I stood in the corner, watching the women around me laugh like old friends, and hoping that I wouldn’t make a fool of myself. Not all women’s ministry gatherings were this hard, but I was a new seminary student and these women were student wives. Soon-to-be pastor’s wives. They seemed godly, poised, and were preparing for important ministry roles. I was awkward, nervous, and still figuring things out. The women that day were welcoming, but no matter how friendly they were, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t belong.
It was an awful feeling, but it wasn’t a matter of kindness, it was a matter of comparison.
You see, when I walked into that room, I compared myself to all the other women and determined that I was lacking. I wasn’t outgoing, pretty, or holy enough to be a part of that group. I decided they couldn’t possibly like me, and it hurt.
Comparison does that. It’s messy and painful and leaves a wake of destruction in its path. Unfortunately, it’s also extremely common.
The Crush of Comparison
When we compare ourselves to the people around us, we’re evaluating and ranking them to decide where we, and they, stand in relation to everyone else. We compare our marriages, parenting, or our careers. Anything we do becomes fair game when we compare ourselves and, in the process, someone always gets hurt. Sometimes we hurt others because comparison causes us to judge them harshly. Other times, however, we get hurt because we decide we’re not enough. Every time, community is destroyed.
There are lots of different reasons we compare ourselves, but for many of us, the cause is rooted in our purpose. When we don’t understand who God created us to be, we fall back on ideas that we have created ourselves. We watch other people around us, take in messages from books and talks, even observe the women in the Bible, and create our own picture of what a godly woman looks like. We start to focus on what we think we’re supposed to do, ways we’re supposed to contribute, rather than focusing on who God is. We invent standards and then hold ourselves and others up to that; we compare, and the result is wounded hearts, broken relationships, and destroyed community.
Comparison is crushing but there is hope!
The Image of God
Genesis 1:26 says, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Here, God is declaring both what he’s about to do and why he’s going to do it: create humanity to place his image on the earth. Being made in God’s image is the heart of our purpose. It’s why we’re here! But to understand how that makes a difference in the struggle of comparison, we must understand what it means.
The word “image” in the Hebrew means “something cut off” as in a statue, or something carved to resemble another thing. In the Bible it is used to refer to a physical object crafted to look like something else. “After our likeness” is an explanatory phrase that takes the idea of likeness and expands it. Essentially, God made us to be like him in a multitude of ways: physically, spiritually, relationally, etc. In any way we are like God, we bear his image. To be made in the image of God means that we were created to reflect the character and nature of God to the world. It also means we were created with dignity, worth, and value.
There’s another word, however, that we need to look at too. It’s the word “man.” It’s the generic term that means man or woman and it’s important because is showing us that God placed his image on individuals. Something amazing happens when we gather with others (Matt. 18:20), but what we need to see here is that every person, everywhere is made in the image of God and bears it fully and uniquely. It means that we, as individuals, are necessary and important to the body of Christ and the world.
It’s true that sin damaged the image we bear, but it’s also true that those who are in Christ are being sanctified, restored into the likeness of our creator. We are each unique, valuable members of the body of Christ, displaying the image of God in a multitude of ways.
Being made in God’s image means we don’t need to look like the women around us, we don’t need to compare ourselves because we are all different and that’s good! All of us matter to the body of Christ. God beckons us away from comparison, away from the confusion that exists when we don’t know who we were created to be, and calls us to see others the way he does; as unique, amazing, bearers of his image.
Our purpose is not found in what we do or if we measure up to the people around us; it is found in God alone. When we see others as image bearers, we can love them well, serve them humbly, and join in the type of community we were designed for. We can be free from the crush of comparison. Praise God for that!
About the Author:
Elizabeth Garn is a writer, speaker, wife, mom, and geek. When she’s not picking Legos off the family room floor, she’s writing about everyday theology and talking about what it means to be made in the image of God. She is the author of Freedom to Flourish: The Rest God Offers in the Purpose He Gives You, writes for ChristandPopCulture.com, The Gospel Coalition, and blogs at www.ElizabethGarn.com. You can follow her on twitter @GarnElizabeth.