By the time I was dropped back at Creighton University, I was furious. Shaking inside. What a wasted day. I get stuck listening to this guy talk about how great he is and how much he's accomplished. I made a beeline for the chapel. And as I sat there with my stomach churning, a voice from deep inside of me finally whispered, "You're jealous." I turned a deaf ear at first, but as its volume grew, my anger lessened. I was indeed jealous and threatened by Dennis. All of his accomplishments seemed to dwarf my meager contributions, and somehow I felt less about myself in his presence. I tried to let it go. Prayed it through, and was fairly successful. Truth be told, I still didn't really care for the guy, but I was able to acknowledge his giftedness. And also to recognize that his accomplishments in no way diminished mine. We were different people with different talents. Plenty of room to celebrate both.
We have a strange tendency to sit and stare at "the good" if we are not included in it. Rather than celebrate it, we wonder why we were left out. Being in the presence of talent and accomplishment prompts us to consider ours. And if we find we don't quite measure up, we might be tempted to pull down the more talented one, believing we rise in the estimation of others if we can lessen the impact of the "shining star." But, alas, such a ploy only diminishes whatever light we may potentially shine forth. Putting a bushel basket over someone else's light simply means there is less light to see by.
The primary issue may be that we tend find our self worth in things that are illusory and fleeting. If it is our wealth that gives us stature, then we have a vested interest in others' poverty. If their bankbook tally approaches ours, we lose our specialness.
If it is our good looks that fuels our self-image, we want to hang around ugly people lest another's physical prowess casts a shadow over ours. But this perspective is an inherently self-destructive one. It leads to anxious and futile striving. There really is room for all of us to shine. The more light the better. We just have to believe it.
Which brings me back to Lent. I've been trying to be conscious of fasting from residing in the land of comparison and competition. I want to trade in that passport. When I catch myself straining my neck, I've been trying to look straight ahead instead. I'm practicing celebrating my own giftedness and talents in a way that roots me more securely in my status as LOVED CHILD OF GOD. There is no scarcity in the world of love. The more we give away, the more we get. And someone else being loved does nothing to diminish my own capacity for "loveableness."
I did recently hear about another preacher in a neighboring parish who was packing them in for the retreat he was giving. I almost asked, "How many is he getting?" so I could compare stats with the retreat I am presently giving. But, instead, I simply said, "Good for him." And good for me too.