As many of you know, Lent starts this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. That means tomorrow’s “Fat Tuesday” is unofficially the last day to party, parade, and partake in all things pointless. Then on Wednesday, all beads and bets are off and we start our 40 days of fasting, praying, and giving…both the giving of and the giving up.
A few days ago a friend posted an interesting twist on the concept of giving something up courtesy the brilliant and inspiring Father Mike Schmitz. Father Mike suggests giving up something “necessary” rather than something arbitrary. In other words, rather than fast from the arbitrary soda or candy, give up something you necessarily should or something that’s hard to say no to. This could be anything from the constant streaming of social media, smoking, or anything that has a hold on you or that you’re attached to but really shouldn’t be. Yeah it’s easy to give up oranges for Lent, but is that really demonstrating self-denial? Instead, how about snacks between meals or shopping online? On the flip-side, much like New Year’s Resolutions, don’t vow to give up something that is the hardest thing ever per se like “I’m going to clean, exercise, and eat healthy every day during Lent.” Lastly, sometimes it’s better to do something rather than not do something. Do more walking. Give more time or money.
But, I digress from the main reason for writing today.
A week or so ago I was reading my daily meditations and was stunned that they both dealt with being yourself and that dirty little thing called comparison. Ironically I read them soon after I returned from my annual college girls trip; a trip we’ve done once-a-year for 17 years running and that I share with four fabulous and fabulously funny and incredible women. Each time I see them I feel blessed to be counted among such an amazing group of girls. Sometimes I ask myself “why me?” or more importantly, “how me?” Then I remind myself that each of us brings something equally important and vital to the trip table, including me. Still, who doesn’t compare themselves and their lives to those we admire and adore?
So with that in mind, what better thing (among many) to work on giving up for Lent then comparing ourselves to others?
As the passage I read started with, we live in a copycat society in which we often set our sights on being like so-and-so or the next so-and-so as the classic above photo from days gone by of Sophia Lauren and Jayne Mansfield so perfectly depicts. Even someone as beautiful, talented, and lauded as Ms. Lauren fell victim to comparing and contrasting. Someone needed to tell her….and tell all of us…that we all need to just walk our walk, talk our talk, and build our success on authenticity not duplicity. God created each one of us as an original so maybe it’s time we stop trying to be imitations.
There’s nothing wrong with having role models, goals, and ambitions, but when those turn into envy or “I’m not good enough” thoughts, it’s time to re-evaluate. There will always be someone smarter, prettier, richer, and whatever more than you. News flash all you perfect beings: you aren’t perfect. No one is.
We also live in a competitive society however, so if you must compare, why not compare yourself to others who are generous, kind, honest, hard-working, and faith-filled? Rather than thriving on being perfect or complimented, strive to be respected and valued.
Likening ourselves to others is actually so prevalent (thank you social media) that Harvard professor Thomas J. DeLong notes a disturbing trend he calls “comparison obsession.” His analysis shows that everyone from doctors and lawyers to school kids and senior citizens are obsessed with comparing their own achievements against those of others. And not in a good way.
He goes on to say that when you define success based on external rather than internal criteria, you diminish your satisfaction and contentment. Makes sense, right? As long as your life is ruled by keeping up you will probably never keep the inner peace.
Scripture itself warns us of this when it cautions to not become so proud that you look down on others or to become jealous and covet what others have. Envy, after all, is one of the seven deadly sins as it makes us blind to the goodness of God in our lives because we are consumed with what we don’t have. It can also result in sorrow and sadness and even sometimes hate and depression. When we live in a constant state of comparison and envy, we fail to see what God has given us and we might even start to believe He is unfair. But, who can forget that King Saul tried to dress David up as something he wasn’t before he took on Goliath. David stayed true to himself and the rest is biblical history.
So for the upcoming 40 days of Lent, let’s give up comparing ourselves and our lives to those of others and instead count our blessings and remind ourselves to stay authentic, that we are all uniquely made, and are indeed good enough to just bloom.