Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Comparing Yourself to Others

by Sariah S. Wilson

Unless you're some sort of highly evolved person (or, on the flip side, a complete egomaniac), the likelihood exists that you've compared yourself with someone else.

And most likely you somehow came up short.

I find this to be particularly true among LDS women - Sister Clean has a perfect, immaculate home, Sister Children has the most well-behaved kids, Sister President is the best leader ever and so inspiring!

It is a natural tendency to admire/envy traits in others that we do not necessarily possess.

Even those who stood in the presence of the Savior couldn't help but compare themselves to those around them. Peter seemed to wonder a bit jealously why John would get to stay until the Lord returned and Peter wouldn't.

And as I'm in the midst of preparing my Sunday School lesson for tomorrow and I'm reading 3 Nephi 28, for the first time it sort of hit me how a comparison seemed to happen there. The nine disciples ask the Lord if they can return to heaven speedily after finishing their work. The Lord grants them this request, and as a bonus, tells them the age that they will die. (Which on a side note, I've been wondering how this would affect my life if I knew the exact age that I would die. How would that alter/not alter my choices? Would I feel hopeless or would I feel that I needed to hurry and get everything done before the end? Knowing myself it would most likely be procrastination until the end, which is probably part of the reason why the Lord doesn't tell me.)

The three disciples that are left "durst not" tell the Lord what they want. They feel sorrow for their desires.

Why? Is it because they heard the requests of the disciples who went before them and then felt that their request somehow paled in comparison? Where the other disciples wanted to speedily return to their Savior, these three wanted to delay being reunited with Him?

The problem is that when you're dealing with an omniscient being, there's not really such a thing as keeping something secret.

The Lord praises their desire, and even calls them "more blessed." I wonder if they felt a little silly at that point for not speaking up, if they felt foolish for harboring whatever thoughts made them secretly sorrow.

The things I've noticed when you compare yourself to someone else is that nine times out of ten, you compare their strengths to your weakness. People don't typically say, "Brother Presentation is a great speaker, but I'm a pretty good writer." Instead you say, "Brother Presentation is a great speaker, and I'm so terrible at giving talks. I hate having to follow him because I feel so stupid!"

I don't know if it's an issue of humility, that we fear becoming too prideful in acknowledging our talents and accomplishments, or if it is a modesty issue, or whether it's the belief that since we're continually progressing and should always be striving, even our best is never good enough.

So, I'm here to say stop it. Just stop it. There will always be people better than you at things, but you know what? There will always be people who are worse at those same things than you are.

When you find yourself throwing a pity party and saying, "I'll never be as good as..." You're probably right. But so what? Nobody's asking you to be like anybody else. We've only been asked to be our best possible selves. Whatever or whoever that may be, and it's up to us to figure that out.

I mean, I highly doubt you'll be getting your judgment and the Lord's going to sigh and say, "Too bad you didn't keep your house as well as Sister Clean. I know you kept the commandments and did service and went to church and tried to live the best life you could, but you just didn't measure up in that house cleaning thing. Sorry."

You only have to worry about being the best you.


At 11/16/2008 10:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dirty Harry said, "A man's got to know his limitations." I think he, and you are right. I know my house will never be without clutter. Never. I've accepted that. I've also accepted the fact that I will never be able to give a talk in church without reading it word for word, and sweating profusely ...while stuttering.

But I also know my strengths. I get a great satisfaction with the talents Heavenly Father gave to me, and I use them ... a lot.

Do I ever have that tiny whisper in the back of my head that says ... you should have spent the day cleaning instead of ... whatever? Oh, I hear her all the time, especially when a guest pops over unexpectedly, but I've learned to dial her voice down far enough she doesn't bother me that much anymore.

I think Heavenly Father will be happy with me. At least I hope he will be.


At 11/17/2008 9:43 AM, Blogger LC Lewis's "Hear Ye, Hear Ye" said...

Hi Sariah! Loved your post. Your perspective was perfect and on the money, though neither can I decided if it's pride, humility or self-deprecation that makes us compare our weakest elements to someone else's strengths. I think it depends on what we feel weakest in on a particular day. On those rare moments when my house is perfectly clean, I don't feel diminished by other homemakers, and when my children are having a good day, no one intimidates me in the mothering category. But catch me on a down day in any category, and move back because I you could get backhanded by one of my self-inflicted blows.

I received a slide show email that touches on this topic in a beautiful way and it really made me think. Your post today makes me want to slap the URL up on my blog so others can see it.

Thanks for inspiring good introspection.


