She works full-time and still finds energy to bake cookies for the kindergarten class.
At least I don’t act like her.
Do you wish you could escape from the running commentary in your head?
I used to think that I should be much more concerned about my outward actions than what was bouncing around in my thoughts. After all, who was I hurting if I didn’t voice my judgments out loud?
Like a weak seam, every time I chose to compare myself with someone, a piece of my heart would tear a little more. As the hole widened, it allowed more and more destructive thoughts through. I figured that if I felt guilty enough, I could whip myself into shape.
But it only grew worse.
Timothy Keller, in his book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, says that “the way the normal human ego tries to fill its emptiness and deal with its discomfort is by comparing itself to other people. All the time.”
I couldn’t change my behavior until God led me to the root of the problem: my nature without God.
This nature has a best friend called Pride.
Keller says that “spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God.”
Isn’t that what Adam and Eve ultimately wanted when they said they wanted to be like God? (Genesis 3:4) If they were like God, would they need Him anymore? If we were better than everyone else, would we?
Keller quotes from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, saying that “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next person.”
Better is only better if we become the best. Think of someone really successful–what happens if they don’t maintain their current level of perfection? Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?
For a while, I tried to just ignore my thoughts. That worked about as well as climbing Mt. Everest in a swimsuit.
I needed an identity change. Keller reminds us that “it is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance.”
We can’t do it on our own. But because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, paying the price for our sins, we don’t have to. Romans 8:1 says “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” He has become our righteousness, so when the Father sees us, He sees Jesus’ perfection. Because we are identified with Jesus, the Father’s verdict “You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased” applies to us as well (Matthew 3:17).
Keller explains that the apostle Paul, by calling himself the chief of sinners, acknowledges his sins but does not connect them to himself and his identity. Neither does he connect his accomplishments to this identity.
When our identity is not based on our performance, we can grow in gospel humility.
Keller puts it well when he says that “The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less. . . I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself.”
It’s not about me or them. It is only from this place of security that we can join in the fight for our thoughts. Here are some things that have helped me when unhealthy thoughts come knocking.
1. Remember it is a constant battle.
There have been times when I felt I could never change. Knowing it is a constant battle has helped, especially when I remember the Spirit is on my side, interceding on my behalf (Romans 8:26).
2. Practice the discipline of stopping your thoughts.
This isn’t something we can grit our teeth and do. After we ask for and accept God’s forgiveness, we can say, “I don’t want to go there, God,” knowing He’s the One who can bring true transformation.
3. Ask for God’s vision and perspective.
Sometimes, we can’t see the light at the end of the laundry or our thought patterns. My mentor challenged me to pray, “Jesus, please minister to me” when I feel stuck. Flip through the book of Psalms, and you can find countless cries for help. God always hears.
4. Talk to yourself.
K. Donovan, in her book Growing Through Stress, cited Martyn Lloyd Jones as sharing about the importance of “talking to myself instead of listening to myself talking.” When I let my mind roam free, it is easier to let destructive thoughts in. If I am proactively thinking about God’s promises and truths, it will leave less room for the other thoughts.
And in the mornings when I’m so tired I can’t remember if I’ve showered or not, sometimes I need to listen to others speak the truth to me through online sermons, audio Bibles, and womens’ conference talks. (Click on the bolded words for some links.)
5. Give thanks.
Is there some way I can thank God for the person I find myself thinking about? Maybe I can say a quick prayer for them. Appearances can be deceiving.
Sometimes it also helps to just start telling God everything I’m thankful for.
Timothy Keller’s short book, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness brought so many of these concepts together for me in a clearer way than I’d ever heard before. It takes about an hour to read, and you can find it here.
And if you’d like to share some of these truths with the children in your life, you can check out Max Lucado’s “You are Special” here.
Carolyn Mahaney also wrote an excellent post on comparison entitled, “A Loving Rebuke.”
Only God can change our comparison to blessing. Fight in His strength.