The Comparison Game
Hello Church family! In light of last week’s sermon, ” A Complex Confession,” I thought the following chapter from Henri Nouwen would fit in perfectly. Â Take some time to read it and, if you find the courage or inspiration, feel free to leave a response.“What do you do when you are always comparing yourself with other people? What do you do when you always feel that the people you talk to, hear of, or read about are more intelligent, more skillful, more attractive, more gentle, more generous, more practical, or more contemplative than you are? What do you do when you can’t get away from measuring yourself against others, always feeling that they are the real people while you are a nobody or less than that?
It is obvious that these feelings are distorted, out of proportion, the result of projections, and very damaging for a healthy spiritual life, but still they are no less real and can creep up on you before you are aware of it. Before you know it you are comparing other people’s age and accomplishments with your own, and before you know it you have entered into a very harmful psychological competition and rivalry.
I talked about this with John Eudes (my Spiritual Director) today. He helped me analyze it a little more. We talked about the vicious circle one enters when one has a low self esteem or self doubt and then the perceives other people in such a way as to strengthen and confirm these feelings. It is the famous self-fufilling prophecy all over again. I enter into relationships with some apprehension and fear and behave in such a way that whatever the others say or do, I experience them as stronger, better, more valuable persons, and myself as weaker, worse, and not worth talking to. After a while the relationship becomes intolerable, and I find an excuse to walk away feeling worse that when I started it. My general abstract feeling of worthlessness becomes concrete in a specific encounter, and there my false fears increase rather that decrease. So real peer relationships become difficult, if not impossible, and many of my emotions in relation to others reveal themselves as the passive-dependent sort.
What do you do? Analyze more? It is not hard to see the neurotic dynamism. But it is not easy to break through it to a mature life. There is much to say about this and much has been said by psychologists and psychotherapists. But what to say about it from a spiritual perspective
John Eudes talked about that moment, that point, that spot that lies before the comparison, before the beginning of the vicious cycle or the self-fufilling prophecy. That is the moment, point, or place where meditation can enter in. It is the moment to stop reading, speaking, socializing, and to “waste” your time in meditation. When you find your mind competing again, you might plan an “empty time” of meditation, in this way interrupting the vicious circle of your ruminations and entering into the depth of your own soul. There you can be with him who was before you came, who loved you before you could love, and who has given you your own self before any comparison was possible. In meditation we can come to the affirmation that we are not created by other people but by God, that we are not judged by how we compare with others but how we fufill the will of God.
This is not as easy as it sounds because it is in meditation itself that we become painfully aware of how much we have already been victimized by our own competitive strivings and how much we have already sold our soul to the opinions of others. By not avoiding this realization, however, but by confronting it and by unmasking its illusory quality, we might be able to experience our own basic dependency and so dispel the false dependencies of our daily life.
The more I think about this, the more I realize how central the words of St. John are, words so central also in St. Bernard’s thought: “Let us love God because God has loved us first.” The Genesee Diary (Report from a Trappist Monastery) Henri J.M. Nouwen, pg. 90-92