At 11/17/2008 11:58 AM, Blogger David G. Woolley said...

The translation of "perfect" from the Hebrew text of the New Testament is actually "complete" or "mature". It comes from the Hebrew word Tam or Tamim. When Christ admonished us to be "perfect", not only was he asking us to be complete, he used his Father as the example. In Matthew 5:48 he's recorded as saying: "Be ye therefore [Complete] even as your father in heaven is [complete].

Being complete is an odd phrase. No wonder the translaters selected the word perfect instead. Its succinct. To the point. It makes sense. The only probem is that we understand the term "perfect" in absolute terms. To English speakers the word means without flaw. Without error. Flawless. No nicks. No scrapes. No bumps. No imperfections.

How impossible is that? And the whole idea denies the necessity of the atonement. What need have we of a Savior if we are without flaw? Without nicks? Without scrapes, bumps or imperfections?

And then to add insult to injury we get the misconception over pefection mixed up with the idea of acquiring the talents of others. The concept of God-give talents morphs from blessing one another into a competitive gathering of talents. Talents were never intended as a window shopping experience instead of a way to serve our fellow man.

The Lord was pretty clear (see D&C 47) when He told Joseph Smith that everyone was given different talents for the express purpose of blessing others. Talents like public speaking, writing, cleanliness, have little or possibly nothing to do with the "perfection" Christ preached in the Sermon on the Mount. We were never intended to be perfect in every talent. We were never meant to obtain the talents of others. With them we are expected to bless each others lives. To some it is given to be good sacrment meeting speakers. To others it is given to believe on their words. Both wonderful talents. But in this competitive, I want what you have world, believing on their words isn't nearly as publicly laudable as is speaking from the pulpit.

The idea of Biblical perfection is made clear in the Book of Mormon. Thank heaven for the clarifying passages of that resotration scripture. In 3 Nephi 27:27, instead of using the Father as the example of "perfection" (I should actually write the word "completion" here), Christ says: "What manner of men ought ye to be? Even as I am."

When Christ spoke those words the crucifixtion was about nine months old. The destruction that took place in the New World when Christ was crucified happened in the first month of the Nephite year (3 Nephi 8: 5). But Christ didn't appear to the Nephites until 8 or 9 months later when they were at the temple in Bountiful discussing the events of destruction and the three days of darkness that had taken place months before (3 Nephi 10: 18-19). During the intervening period Christ completed his mission. He completed the atonement. He completed the resurection. He completed the assension to His father. He likely completed other parts of His mission like visiting other sheep not of the Jerusalem fold. And he likely had other sheep yet to visit. But He'd completed enough of his mission that he could, as he did on the sermon on the mount, encourage his hearers to "Be [complete] even as your father in Heaven is [complete]" and to be complete "Even as I am."

When I read Christ's admonition to perfection I don't relate it to talents, skills, clean homes, organized households, done lanudry, good looks, large savings accounts, nice things. For me, the admonition to perfection includes finding out the will of God for your specific purpose on earth, reading your patriarchial blessing, and completing your mission during this earthly probabtion.

Certainly being "Complete" in the Lord includes the preparatory steps of obedience and repentance and forgiveness which allows us to fulfill our mission here on earth. But being complete never included the competitive world of acquiring the talents, personalities, and tendencies of other admirable saints.

Be ye therefore complete. It's your mission impossible!

At 11/17/2008 12:05 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

Thanks, Dave. You've given one of the best explanations of this admonition I've ever heard or read.

At 11/17/2008 1:14 PM, Blogger David G. Woolley said...


Error. I cited D&C 47 in my comment. Its actually D&C 46:11-33 . Sorry about that.

I think everything else is cited correctly.

How are you doing these days? Long time no email. How is the Ruby/Bracelett/Saphire/Jade/Emerald/Pearl/necklace/gold/ring going? Lots of books selling? Pray for an economic upturn this week. Yes?

Take care!

At 11/17/2008 1:27 PM, Blogger Charlie Moore said...

I once tried comparing myself to my ultimate mortal hero, my mother, and found myself coming up way short. After that I don't compare myself to others.

Thank you for this blog. Yes, we can only do our best. If we do our best, live worthy, repent of our sins and endure to the end we will be judged accordingly by our dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Charlie Moore

At 11/17/2008 6:53 PM, Blogger Marsha Ward said...

Thank you, everyone for your comments that added to a terrific post by Sariah. David, you brought me to tears. In a good way, of course. The confirmation of a testimony way. Thanks.


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