Wrestling with Comparisons | J.B. Haws

Wrestling with Comparisons | J.B. Haws


In our Church history classes, we often talk
about the importance—and blessing—of openness
and candor. So, in a nod to that spirit of
openness, I feel compelled to admit candidly
that when I first received this invitation
from vice president Matthew O. Richardson’s
office, I mulled it over for a day, and then
I wrote an apologetic email asking if there
was any way that I could be excused at this
time.
A couple of things factored into my sense
that I just did not want to give a devotional
right now. First, I have always sort of dreamed
that my debut on BYUtv would be a guest cameo
on Studio C, and I just was not ready to give
up on my dream! If any of you know me, and
if any of you know Studio C, you know that
my whole life would be a treasure trove of
material for new “Awkward Avoidance Viking”
sketches. Second—and this held only slightly
more sway in my decision-­making process—I
just did not know what I would say at the
devotional. And that really weighed on me.
I thought about all of the past devotionals
that have been so memorable. I could start
running through a list right here of BYU devotionals
that still stick with me. Plus, I rationalized
that the intervening weeks might be too busy
to put in the preparation time that this deserved.
I cared too much about BYU devotionals to
get this wrong! Vice President Richardson
sent back a very gracious and understanding
email agreeing to let me off the hook, and
I felt no guilt.
The next morning though, a new thought wiggled
its way into my consciousness. It was one
of those inner-dialogue moments—those moments
that, somehow, we can just sense originate
outside of ourselves. Here is how I would
express that new thought: “Are you really
going to tell me that you are going to pass
up the chance to put in the time to think
about something, wrestle with something, and
learn something just because you know it is
going to require work and focus? Why would
you pass up on the chance to learn something
that you need to learn, to put in the work
so that you can put down onto paper things
that now might only be swimming around vaguely
in your head?” And then there came to me
a quote by Francis Bacon that a former professor
of mine was wont to repeat: “Writing [makes]
an exact man.” Somehow I just knew that
I needed to learn something with more exactness
and with more precision through the exercise
of writing it down.
My guess is that many of you, at the end of
our time together, might wish that the lesson
I had learned was to leave well enough alone
when we receive gracious and understanding
emails letting us off the hook when we have
nothing to say. But I was no longer in a place
in which I felt like I could do that. The
truth of the situation had been laid bare,
and I knew that I should do this.
But I still did not know what I was going
to say. I just could not shake the feeling
of how good past devotionals have been or
the feeling of wondering if I could measure
up. This might be my one shot, I thought—on
the off chance, of course, that the Studio
C thing does not pan out. What would people
think? What if the best thing my family members
could say to me afterward would be, “Hey,
I loved how the BYUtv makeup artist did a
good job of making your eyebrows look smaller”?
How would my devotional talk compare in the
field of BYU devotional talks? And, in a flash
of recognition, I was suddenly pulled up short.
There it was. That was it. I needed to spend
some time wrestling to the ground this vexatious
tendency to compare.
This tendency to compare is something that
I think about all the time because I do it
all the time. But even that statement is a
bit misleading. Saying, “I do it all the
time,” is like saying, “I breathe all
the time.” It just happens without me thinking
about it. It can almost feel ­reflexive—almost
natural. And that is the point. That is why
it is so vexatious. We know from Mosiah 3
that when we are left to our “natural”
state, we struggle to “[yield] to the enticings
of the Holy Spirit.” We are not where God
wants us to be, and we are not what He knows
we can be. We are in opposition to Him, at
cross-purposes to His plan. But also, because
these comparisons seem to happen so naturally,
I hope that we all feel like fellow travelers
on this road.
So what would the Holy Spirit entice us to
do? Where can we yield on this?
