Comparison can make you feel like a loser. Shannon Popkin found a way to set herself free, embrace a life of service and pursue kingdom greatness. If you’re tired of comparison bringing you down and holding you back from what God has for you, read through to the end for Shannon’s secret steps to escape the comparison trap.
If you missed the recent episode of Your Hope-Filled Perspective podcast where I chatted with Shannon Popkin, about comparison, you can listen to that episode here: How Do I Stop Comparing Myself to Others and Learn to Live Me-Free? – Episode 233.
Why Comparison Makes You Feel Like a Loser and the Way to Set Yourself Free
By: Shannon Popkin
My son turned twenty during the pandemic. Restaurants weren’t open, so I called the morning of his birthday to share my plan to drop off a nice dinner for his housemates and him. But he said, “Oh, that’s okay mom. My friends are already making me dinner. And Mamaw is bringing us a cake!” (That’s my mom.)
Well, bummer. I immediately started feeling like a loser mom. My son is pretty independent as it is, and because of quarantine I couldn’t be with him on his twentieth birthday. And now I couldn’t even bless him in the way I planned. I started feeling really badly. But then I had a thought.
Comparison: the root of insecurity
In a house full of young adults, could there ever be too much food? I texted my son and asked, “How about if I send the afternoon appetizers?” He said sure, so I got to work. I got out recipes, made a list, went to two grocery stores, and got to work. But the prep took way longer than I thought.
The bacon wrapped water chestnuts were taking too long to bake. Then the melted peanut butter and butterscotch chips started burning on the stove while I was cutting up red peppers for the taco dip. This was a disaster. I was a disaster! There was no way I was getting this done by the time I promised my son.
Right in the middle of my cooking chaos, my mom called to say she was headed out to bring the cake. Did I want to send my food with her? I felt a surge of panic and I wanted to cry. No, my burnt appetizers probably wouldn’t be ready until after desert had been served. I truly was a loser mom.
I got off the phone, and right there in the middle of my mess (after taking the burning butterscotch off the stove) I stopped and prayed. I said, “Lord, I feel just awful about this. I’m so sorry I…” But then I stopped. I couldn’t think of which sin to confess.
I had been pushing hard all afternoon, trying as hard as I could to create something special for my son and his friends. That’s when I realized that there wasn’t really any sin. There were only icky feelings rooted in comparison. When my cooking plans went sideways, I had begun measuring myself against other moms, and then against my mom, and feeling insecure. My friends would have pulled off something better for their kids on their birthdays. And my mom would never have burned this food. I’m such a failure.
Notice the progression. Comparison begins with glancing sideways at others, but its focus always boomerangs back to myself. How have I performed? How do I measure up? How can I salvage this and come out on top? At the heart of measure-up comparison is self-focus. But Jesus invites us to simply serve.
It’s interesting that whenever people in the Bible started comparing, Jesus turned the conversation to the kingdom. “The first will be last,” he’d say. Or, “The greatest is the servant.” Jesus recognized that in the world, things stack up in a particular way. The ones who outdo and outshine the others are celebrated, and the ones who are outdone and overshadowed shrink back in shame. But in the kingdom, things are different, and Jesus wants us to know it.
Suppose you and I are playing Uno and you notice I’m trying to fill my hand with as many cards as possible. A kind friend would say, “Hey, Shannon. Do you know the goal of Uno is to have less cards, not more?” Similarly, Jesus is showing us that in the kingdom, the great ones aren’t necessarily those who have more. The great ones are those who pour out what they have—like Jesus did.
Your Measuring Cup: A New Perspective
Picture your life as a measuring cup. All of your gifts, aptitudes, and resources are mingled together in the cup. This measure-up world tells you to take that cup and put it next to someone else’s, focus on the red lines on the side, and ask, “How do I measure up?” But behind all of this measuring is an evil ruler who wants to destroy you. Here’s a verse that makes me draw that conclusion:
“But if you have bitter jealousy or selfish ambition in your hearts…. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (James 3:14-15, emphasis mine).
Jealousy is when I don’t like that you have more in your cup than I have in mine. Selfish ambition is when I’m out to fill my own cup with more than you have in yours. And both of these are rooted in the wisdom of this world, touted by the devil, and meant to not only destroy my life but distract me from Jesus’s good purpose for the contents of my cup. He didn’t fill my measuring cup so that I could prove I measure up, or feel ashamed because I don’t. Instead, Jesus points to the spout on my measuring cup and says, “You were meant to serve.”
That’s what I had started out the day focused on. I wanted to serve my son and his friends. But then I got sidetracked with comparison. Why can’t I be the cool mom who makes good food and gets places on time? My mom doesn’t burn things. My friends don’t disappoint their kids on their birthdays. Other people don’t run two hours late.
The power of a simple prayer
“Lord, help me just focus on serving,” I prayed. “Help me do the best I can and leave the results in your hands.” There in my kitchen, this prayer set me free. I felt myself calm and my enthusiasm returned. I salvaged the butterscotch chips on top, got the bacon-wrapped water chestnuts out of the oven, decorated a huge box of food, which—after dessert—my son and his friends devoured.
Friend, comparison will always bring you down and hold you back from all of the amazing things God intended you to do with your day and your life. But when you tip your measuring cup, and get serving, the lines on your measuring cup are irrelevant. Servants aren’t trying to win awards or the spotlight. If something goes poorly, a servant just gives her best, and keeps on serving.
Do you want to be free of a measure-up mindset? Do you want to pursue a life of kingdom greatness? Simply stop—there in the middle of your mess—and pray, “Lord, help me just focus on serving.” Then tip your measuring cup and pour.
What have you found helpful to stop comparing yourself to others? We’d love to hear in the comments below.
About Shannon Popkin:
From the platform, page, and podcast mic, Shannon Popkin invites women to drink deeply of God’s story, and live like it’s true. Shannon’s books include Comparison Girl, and Control Girl, and she hosts the “Live Like It’s True” podcast. Shannon has been featured on FamilyLife Today, Revive Our Hearts, and Proverbs 31.
Shannon is happy to be sharing life with Ken, who makes her laugh every day. Together, they have the joy of watching their three young-adult kids become the amazing people God created them to be.