Most of us have the same conflict repeating in our heads every day. This conflict has been ingrained in us by our culture. Anything can trigger it. Television, social media, or a simple trip down the street initiates the battle. Our economy depends on our inner conflict like an arms dealer in a war zone. I am referring to our habit of living by comparison.
We tell ourselves that we play this mental game of living by comparison out of a desire to improve ourselves. There is some truth to this. Every time I hear a good speaker I feel inspired to improve. Whenever I am in the presence of a truly loving or joyful person I take personal stock of my attitude. When I read about a great person of history and am inspired by their amazing life, I feel compelled to be more like them.
The deeper truth is that we live by comparison because we are afraid. We are afraid we don't measure up. We are afraid of getting left behind or of being unloved. We are afraid that we just are not good enough. Comparison robs us of joy and leaves us with a constant feeling of discontent. Fear eventually morphs into envy and envy unchecked turns into anger. Eventually we get tired of comparing ourselves to people we (think) we are angry with, and we just move on to hate. This mental move is ironic since this whole process began with admiration.
I know all this because I have earned a few purple hearts in my own inner war of comparisons. I can name all the priests who are better preachers than I am. I know which neighbors have a better lawn, I know which friends can beat me at golf, who has a better house and even who has a cooler old Volvo. You get the idea.
The inner war of comparison can never be won. The biggest mistake we can make is using comparison to measure our worth or significance. I had a seminary classmate named Jim Dahlin (he was also descended from Swedes) who used to say, “My only job is to be Jim Dahlin, and I can do it better than anyone on the planet.” He was correct.
No one is better at being you than you are. Don't get caught up in the big lie that your significance and value depend on how you and your talents compare to others. Don't worry if the things you own don't seem as nice or new as your neighbor's things. Refusing to take part in this game will take the pressure off your shoulders. It will free up your finances to do good things instead of just accumulating more things.
Imagine being free from the traps. Imagine being content with your possessions. Imagine being set free from fear, envy and jealousy. Imagine the contentment and joy you will find as you set these anxieties aside. Picture yourself suddenly awake to God's image resting on you as you set aside comparison and see yourself with clear eyes for the first time. This seems like a much better way to live.
See you in church,
Fr. Tom +