I don’t know how many times that phrase came out of my sister’s or my mouth growing up. I was always much less concerned with how my parents treated me and always much too concerned with how they were treating her. To this day my mother ensures that the amount of money spent on Christmas and birthday gifts is exactly the same so it must have been a fair amount!
I was recently welcomed into a Bible study group, and besides building relationship with these fabulous folks, I’ve been completely convicted in all the right (and honestly annoying – because growth is always annoying) ways. The group is working through a study by Jeff Manion, lead pastor at Ada Bible Church in Ada, Michigan (a church I used to attend and still has a special place in my heart), and the study is called, “Satisfy.” Last week was on comparison, and OH. MY. WORD!
Jeff opened my eyes to see an old, familiar parable in a whole new way. In Matthew 20, Jesus tells the story of a landowner who goes to town to hire workers for his vineyard. At 6:00 AM he hires a group of workers and they agree on the standard wage, one denarius. At 9:00, he goes to town and hires more workers. He does this again at noon, at 3:00, and finally, at 5:00, which was one measly hour before quitting time. Now the landowner lines the workers up to receive their paychecks, and begins with those he hired last. To everyone’s surprise, those that worked only one hour received a full denarius! Now think about it, the guys at the back of the line who were hired first must have been elated.
They had worked the whole live long day. They were sore, sweaty, and exhausted. Scripture says the “bore the heat of the day.” I picture this work must have been something akin to detassling corn – wet from a mixture of dew and sweat, itchy, dirty, and too tired to even move! Surely they were in for a big pay day! The guys who only worked an hour received a whole denarius so just imagine what they’d be receiving!
Except, when it was their turn to be paid, the landowner handed them a danarius, exactly what had been agreed upon 12 hours earlier. Elation quickly shifted to indignation. The landowner, who represents God, reminds them that they were paid exactly what was owned them, exactly what was agreed upon and that he may do with his money whatever he pleases. The landowner finishes by saying, “Are you envious because I am generous?”
Jeff points out that the guys who had worked all day were not angry because they had received too little, but because the guys hired last had received too much. Jeff uses a modern day example to illustrate, one I certainly could relate to – ice cream! My family growing up loved to indulge in a bowl of ice cream as an evening snack. (I know not healthy, let it go.) When someone scoops us a bowl of ice cream, there is complete joy and satisfaction! Especially when it is our favorite kind.
But then we look at the person who came for ice cream just after us and their bowl looks better. They got more ice cream, more sprinkles, more whipped cream. And there it comes, that old familiar and sinking feeling. It’s. Not. Fair!
We are completely happy with the ice cream we received until we look in someone else’s bowl. Looking at what someone else receive immediately blinds us to the blessings that we have received. Jeff says, “Comparison is the enemy of a satisfied, generous life.” How true! And in this Facebook world we live in, comparison is easier than ever before.
I remember the panic I felt before my thirtieth birthday. I didn’t think twice about turning thirty until I started looking around at my peers. They all seemed to have accomplished so much, and I felt like I had accomplished so little. After eight years of full time employment, my friends at worked their way up in their career of choice or at least were seasoned veterans. Due to six long years of graduate school, I had been officially employed for only two years and was anything but experienced! The vast majority of my friends were married and most had a child or two (or four – go big or go elsewhere around here). I was definitely single (still am but I’ve got friends who are always willing to screen potential husbands. Just sayin’). And I couldn’t fathom children (still can’t). My friends all had mortgages. They owned their own homes! I was renting a bedroom, not an apartment, a bedroom in a house. They drove grown up cars. I still drove my Ford Mustang convertible. (Ok that one didn’t bother me. I LOVED that car!)
The point is, looking at what everyone else had in life prevented me from realizing what was happening in my own. I was blind to the amazing education God had blessed me with, the freedom that comes with renting and not having to care for a family, and the ability to enter into a rewarding career with new colleagues that in time became family. I am richly blessed! But to see it I need to keep my eyes on my own “bowl.”
Comparison is always a losing proposition for there will always be someone with bigger, better, and newer. Comparison steals satisfaction and robs joy. But our God is a generous God and free to bless who He wants in anyway that He wants. Counting my own blessings allows me to be grateful and content. So, when have you fell victim to the comparison game? When you look in your own “bowl” what blessings do you find there?