My husband and I didn’t plant any flowers in our backyard this year. But God did.
In previous years we’ve packed about a dozen clay pots with beautiful blooms and fragrant herbs. We’ve scattered them around our patio, against the backdrop of our Arizona rock yard, and enjoyed the bundles of blossoms and the vibrant splashes of green.
But this summer we knew we’d be out of town too often to water the flowers as needed before the monsoon rains arrived. Besides, I was spending five weeks of my summer in Georgia, where my parents’ lush backyard would amply satisfy my need for color and fragrance.
It was while I was at my parents’ home that my husband informed me that, when the rains had come, some flowers had voluntarily popped up where we had not planted any. I pictured in my mind the volunteer vinca and marigolds, growing lonely and small in the large clay pots .
But when I arrived home last week I found that there were no tiny nosegays of volunteers in my pots after all. Instead, God had planted a bounty of soft, white flowers among the rocks. Not a single flower blossoms in the pots where I would have planted them. Instead they are growing outside the pots, bold and beautiful and brave from the rocky ground which has never been tilled or fertilized for growth.
Funny thing. When I first saw the voluntary blossoms surrounding my pots, I thought to myself, “They’re not doing it right.” I kid you not; that’s what I thought.
The lovely little garden growing against the grain and the grit reminded me of how I often feel when I compare myself to other people. It’s not that I’m all that unusual or unique, mind you. But even in the most mundane tasks and the most common activities I often feel that I’m somehow not “doing it right”…if I try to measure my ways by another. Can you relate?
When we compare ourselves to others, we eventually gather that we are somehow not “doing it right.”
A couple of years ago, for instance, I took up knitting. My goal wasn’t so much to produce complicated garments. I just wanted something constructive to do with my hands while I watch football or movies with my husband. So I began knitting scarves. Simple, straightforward scarves. They were chunky and colorful. I liked that I could cover my mistakes easily and finish them fairly quickly. I knitted a lot of scarves. And it was bliss.
Until I got on Pinterest.
There I saw other knitters producing much more complicated, delicate and exquisite items. They weren’t satisfied with knitting scarves while their husbands yelled at the television. They followed patterns and wove together several different shades of yarn.
Before I created my knitting board on Pinterest I had a fun hobby that fit me to a T. But once I started pinning other people’s knitted perfections to my board I decided I wasn’t “doing it right.”
For the next year or so the scarf I had decided to keep for myself, after giving so many away, sat half-finished, still attached to the circular needles.
The Comparison Trap
As we’ve discussed before, comparison is a trap…every time. Comparing myself to others distracts me from concentrating on my own calling, and it creates an atmosphere of competition where I’d much rather have companionship. Another very real danger in comparison is that it saturates me in feelings of inadequacy and failure. With my eyes on others as my standard I soon gather that I’m not “doing it right.” The truth is, I’m not doing it the same way others are. But the feeling is that I’m not measuring up.
I’ve learned that the best remedy for this malady is to celebrate my uniqueness rather than second-guessing it. Just like God planted those volunteer flowers among the rocks of my yard rather than in the pots I traditionally use, He has planted within you and me unique personality traits, gifts and passions. Psalm 139:13-16 reminds me that God intentionally and creatively formed me, wove me together and wrought me! He means for me to be unique, different from anyone else. And He celebrates my uniqueness and says I am “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Has looking around at how others do things caused you to feel that you don’t quite measure up? Whether it’s your parenting style, your fashion sense, your home decor, your mode of ministry or your unusual laughter, your uniqueness is what makes you beautiful. Sure, we all need to be growing in Christ-likeness. But God desires to transform us, not conform us. He has not cut us all from the same mold, and He is not trying to fashion us into one either. While He is making all things new in your life, He is still celebrating your uniqueness. When you join His celebration you also worship Him as creator and Lord. When you shrink back with the belief that you’re one big mistake, you insinuate that He has made one, too.
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (Romans 12:1-2, The Message)
Just as God did some unique things in my rock yard this summer, He is working in unique ways in your life. Comparison leads to stifling conformity, but keeping your focus on God leads to beautiful transformation. Today, I encourage you to celebrate God’s unique design for your life rather than comparing it to others. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go find those knitting needles!
Father, I sometimes have trouble accepting my uniqueness, much less celebrating it. I tend to want to conform to the ways of others rather than be the odd ball you’ve created me to be. Help me to live bravely in the skin you’ve given me instead of trying to fill someone else’s shoes. And help me to bloom beautifully in the one-of-a-kind life you’ve given me. Today I will choose to celebrate my unique gifts, personality, style and ways…because You have made me fearfully and wonderfully!
This is my final tip for breaking out of the comparison trap, but if you have other ideas for escaping this nasty habit I’d love to hear from you. I’d also like to recommend a simple little book on this topic by Sandra Stanley called Comparison Trap: Choosing Contentment in an Age of Awareness. It’s really a 28-day devotional guide, and I enjoyed going through it a while back and you might, too.