You are incomparable.
I am incomparable.
So why do we persist in comparing ourselves to others? And suffering the frustration that results?
You and I are, as the scripture says, crowns of creation. Little lower than the angels. We’re microcosmic mirrors of the grand and glorious cosmos, another way of saying that we’re made in the image of God. This is who we really are, so why don’t we revel in it?
We may be the crown of creation, but we’re also subject to all manner of delusions.
We wander the world with a device in our pockets or purses almost all the time. Is it really a smartphone? Or would it better be described as a perverse mirror into which we gaze, wishing we looked like the people whose images appear on its screen, wishing we had their idyllic, carefully-curated lives. It’s a cruel trick mirror that shows us who and what we aren’t, but feel like we could or ought to be.
Meanwhile, the words of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount ring true, down through the ages. He says, don’t compare yourselves to each other. Compare yourselves to the birds. They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns. They neither wear designer clothes nor drive fancy cars nor augment their body parts. Nor do they spend their days gazing into so called smart phones!
Let’s be like the birds, but only up to a point. Roberta and I get a laugh out of a little bird who hovers near our house and has the habit of incessantly pecking at the mirrors on our cars. It will do that for hours! We studied up on why it does this. It looks in the mirror, up close, and is convinced it is another bird encroaching on its space! So it attacks it, having no idea that it is attacking its own image!
I suppose that’s what we’re doing on our smart phones a lot of the time – attacking our own images – attacking ourselves – for not living up to the images of perfect people living perfect lives! I saw the devastating effects of this on campus…. students comparing themselves to other students they considered more beautiful or handsome or happy or successful, or I should say had presented themselves as such. This habit of comparison is a major contributing factor in the mental health crisis on college campuses almost everywhere.
Meanwhile, the truth is that you are beyond compare! You are seriously awesome just exactly the way you are right now! It took 13 billion years for you to get here, and here you are, an incredible creature with self-reflective consciousness, with absolutely phenomenal capacity for creativity and reasoning and story-making and story-telling. The universe has evolved to create you in order for you to reflect the grandeur of the universe back to itself. A high and noble task to which we are all called. We are probably not the only self-and-universe-reflective beings in the cosmos, but we do know that none exist within a radius of 5.88 trillion miles from Planet Earth. So let’s not compare ourselves to other people. If you are going to compare yourself at all, compare yourself to the lifeless swirls of gas on Jupiter, the red dust of Mars, the lonesome, stony asteroids spinning around the sun. And it will be obvious that indeed, you – just as you are, right now – are the crown of creation!
We compare who we are now with who we used to be, and that is another form of the problem, eh? Who we used to be no longer exists, and cannot exist again. So it’s an absurd comparison, but it’s a trap in our minds that we fall into, and have trouble climbing out of. Ever been to a high school reunion? It’s a mind-bender, right? You see people who are no longer who they were, no longer occupying the places on the social totem pole that they used to hold, yet they’ve got the same names and some semblance of a resemblance to how they used to look. You revert to the ways you used to torture yourself by comparing yourself to these people in high school, but the now absurdity of it is up in your face. At the last reunion of my high school that I attended, the 20th, I walked around a corner and found a classmate with her back pasted to the wall and a look of panic and horror on her face. Her eyes were bugged out and her mouth was hanging open. In order to peel her off the wall I engaged her in compassionate conversation. Yes, this is a really really weird scene, and yes, you’re gonna be okay….
We want to fit in, we want to be socially appropriate. And so we compare ourselves to those around us, to sort out the norms for behavior. Obviously nothing problematic with that. But when we’ve done a reasonable job of being socially appropriate, without sacrificing our dignity, there’s no need to keep going with comparing ourselves to others. It quickly loses its social utility and becomes a dead weight on our souls. It keeps us from being and fully enjoying who we are, where we are, how we are.
A few weeks ago, looking at his own body at bedtime, my three year old grandson Jake asked my daughter, “What’s inside my leg?” You can imagine the kind of stuff going through his mind, as he pondered the possible answers. Chewed-up chicken nuggets? Mushy apples? Cheese sandwiches? Well of course there’s no cheddar inside his leg. Its contents are much more marvelous than that. Somehow the food he puts into his body gets completely transsubstantiated into a subcutaneous magic kingdom of complex tissues and vessels pulsing with life. What’s inside Jake’s leg is a marvel and a wonderment worthy of our worshipful awe every day, all the time. Why would I compare my leg with anybody else’s, when I can be boggled with admiration for my own leg? At bedtime tonight, have a look at your leg. Look at it long enough to be totally blown away by what’s inside of it. Jake’s leg is incomparable. My leg is incomparable. Your leg is incomparable. And so’s the rest of you! Body and soul. Hallelujia! Amen.
Jim Burklo – Blog: Musings,
Pastor, United Church of Christ, Simi Valley CA
Executive Director, Progressive Christians Uniting/ZOE: Progressive Christian Life on Campus