Some readers of this blog will know my wife, Irene. She is pretty amazing. Which is wonderful, most of the time. There are challenges. You see, I can’t help but compare myself to her.
Who cleans the house more often and more thoroughly? Irene or me? Irene.
Who shops most often, and for the least amount of cash, and yet brings home the freshest and healthiest produce? Irene.
Who has more structured play ideas for the grandkids, more energy for them before bedtime? Irene.
Who knows how to dress me so that I don’t look like something pulled out of the broom closet? Irene.
Who phones the kids more often, keeps up on their birthdays and anniversaries, and insists that we visit regularly? Irene.
I know all this. I live with her after all. Irene is smarter than I am. More attractive than I am. More gracious than I am. She works harder than I do.
The truth is, when I compare myself to the love of my life, I fall short. Ultimately, I don’t mind, of course, since I truly am in love, and adore everything about Irene.
My problem is that I also compare myself to other people, besides Irene. To people who I don’t necessarily adore like I adore Irene. And when compare myself to some of these people, I again find myself lacking, and I find that irritating. Such comparisons weigh on me, like the dark.
I compare myself to newly published novelists and doubt that I’ll ever be as good a writer as they are. So, I struggle with insecurity.
I compare myself to the other sixty-year old men in the gym—many of them lithe and muscular, and I realize that compared to them I’m a jelly donut. I struggle with body image.
I compare myself to some of my activist-minister colleagues—you know, the ones who have time to show up at every demonstration on behalf of a good cause, who blog and organize for the environment or against racism—I compare myself to some of my activist-minister colleagues, and I feel as if I just don’t have the energy, the get up and go, the time to do likewise.
I compare myself to some of my classmates from the PhD program in Communication Theory that I was part of many moons ago, and I’m a bit jealous that I didn’t go for a cushy tenured teaching job like some of them did.
I compare myself to members of my congregation, too, sometimes. It is hard not to. There are, among them, some very successful, very wealthy people. I’m not wealthy, and if the truth be told, it can be hard, or confusing, or even a bit scary negotiating the pastoral do’s and don’ts of being a minister in that kind of context. There are some members in my church who have been recognized nationally for their charitable or business achievements. I have not been so recognized. There are some LPCC members who feel comfortable walking the halls of power in the city, province, or even nationally. Not me. It can be humbling to be a minister in this sort of context, where there are so many accomplished people all about. I think it could be the occasion for some jealousy on my part, or even, more darkly, resentment. I don’t think it has been--not yet, at least--but I think most of the parishioners in my congregation can understand the temptation.
By the same token, when I compare myself to others in the churches I have served, I can sometimes feel unaccountably and improperly privileged or accomplished. Some people still look up to ministers, and that can feel--special. Not everyone in my churches has published hundreds of magazine and journal articles or two books, like me. Not everyone has kids as amazing as mine. Such thoughts can be the occasion for some crowing on my part. I try to keep it in check, because these kinds of comparisons are actually very self-serving, but I think most of you can understand the temptation.
Listen. When we compare ourselves to some people, we all feel as if we come up short, so we compare ourselves to others and perhaps then we feel a bit better. It’s like we’re in a race—a rat race maybe—straining and failing to catch up to some ahead but looking over our shoulders with a self-satisfied smile at others we have surpassed.
Comparing ourselves to others, however, is to turn them into benchmarks and it is to miss their essential humanity. You usually don’t see the spirit or light that lives in people you compare yourself to; you only see their adornments, their possessions, their certificates and Facebook Likes or the lack of such honors—which means you never come to really know such people at all, which leads to your own loneliness and alienation. Spending too much time comparing yourself to others invites at least three of the deadly sins into your life: Pride, because I’m not like them. Envy, because I don’t have what they have and I don’t like them for it. And greed too, an unaccountable passion to acquire as much as them, or more, when actually I have quite enough. Like I said, comparing yourself to others is a rat race, and if you are focused on such comparisons, you will suffer the dark of depression, of loneliness, of meaninglessness.
For all these sorts of reasons, the Apostle Paul, in Galatians 6, urges Church members to take pride in carrying their own loads, and in helping others carrying their heavy loads, and in that way letting their light shine. Then we can take pride in ourselves, rather than comparing ourselves to others.
Now, Peterson suggests that the best way deal with the temptation of comparing ourselves to others is to focus on comparing ourselves to who we were yesterday. It just seems like very reasonable advice.
But I want to add something to what Peterson says. I’d like to suggest that comparing yourself to others or even to yourself can get in the way of something even more essential, more precious, more desirable. Instead of being focused on comparing, why don’t we focus on letting our light shine? Even if it is just a little light compared to everyone else’s?
A year ago, there was a big alt-right, Nazi, Klan demonstration in Charlottesville. One protestor drove down counter protestors with his car, and killed somone? Thirty people were injured.
|Rev. Osagyefo Sekou (l) with fellow-clergy singing |
"This Little Light of mine."
Rev. Osagyefo Sekou was there, and he remembers how amped up the protesters were becoming. “The Nazis were marching past us,” he said, “in these various battalions, cursing and yelling—mostly homophobic slurs—at us.”
So, rather than stick to the plan, which was to give silent witness to nonviolence and peace and compassion, Rev. Sekou started singing. He broke into “This Little Light of Mine, I’m Going to Let It Shine.” Sekou and his fellow protesters drowned out the racist cries of the Nazis, who were shouting, “you will not replace us.”
“The tension went down,” said Sekou, “and it shook the Nazis. They didn’t know what to do with all that joy. We weren’t going to let the darkness have the last word.”
|A Neo-nazi Sekou and friends sang to.|
Listen, comparing yourself to others—or even to who you were yesterday, is to go rooting about for darkness—the darkness that belittles you, shames you, makes you feel inadequate or jealous or not up to snuff. Peterson is right about that. Don’t let the darkness, the "better than" or "worse than," have the last word. Focus, instead, on letting your little light shine. For we all have the light of Christ within, if we only dare let it shine.
And when I add my light to your light to his or hers and theirs; when our lights shine in community the little becomes big. Don’t compare, instead, carry one another’s loads, says Paul. That will remake us into church, refresh our city, maybe even shake the world.
Let’s shine our little lights together. When we sponsor refugees. When we bring clothes to the New Circles charity for redistribution. When we build cabins for Camp Scugog and its inner-city kids. When we reach out to our elected officials. When we feed the hungry. When we beautify the church and neighbourhood with flowers and gardens and music. When we say thank you to volunteers. When we open the church doors to community seven days a week. When we sing as one and lift our voices together to insist that what is wrong in the world does not have the last word, but Jesus’ way, whether lived by believers or doubters, Muslims or atheists—Jesus’ way, loving our neighbours—that is our light and we shine together.
Don’t spend too much time comparing yourself to others. You would do better, as Peterson suggests, to compare yourself to whoever you were yesterday. But what we really, really ought to do is focus on the light, being the light. Let your little light shine with mine. Don't compare, but dispel the dark instead.