy because it dis­rupts the vital con­nec­tions — the sources of joy — in our lives. 

Human beings were cre­at­ed in the image of God who is an eter­nal, oth­er-cen­tered rela­tion­ship of love — one God in three per­sons. God is social, not soli­tary; rela­tion­ship is part of God’s nature. Father, Son, and Holy Spir­it have always exist­ed in lov­ing rela­tion­ship. Human beings, God’s image bear­ers, were nev­er meant to be alone. 

We were cre­at­ed for rela­tion­ship because we were cre­at­ed by relationship. 

Rela­tion­ship is good. It is what the Trin­i­ty has always enjoyed, and it is piv­otal to God’s design for cre­ation. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spir­it, a beau­ti­ful com­mu­ni­ty of love, was intent on shar­ing the joy and good­ness of that com­mu­ni­ty with those cre­at­ed in God’s image. Dal­las Willard says it best: The aim of God in his­to­ry is the cre­ation of an all-inclu­sive com­mu­ni­ty of lov­ing per­sons with God him­self at the very cen­ter of this com­mu­ni­ty as its prime Sus­tain­er and most glo­ri­ous Inhab­i­tant. The Bible traces the for­ma­tion of this com­mu­ni­ty from the Cre­ation in the Gar­den of Eden all the way to the new heav­en and the new earth.”3

The love required for us to be a part of this com­mu­ni­ty is the love of God, which allows us to get to know one anoth­er, to learn each other’s sto­ries. When we learn that we all face chal­lenges and dif­fi­cul­ties, we are able to devel­op the kind of empa­thy that makes us want to help one anoth­er. We can build com­mu­ni­ty as we work togeth­er and rely on one anoth­er. If we’re will­ing to fol­low the lead of the Holy Spir­it, we are enabled to freely exer­cise the gifts we’ve been giv­en. We can each play our own cru­cial part with a light heart, under­stand­ing that we all need one another. 

Loved, accept­ed, and empow­ered by God, we can love and accept one anoth­er. Caught up in the trini­tar­i­an cir­cle of life, we are enabled to live in rela­tion­ships of mutu­al sub­mis­sion, mutu­al love, and mutu­al blessing. 

Blessed by God, we are able to bless one another. 

Instead of act­ing as if we were cre­at­ed to be in iso­la­tion rather than in rela­tion­ship, we can delight in the fact that we were each designed by God to work with oth­ers, to be just one piece of an immense, beau­ti­ful puz­zle. We have no need to define our­selves by how we stack up against oth­er peo­ple; we can define our­selves as God’s beloved children. 

The life of the Trin­i­ty — a life of love, fel­low­ship, and mutu­al delight — is avail­able to us. Cre­at­ed by the Father, Son, and Holy Spir­it, made in his image, we can rejoice in our rela­tion­ships with God and one anoth­er. Redeemed and empow­ered by God, we can be con­fi­dent in our indi­vid­ual gifts and call­ings instead of clam­or­ing for what oth­ers have. And cer­tain of God’s love and bless­ing for all of us, we can live in grow­ing assur­ance that there is no defi­cien­cy in God’s design. 

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[1] Dal­las Willard, Life With­out Lack: Liv­ing in the Full­ness of Psalm 23 (Nashville: Thomas Nel­son, 2018), 10.

[2] Eugene H. Peter­son, A Long Obe­di­ence in the Same Direc­tion: Dis­ci­ple­ship in an Instant Soci­ety, 2nd ed. (Down­ers Grove, IL: Inter­Var­si­ty Press, 2000), 96.

[3] Dal­las Willard, The With-God Life,” in The Ren­o­varé Life with God Bible (San Fran­cis­co: Harper­San­Fran­cis­co, 2005), 1.

Tak­en from Myth­i­cal Me by Richel­la Parham. Copy­right © 2019 by Richel­la Parham. Pub­lished by Inter­Var­si­ty Press, Down­ers Grove, IL. www​.ivpress​.com

Originally published October 2019