IN VAST COMPANY. I used to think I was the only one who did a lot of comparing. But I now know that I am in the company of a humanity that seems to be incessantly measuring, sizing up, looking over, checking back, establishing pecking orders and then challenging them. Comparing can, no doubt, inflate one’s sense of self importance, as long as one appears to be doing well in the tallies that one thinks matter in life. Likewise, comparing can make one feel quite small and out of step with others.
NOT GOOD ENOUGH. If we live by comparing, somebody else will always seem to do things better, bigger, faster, more finely, more beautifully, and more easily. We will find ourselves in the shadow of another for whom our struggled labor seems effortless by comparison. We will make small strides while another seems to leap forward. Our good may not be good enough. We will develop in a discipline at our own pace and discover that we seem quite amateur. Such is the life of a comparer.
THE TOXIN OF COMPARING. Envy is the emotional and spiritual toxin that builds up when comparisons prevail in our lives. Recalling the movie Amadeus, I note how potent and deadly comparison and envy was portrayed in the life of composer Antonio Salieri as he seethed resentfully in the shadow of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Salieri was gifted, just not nearly as gifted as Mozart, whose rude, childish behavior further incensed the more sanguine and spiritually devout Salieri. Ultimately envy overwhelmed Salieri and he orchestrated the early death of Mozart. A life of comparing is out of focus and destructive at multiple levels.
A WORTHY COMPARISON. The Apostle Paul, in defense of integrity that was being challenged by usurpers, advised against comparing. “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.” (2 Corinthians 10:12). He concludes his reflection with this statement, quoting from the prophet Jeremiah: “but 'he who boasts, let him boast in the Lord.' For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one the Lord commends.” (10:17-18).
THE END OF COMPARING. In short, comparison is a trap. In one direction we foolishly exalt ourselves. In the other direction we unnecessarily put ourselves down. Ultimately, comparison is useful only when we compare ourselves by God’s call and God’s mercy. Hurtful comparison ends when we recognize the grace of God that is mercifully and abundantly poured out to us all, each in a measure that will take us a lifetime to explore. Each of us has more than we can handle on our own. And the grace we receive commends and complements the measure given another.