Friday, May 2, 2014

Comparative Living

     We live in a culture that feeds on dissatisfaction.  Most advertising is designed to make you want something you don’t have.  How can you ever be happy if you don’t have the latest phone, the most powerful vacuum cleaner, the freest-flowing gutters, the tastiest gum, the best wrinkle-reducing cream, or the most reliable/ fastest/ safest/ (insert your own favorite adjective here) car?  What does it say about us when we frequently use the term “fever” to describe our longings—“new car fever,” “new house fever,” etc.
     The root of our dissatisfaction is often comparative living.  Far too many people cannot be happy at the thought of someone having, enjoying, or being something they are not.  But living comparatively creates discontentmentdiscontentment with your lifestyle, discontentment with yourself, and discontentment with your spouse.  That discontentment then becomes a constant source of conflict within the marriage.  Communication suffers as one or both partners talk endlessly about their dissatisfaction.  Conflicts center around the “missing” thing, and whose fault it is that they’re not achieving it.  Time and money (the biggest indicators of a couple’s priorities) begin to flow toward the obsession and away from things that really matter.  Eventually, comparative living distracts a couple from pursuing a long-term, selfless, holiness in their relationship, as they chase a short-lived, self-centered, happiness.
     At its lowest level, comparative living moves from the pursuit of stuff and bleeds into the personal relationship.  A husband decides what he should be attracted to based on a woman other than his wife.  A wife defines her husband's worth based on how he compares to her friends' husbands. Then, couples begin find fault with one another, breeding tension and animosity as they pick each other apart.  “Why doesn’t she have a body like that woman?”  “Why can’t he provide for our family like that guy does for his?”  “I wish my wife would listen to me like my secretary does.”  “Why can’t my husband appreciate what I do as much as my co-worker does?”  Whether vocalized or internalized, comparative living will destroy intimacy and drive a wedge between spouses.
     When we begin chasing “bigger” and/or “better” it is easy to lose sight of what is really important.  Our selfish natures can take over as we pursue whatever is tempting us at the moment.    And the saddest part is, comparative living is an endlessly frustrating pursuit, because there will always be something else you will desire more.  On a personal level, comparative living causes a person to settle for being “better” than someone else, rather than being who God created him/her to be.  As a couple, comparative living provides and endless parade of “something else” that will take your focus off of bettering your own marriage.
     Don't misunderstand what I'm saying.  Money is not evil.  If you bought a new car it doesn't mean you're going to hell.  Seeking a different or better job doesn't mean your marriage will crumble.  Wanting to live in a different neighborhood doesn't mean you love a status level more than you love your family.  And we do need to try and improve ourselves for our own sake and the sake of our marriages and families.  But just be aware of your real motivations and priorities.  In our greedy, restless culture, we have become masters of rationalization and justification.  “I’m only working overtime for the good of my family.”  “I want to look this way to make my husband happier.”  “When I buy this it will bring us closer together as a family.”  We know that if we can just find a reason that sounds right enough, sounds selfless enough, then we can chase after whatever we want.
     Comparative living can kill a marriage.  Rather than looking at what everyone else has, thank God for the blessings you have, look for what truly needs to be at the center for your own marriage, and focus on how you can give for the good of your marriage rather than how you can get more for yourself.  The Word of God is forever true when it tells a couple to “seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness,” and then all the other things will take care of themselves. (Matthew 6:33)

Image credit: <a href=''>andresr / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

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