PARADOXICAL

The faith chronicles

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

 

On comparing ourselves with others

Are you a Barnabas? He sometimes seems to have disappeared in St. Paul's shadow. For a long time, these two men were partners in ministry, but Paul is the one we remember because of his abundant writings. Barnabas was no less an apostle, no less important to the spreading of the Good News. We get a glimpse of this in today’s first reading (Acts 11:21-26 and 13:1-3).

Are you comparing yourself to the Pauls in your life and ranking yourself as less important? Or perhaps you're not reaching your full potential in ministry because you sell yourself short, doing less than others because you think you can never do it as well as others.

Comparisons are fine if we use the information to make good decisions. But if it results in raising up one person as superior to another, it's evil. It denies the dignity and giftedness and uniqueness of the so-called "inferior" individual. When comparing ourselves to others, if it raises us up or puts us down, it's a sin. It paralyzes us from doing all that we can do.

No one is superior or inferior – we're just different. All are made in the image of God, who is the only Superior One. And Jesus needs all of us to function together as different parts of the same body – his body on earth – to continue to carry out his mission of making this world a better place and leading more souls to heaven.

Comparisons that lead to feelings of superiority or inferiority are based on the assumption – wrongly – that we fully know the people we're comparing.
Any readers, for example, who compare their spirituality against mine have no idea what it took for me to get where I am today, how long it took me to get here, and what my shortcomings are (except my husband, who is merciful enough to not mention the faults he sees daily).

The only valid comparison, the only helpful comparison, is who we are today versus who we were in the past. In short: how far we've come. We can only rightfully compare ourselves against ourselves. This is what leads us to repentance when we've sinned, to healing when we discover old wounds, and to better use of our giftedness.

We must never, never compare our present selves to our past selves only for the sake of finding only what's bad and in need of repentance or change. It is not prideful to pat ourselves on the back for the goodness that is in us, or for what we've overcome, or for how much we've grown, as long as we recognize that God is the source of all this. Indeed, noticing how we've improved gives us the stamina and insight to continue improving, all of which glorifies God in whose image we’re made.

Barnabas happily fulfilled his calling as an apostle, because it didn't bother him that Paul was more outspoken, more prolific as a writer, and more in demand as a preacher. Are you a Barnabas? NO! You are an incomparably unique and wonderful masterpiece of God, called to do what you are uniquely able to do.

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