By Terri Fullerton
A few years ago my husband and I drove to a nearby state park in our new community in West Texas. Our souls were thirsty for beauty and fresh air, and we anticipated a day of exploring and hiking around a lake. I envisioned a pristine source of water.
When we arrived at the parking area, the scenery jolted us. Are we in the wrong place? The intense drought had evaporated all the water—every drop—and left a crater of burnt-sienna dirt. I scanned the panorama of parched land and prickly dead plants in disbelief.
What we envision in our minds doesn’t always pan out in reality.
We walked halfway around the lake, void of water, and then decided to cut across a dry expanse. The drought-ridden terrain bore cracks that deepened and widened as we got farther from the shoreline. The crevices slowed our pace because we were forced to focus on footing to avoid twisting an ankle. Our shortcut became long and tedious, and the vast emptiness was void of not just water, but of any life.
We were in a desert season, and comparison ensued. I thought about what wasn’t there. As I recalled the lakes and rolling hills in New York, an ache bubbled up. I missed the geography and seasons I’d known until I left home. I longed for the hills, apple orchards, and vineyards of the Finger Lakes region.
I whispered aloud to God, Why do we live in this god-forsaken place?
I realized later that when comparison creeps in, grumbling often follows, especially in a desert season. Dissatisfaction takes root. If we fail to recognize the red flag of comparing marriages, finances, health, gifts, or ministry, we’re a step away from the slippery slope of unholy discontent. Contrasting our situation with another’s is like opening a door to insecurity, jealousy, envy, and bitterness.
Our brains are wired for weighing one thing against another. We are taught to compare and contrast as a critical-thinking skill. It’s how we learn the concepts of measurements, values, opposites, similes, hues of color, and pitches in music. How do we find the balance? What’s the answer to avoid becoming ensnared in the comparison trap? Telling myself I shouldn’t compare doesn’t help me. It just makes me feel worse.
As I struggled through this issue, I wondered if our answer is found in looking at what went awry en route to the promised land. The Israelites walked on the Red Sea road following a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. They sang praise songs to God for their release from the harsh bondage in Egypt. They thanked him for the miraculous way he saved them.
God provided manna for them, but their focus went from gratitude to comparing their current circumstances to the days of yore in Egypt. They missed the food they had before the Whole40Manna Diet. Their comparison and discontent distracted them from focusing on God. They not only forgot about how harsh their bondage had been but about God’s provision and promises.
God was not punishing the Israelites, as many of them believed. He was preparing them for the promised land. He was using the desert as a training ground, trying to teach them dependence on him. He longed for their trust so they could conquer the enemies in Canaan.
An entire generation lost their focus and fell in the desert, never making it out. Appetites and a lack of trust distracted them from God’s purposes. Comparison led them to envy. Their habitual mumbling spread like wildfire and spiraled to jealousy, hate, and unbelief.
Let’s not lose our footing in a desert season. We have God-given discernment to recognize when we compare our lives in a way that leads to discontent.
Ask the Lord to help you see the red flags of comparison in your life. When he does, pour out your heart to the only One who can take you through your desert season. He will carry you.
Terri Fullerton is a wife, empty-nest mom, and mentor who loves stories of redemption and things that are funny. She is currently working on her first book. Terri longs to encourage others to find hope and freedom through her writing about faith, family, hiking, and mental health at Conversations at the Table.
Photograph © Brad Helmink, used with permission