From a short devotion I gave at Bible study this week...
Today’s devotion is something I am calling “grammar lessons.” But don’t tune out to your flashbacks of seventh grade English, because these lessons are, I think, something we all need to learn, every single day.
We use these words and practices and they can seem so innocuous and innocent but in reality, it is killing our spirits. COMPETITION and COMPARISON: the habit of walking through life measuring and assessing ourselves against others and looking for ways we are just a little bit set apart, a little more worthy of love and affection.
Henri Nouwen says it this way: “When we take a critical look at ourselves, we have to recognize that competition, not compassion, is our main motivation in life. We find ourselves deeply immersed in all sorts of competition. Our whole sense of self is dependent upon the way we compare ourselves with others and upon the differences we can identify… It is by our differences, distinctions, that we are recognized, honored, rejected, despised. Whether we are more or less intelligent, practical, strong, fast, handy, or handsome depends upon those with whom we are compared or those with whom we compete. It is upon these positive or negative distinctions that much of our self-esteem depends… Thus, we define ourselves in ways the require us to maintain distance from one another. We are very protective of our “trophies.” After all, who are we if we cannot proudly point to something special that sets us apart from others?”
I have to tell you, I am the guiltiest of us all in this area. Especially now that we have this lovely thing called social media (a topic that could probably be a whole other devotion), but we know so much about one another’s lives now it is virtually impossible to scroll through pictures and statuses without comparing and competing.
So what do these words mean, comparison and competition. To compare means to estimate, measure, or notice the similarity or dissimilarity between. To compete means to strive to outdo one another for acknowledgement. Here is what these things often look like in my life:
1. My instagram picture/blog post/facebook status got 28 likes and 6 comments. I feel good right now.
2. My instagrm picture/blog post/facebook status got 2 likes and one was my mom. Everyone hates me.
3. My daughter was so kind today, said hello and goodbye, and held my hand the entire way to our car after bible study. I must be a really good mom.
4. My daughter stole the toy, pushed down the child holding it, then screamed in defiance when I put her in timeout. She then ran the perimeter of the church building after bible study as I chased after her to get her in the car. I’m not good at this motherhood gig like she is; look how her children behave so nicely!
5. I served/tithed a little extra/gave something away today. I am a really good follower of Christ.
6. She moved to Cambodia and is helping rescue women from brothels. She clearly has her Christian act together a whole lot more than I do.
And this list could go on and on, and on and on. Compete, compare, repeat. So many of us move through the world in this constant state of “never enough or sheesh, I’m awesome” and the basis of these thoughts come from assessments of other people, not really of honest assessments of ourselves.
So what is the remedy? Well, I don’t know. But I think it could be this word: COMPASSION. Compassion means “a feeling of deep sympathy.” It comes from the latin words ‘pati’ and ‘cum’, which literally mean “to suffer with.” Compassion is one of the defining characteristics of Jesus. He moved through his live with a holy amount of compassion. But compassion is also found all over scripture:
- Pharaoh’s daughter had compassion on Moses when she saw him in the basket
- The prophets scream of the compassion of the Lord, warning Israel to turn back to him lest God should withdraw his compassion, but encouraging and pushing God’s people towards him because of his compassion
- Jesus had compassion on the hungry crowd + the widow who had lost her husband and son
- The good Samaritan felt compassion for the injured man
- In the story of the prodigal son the father had compassion on his son as he returned
- We are to have compassion on those in prison or towards those who have wronged us, because we look forward to a time and place where wrongs will be no more
Our English word for Compassion is used as at least four different Hebrew and Greek words in scripture:
kamar: to yearn, be kindled back, grow warm and tender, be emotionally agitated
chamal: to spare, have pity
racham: to love, love deeply, have mercy, be compassionate, have tender affection
splagchnizomai (splank-nee-zo-my): to be moved as to one’s bowels, hence to be moved with compassion (for the bowels were thought to be the seat of love and pity); this means to feel from the deepest part of who we are
Taken together, scripture tells the story of a God who loves us deeply, has mercy on our fickle and imperfect selves, and who has the ability to actually feel with us, even to the deepest, most unspeakable pain. Let’s not forget that Jesus’ name is Immanuel, God with us. WITH US: that is who Jesus is. And when he says in Luke 6:36, “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate” I think he saying more than just “Give the homeless man a granola bar” or “take you friend to coffee and be a good listener” or “make sure you sponsor a World Vision child monthly.” I think he is saying to do all those things, but I also think implied in that command is something like this: “Give up clinging to your imaginary distinctions, your false sources of identity and self-esteem, and be with each other, care for each other, love each other in the ways I have shown you how to.”
If Jesus is Immanuel, if he with us, if he is compassion… and if the opposite is comparison, we literally cannot be like Jesus as long as we are comparing ourselves to others. Our made up competitions and standards are keeping us from Jesus. The hard work we are all doing here of searching the threads of our stories to lean in to a life that is “on purpose” and for the kingdom, all of that can be undone as soon as we scroll through social media feeds and either feel better or worse about ourselves based on someone else’s life.
So I ask the question again: what is the remedy? And again, I don’t know. I think it starts with awareness- at least now when we are doing the whole “sizing up” of another person as we look at our phones we will feel a little guiltier about it! There won’t be a formula for this kind of fight, because we are all wired so differently and for some people this is more of a present struggle than for others. But I would offer that no matter what it looks like for you to live a compassionate life, it probably involves some combination of time in scripture, social media breaks for a little time for heart re-focusing, service that stretches you and goes outside your comfort zone, and big prayers. Let’s be on our knees about this. Let’s together ask God to help us keep our eyes up and on him.
This is the radical challenge of our faith. But friends, we can do this, we can be for each other in every way that matters for eternity.