Have you ever looked at a person and thought, “Hey, that could be me could be me in a different life”? You know, someone about the same age, same personality type, same background who’s living a different life because of circumstances or choices that impacted the path her life took? I know I do.
Every morning, on my walk to school, I walk past Me In An Alternate Timestream (I know, I watch too much Doctor Who). She’s about my age and height, wears awesome jackets, and has similar glasses. Judging by her kids’ ages, we’ve probably both been married around the same length of time. Like me, she’s super outgoing: we smile, wave, and say hello every morning around 7:38. But she’s going in the opposite direction. She’s walking her two bubbly, adorable little blond kids, ages approximately 7 and 5, to the elementary school down the street. I’m walking to work at a high school, teaching English to 126 rambunctious high school students.
I can’t help but compare myself to her. If Tim and I had been able to have kids, as we were planning, my life would look a whole lot like Alternate Me’s life–packing lunches, walking the kids to school, helping with homework, attending soccer games, planning birthday parties. It’s a weird thought, like when you look into one of those bendy mirrors that distorts your reflection and for a minute you can’t quite remember what you look like.
But the truth is that there are no parallel lives. There’s no ‘Me in an Alternate Timestream.’ There’s a sovereign God who created all things, who’s powerful and good and loving. He placed me on this path, and it’s beautiful even in its dark and painful moments. When I focus on God’s character and contemplate His past faithfulness to me, I’m not as curious about what my life would have been like under different circumstances. I tend to say “thank you” instead of asking “what if?”
What begins as innocuous curiosity quickly deteriorates into either covetousness (if we’re unhappy with our lives) or schadenfreude (if we think we’ve got it better than someone else). Proverbs 4:27 tells us not to turn to the right or to the left, but to keep our eyes focused straight ahead on the path before us. We’re all prone to playing the comparison game, especially with those who live lives roughly parallel to our own. Is she happier or unhappier than me? Is she more or less attractive than I am? Wealthier or poorer? Smarter or dumber? More educated or less? More stylish or less? More spiritual or less?
Sometimes we look around and feel good about ourselves because we perceive that we’re somehow better off than those around us, which inflates our ego. Other times, we look around and feel like we don’t measure up, which shreds our confidence. The solution to both problems is the gospel: realizing that we are more sinful, evil, and weak than we could ever imagine, but because of Jesus, we are more valued, accepted, and loved than we ever dared to hope. That’s a truth that can set us free from the pitfalls of comparison and enable to walk with peace and confidence that path that God has set before us.