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Monday, August 26, 2013

Charity Project: Comparison and Individual Worth

Going off of my findings in my last post, I'm going to spend another week talking about the phrase, "Envieth Not." I'd researched some talks on kindness, but felt like I should spend a little more time on this stupid vice of mine. Thankfully, I feel like I'm finally starting to get a handle on this principle. There was one setback last week, but all in all, I feel like the habits I've been forming have been fairly effective:

  • Saying prayers morning and night
  • Repenting of my sins of commission and omission
  • Praying in moments of weakness to react as Christ would react
Some things I want to focus on now are those aspects of envy that involve comparison and competition. This could probably also bleed over into the principle of "[seeking] not her own"so take it as you will.

A phenomenal talk was given on this idea by Merrill J. Christensen, called, "Comparing, Competing, and Individual Worth." In this talk, Brother Christensen puts comparison, pride, and envy in a bigger perspective in terms of our missions here on earth:
Comparison [with others] can be discouraging and may decrease our sense of self-worth. Such comparison may lead to the sins of envy and ingratitude as we focus on and fret about what we don’t have rather than on what we have been given. Compulsive comparison can rob us of the enjoyment we might still experience in the expression of the talents we have been given and in the talents of others. The ability to rejoice in the successes and talents of others increases our capacity for happiness and joy as we experience those feelings each time someone we know succeeds… Focusing on others’ talents and tasks, worrying about what rewards they may be receiving, and feeling we’re in competition for that recognition may easily distract us from our own responsibilities, inhibit the development of our talents, and divert us from our personal missions and ministries.
Not only does comparison rob us of enjoyment, it also distracts us from our own responsibilities and it keeps us from improving and becoming more effective instruments for God's purposes. This should seem obvious, but when I'm worried about how someone else is being treated compared to me, I'm not taking the time to love that person or to build them up. And I'm also not working harder on my own talents. It's as if I'm expecting my current work to be appreciated above others' without trying hard enough to make my work excellent.

A word on excellence while I'm speaking about it--one of my friends brought up a very good point the other day when measuring our talents. She said we don't have to be the best, we just have to be excellent. Sometimes I get so caught up in being the best, that I'm not particularly focused on how hard I'm working, but rather, if what I'm doing is better than everyone else. That is a form of pride that, if we keep feeding it, will never be satisfied. It is not content to succeed, only to succeed at another's expense. Isn't that just a depressing thought? So, I encourage you, as well as myself, to shoot for excellence. I may not write the best sketches or the best books or be the best actress or singer. And in a personal sense, I may not be the best leader I know or the best conversationalist or the best listener. But I shouldn't let that discourage me. Instead, I can put in the effort to be excellent! Enough comparing myself to those around me. What can I give back to my Heavenly Father, and how can I give the best that I have?

There is a TED talk that addresses this idea. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, talks about your genius. Not in the sense that we understand it today of someone being a genius, but, rather, the old Greek understanding of someone having a genius that gave them inspiration. What Gilbert essentially ends on is that if we put the work in every single day, we're proving that we deserve the help of our genius. And sometimes our genius won't come through that day, but that doesn't mean we won't show up and do our part to prove that we're serious. Gilbert attributes this idea of a genius to mean whatever you want it to mean. But I take it to mean the inspiration we can get from God. I definitely understand the power of being inspired in my work when I know I'm writing something that I could not have crafted on my own. I think it is very important, though, what she says about doing our part to show up. If I'm not serious enough to refine my talents, God won't take me serious enough to grant me inspiration.

