Why is Comparison the Thief of Joy? by Richella Parham
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.”
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.”
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 todevelop 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.