“The same Abba Antonios, pondering the ways of God, once asked: “Lord, how does it happen that many live very few years and yet others reach a ripe old age? And how is it that some live in poverty while others are rich? And how is it that the unjust continue to grow richer and the just are poor?” Then he heard a voice say to him: “Antonios, watch yourself, for those things which you ask about belong to the inscrutable ways of God’s wisdom and it is not to your benefit to learn of them.”
We can’t seem to resist comparing ourselves with others, can we? I could list all kinds of ways we do it, but I think the gentle reader can supply examples relevant to the reader’s situation.
What positive effects are there when we compare ourselves to someone else or something else? The only one I can think of, and of course I could be wrong, is that by the example of we might be inspired to do better. Creative people might be inspired to work harder, search within themselves by another creative person. Athletes have often cited someone in their sport as an inspiration. Luminaries in social justice might compel some to confront the evils in this world. Etc.
On the whole, and again I could be wrong, I think comparing ourselves to someone else is inherently harmful. I say this based on a lifetime’s experience of doing just that.
At a young age, I demonstrated symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder. I was about nine years old. It took another six years for any adult to notice. When I was fifteen, I was placed in therapy and there I have been more or less on a weekly basis ever since. I think part of the problem why I’ve been in therapy for decades was that I fought the illness, resented it, hated it, cursed it. And, yes, compared myself quite unfavorably to people without it, as far as I could tell. Oh, the things I said to God. Blistering, scatological language formed the basis of my prayers for a long long time.
When I was in seminary, I discovered these Sayings of the Desert Christians and I was impressed by their implacable sense. It was as if I had finally come across Christians who spoke words I could finally better absorb.
Comparing myself to another harms me. It’s as simple and as complicated as that. It was only when I embraced my personal circumstances for what they were at that time and what they have since become, that I have made any progress both in managing my symptoms and in my spiritual life. Oh, I had my moments when I would forget and go back to old ways, but the more I persisted to accept and even embrace the realities of my own life, the better it was.
One day I reached a conclusion that I have found very comforting. While many of my troubles might be my own responsibility because I have sinned, some of the basic things are not my responsibility. I experience a lot of bad stuff because I live in a fallen world among sinners.
It was never God’s will that I had abusive parents that triggered an unusually early onset of Major Depressive Disorder and Post Traumatic Syndrome. It was never God’s will that my parents were abused by their parents. It was never God’s will that when the economy tanked it had adverse effects upon my ability to earn a living.
When I ceased to compare myself to others, when I accepted my life, my circumstances for what they were without judgment, without placing a moral value upon them, then and only then did I begin to flourish.
Which is what God wants of us. By flourishing, I mean that I began to realize my authentic self, the person God had in mind when God created me. The more I become that person, the closer I am to God.
It is what it is. That’s the place where we have to start and I believe, although I could be wrong, that is the lesson to be learned from this Saying above.