Confession: I am a comparer. As in one who compares herself to other people all the time on just about everything. I know I’ve at least hinted at this before, but bear with me–I’m going there again.
I’ve been a comparer since I was eleven. Maybe longer, but that’s about when I remember starting to do it consciously. At eleven I began comparing myself to my three best friends and found them all: prettier, smarter, more athletic, thinner. I compared myself to my teammates on the soccer field, and found them faster, more agile, more confident, less afraid. Infinitely more cool than I could ever dream of being. As a teenager I compared myself to friends and acquaintances, to classmates, to everyone, and I found everyone else, quite simply, better. Better-looking, better at sports, better at school, better dressers, better musicians, artists, writers, better friends, better adjusted to their environment, better at witty comebacks and insightful answers. And I viewed all my relationships with suspicion, because it seemed clear all my friends liked all their other friends better than they liked me. On really bad days, I even suspected my family members of loving one another more than they loved me.
All this made me…small. I resented people, and in my resentment I developed a biting wit and a cynical worldview. Every instance of being ignored, overlooked, or forgotten only added to my anger and cynicism. This attitude followed me out of high school and into young adulthood.
Here’s the story I’d like to tell against that backdrop: Then, at some point in my young adulthood (maybe during college, or just after I graduated), I looked around and realized that, while other people are great, I’m pretty great too. This epiphany occurred on a windy autumn evening, and somewhere in the distance an orchestra played a deeply stirring symphony. Weeping tears of gratitude I opened my arms wide and embraced the world in which I now realized I could live as everyone’s equal. No more comparing. No more setting myself on the bottom rung. No more jealousy. No more inertia caused by that crippling sense of inferiority…I was a reformed young woman with a deep-rooted sense of her own self-worth.
Here’s the real story: I’m twenty-six years old, and I still compare. All the time. And I’m still surrounded by people who are smarter, prettier, thinner, more athletic, better dressers, better writers, better musicians, better artists, better organizers, better professionals, better at juggling eight and a half million things and still maintaining a gracious attitude, better friends, holier … just all around better people. I still hang back when I ought to jump in because I know I won’t do it as well as other people do. I still make self-deprecating comments. I still assume that just about all my friends like all their other friends better. I’m still learning to love the me God created, complete with her big feet, wide hips, boring hair,her natural fear of everything, her incessant chatter. It’s going to be a long journey.
But here’s where the story gets kind of amazing. You see, I always expected to wake up one morning and discover that I suddenly was the beautiful-confident-popular-talented-amazing woman I yearned to be. When that day came, everyone would love me. I’d be noticed. I’d be loved. Picture any complete-makeover movie you’ve ever seen, complete with that scene where the ugly-duckling female character appears at the top of the stairs decked out in her knock-em-dead dress and everyone sees how truly amazing she is and the guy (whoever he is) sees her and loves her: yeah (okay, minus sweeping staircase and ball gown…maybe even minus guy), that’s what I figured was coming to me. Aaaaand it didn’t.
Obviously that’s not the amazing part. The amazing part happened in front of the Blessed Sacrament exposed in a monstrance over a retreat, when I was made to understand that it doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter if all my friends actually are all-around better people than I am (and let me tell you: they are. I have amazing friends, praise God). It doesn’t matter if everyone else gets noticed and I get ignored, or if everyone else actually does love all their other friends more than they love me. Because the “everyone else” factor has nothing to do with who I am, with what I need to do to become the person God wants me to be. Beyond that, what other people notice about me has absolutely no bearing on who I am. And in fact (I love it when God whacks me across the head with these 2 x 4 “no-duh” moments), wouldn’t I be an incredibly vain, proud, self-centered person if everyone did notice me? Some people have been given personalities that absorb notice without becoming conceited. I am not one of those people. So if my actual goal is to become the woman he created me to be, wouldn’t attention actually deflect me from that journey?
Of course, that’s my own version of this story. But I think it has pretty universal applications. Don’t we all catch ourselves at least sometimes peering from side to side and discovering that the people around us just seem better? Or maybe we peer around and discover that others are worse. In either case, we bog down the equation with all these irrelevant factors.
Because, cheesy and trite as it so often comes across, it’s just about me and Him. That’s it. Do I believe that He loves me? Do I think I am a joy to Him?
That’s the only comparing that needs to happen–before the God who loves you, compare yourself today to the person He’s calling you to be. Then work to become that person. The rest? It’s all noise.