Back to the talk I've been reading, Brother Christensen has a wise perspective on a common parable:
A man, travelling into a far country, called his own servants and delivered unto them his goods. 
And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. 
Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. 
And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. 
But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money. 
After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. 
And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. 
His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. 
His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. [Matthew 25:14–23] 
One of the greatest aspects of this story is that the first two servants got the same reward and the Lord didn’t compare them one with another. Just as the Lord in the parable gave talents and set expectations for each servant individually, so also does He provide for each of us a unique blend of talents and circumstances… individually customized to accomplish His purposes in our lives and in the lives of those we can bless.
Perhaps this is a pep talk I needed to give myself, but I hope anybody else struggling with a sense of competition and--as a result--failure can grasp the intense love our Heavenly Father has for each of us. As Brother Christensen said at the end of his devotional--
I do not have the ability to impress upon your minds and hearts as powerfully as I desire the glorious reality that each of you individually is of infinite worth to God, your Heavenly Father. Your value to Him is independent of your body mass index; your accomplishments in arts, academics, or athletics; your possessions, popularity, or marital status; your current calling in the Church; or any other thing that can be a source of comparison and competition. His love for you is infinite—quantitatively and qualitatively—and intimate—intensely personal and specific. He knows your name, your successes and setbacks, your triumphs and defeats, your fears, your doubts, your hopes, your desires, your motivations, your thoughts, your words, and your actions. He feels what you feel, He shares your joys and sorrows, and He desires your happiness now and forever.
I know I may not be the best, but I have talents that the Lord has blessed me with and I know He has placed me here--in this town, at this time, with these people, performing this job--for a purpose. I can be an effective tool to build up His kingdom and I can do that by working my butt off without any thought about the accomplishments of the person next to me.

I'd been deciding whether or not to post this quote in this blog post or in a future one about "Seeketh Not Her Own." I've decided I'll post it in both, so please forgive the future redundancy. I wanted to address some simple "How's" of this idea of not comparing ourselves to others, but championing them instead. Merrill J. Christensen listed some ideas we could access in order to help those around us:

  • We can pray with all the energy of heart, that we may be filled with charity which envieth not, vaunteth not itself, and seeketh not her own. (Moroni 7:48 and 1 Corinthians 13:4–5)
  • We can try making it through a day without a single self-reference that draws attention to ourselves.
  • We can pray, “Help me to be the answer to someone’s prayer today” (Bonnie D. Parkin).
  • We can pray, “Please let me serve, this day” (Henry B. Eyring).
  • We can resolve to sincerely compliment someone each day.
  • We can resolve to thank someone each day.
  • We can resolve to try to go a day without finding fault.

So, in addition to working hard every day to be our best, we can also work hard every day to encourage the best in others. I think that's the key to being charitable. As Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “If you are building others, you are building the kingdom of God.” So I will work even harder this week to make myself excellent so that I won't be tempted to compare my work to others. Instead, I will try to build them up, as Christ would do if He were here. I can tell that this is a principle that will really make me happy. (:

Have a fantastic week. Be your best self. And encourage the best in others.

2 comments:

Noah said...

When was the last time you read The Screwtape Letters?

Noah said...

Comparison and envy can be big challenges for those of us who have collected various "thorns of the flesh" during their mortal probation. Things that seem second nature to so many can take herculean efforts just to come anywhere close to a substandard performance.

I think part of our "social" physiological / neurological makeup includes a comparison and evaluation engine that we unknowingly use to size up others and ourselves, and if we don't challenge it with an eternal perspective then we are in peril of slipping into the depths of self-pity and choosing to fall by the wayside into the mists of darkness.

I think this is where faith and hope come into play - to believe that just because we may not fit the ideal situation or live a life that we yearn to live, that we still have the opportunity to establish Celestial patterns to the best of our capacity. Knowing that Christ passed through all things, and that he will be a perfect judge for every situation and will take our hearts and our adjusted abilities into play is a great comfort.

Whenever the burden of comparison does flare up (and even when the Adversary starts to jump up and down on the scales to add insult to injury), I just have to remember my "infinity math":
Infinity + anything = Infinity
Infinity - anything = Infinity

No matter what I may have to deal with or have to go without, I have to remember that I if I am faithful and endure to the end, it will not matter when I am united with my eternal family and am joint heirs with Christ in all that the Father has, (i.e. eternal posterity, property, and power).

I just have to keep reminding myself of my eternal potential when my biology keeps publishing the latest "stock prices" and reminds me of what I already know...