First, we need to identify the problem. Let
me outline it by revealing how I used to envision
the scriptural narrative in Doctrine and Covenants
7, with some admitted literary license. This
section adds important detail to the account
in John 21 and retells how John expressed
his heartfelt wish to have “power over death,
that [he could] live and bring souls unto
[Christ]” until Jesus comes again. We learn
in section 7 of the Doctrine and Covenants
that Peter, on the other hand, had desired
that he might “speedily come unto [the Lord]
in [His] kingdom.”
Here is how I have imagined this scenario
playing out. This is my mental screenplay
of the scriptural story. Peter approaches
the Savior a bit hesitantly and quietly asks,
“What was John’s heartfelt wish?” Peter
learns that John desired to stay on the earth
until the Second Coming to preach the gospel.
I can see Peter keeping a forced smile and
saying, “Wow. That is wonderful.” But
in his mind he is really thinking, “Ahhh!
I am so dumb! Why didn’t I ask for that?
Why didn’t I even think of that? John is
so much more righteous than I am! Not to mention
he is a faster runner than I am! Why do I
always have to be so impetuous and jump in
first on everything?”
In this reading, one might assume that Doctrine
and Covenants 7:5 would read like this: “I
say unto thee, Peter, [your desire to come
speedily into my kingdom] was a good desire;
but my beloved [John] has desired that he
might do more, or a greater work yet among
men than what [you have done, thou slacker].”
I can still remember where I was, however,
when I realized that of course the verse did
not read that way. Here is how it really reads:
“I say unto thee, Peter, this was a good
desire; but my beloved has desired that he
might do more, or a greater work yet among
men than what he has before done.”
I feel this with the force of truth: our perfect,
loving God makes no horizontal comparisons.
In this verse Jesus only compared John with
John’s former self—John with old John.
He only compared Peter with old Peter, with
former Peter. And He only compares me with
old me.
Here is a more contemporary example from President
Boyd K. Packer’s time as a mission president:
I needed a new assistant and had prayed much
about the matter. I then called zone conferences,
where I met and interviewed every missionary,
always with the thought in my mind, “Is
this the man?” The answer finally came:
“This is the man.” He was appointed. He
had been permitted to come on a mission only
after some considerable shaping up to become
eligible.
After the announcement one of the zone leaders
came to see me privately. He came from the
same community in the West as did the new
assistant. He was obviously disturbed. His
first question was, “Do you really know
the elder you have appointed as your assistant?”
“Yes, Elder. I know all that you know about
him, and a good deal more,” was my answer.
“Why, then, was he appointed your assistant?”
I pondered for a moment and then said, “Elder,
why don’t you ask the question that you
came to ask?”
“What do you mean?”
“Ask the question that is really on your
mind,” I encouraged.
“But I did,” he said.
“No,” I said. “There is another question.
The thing that is on your mind is not ‘Why
did you appoint him as your assistant’;
it is ‘Why did you not appoint me?’”
Now please understand. I thought his unexpressed
question to be a very logical and sensible
one. . . .
. . . I had sympathy for this young man and
admired him greatly for his courage to speak.
“If you should ask why you were not chosen,”
I said, “I would have to answer, ‘I do
not know, Elder.’ I only know that he was
chosen. Perhaps he may fail. But at least
I know he is the one with the combination
of talents and ability and qualities best
calculated to get done what the office needs
at the moment.
“This is no reflection upon you. You may
yet preside over him and many above him. You
may be his bishop or his stake president.
You may preside over the Church. I do not
know. But his call is no reflection upon you.
Do not be injured by it.
“Go back to work and serve the Lord. Sustain
him,” I counseled. “Your contest is not
with him but with yourself.”
I need to read that golden line again:
Or, put another way, here is Elder Jeffrey
R. Holland on this:
These are such important statements. They
are the type of statements that I want emblazoned
on my mind, that I want written on the “fleshy
tables of [my] heart.” Just repeating a
sentence like “your contest is not with
him but with yourself” or “the race is
against sin, not against each other” feels
like verbal aloe vera on our sunburned souls.
It soothes, it cools, and we feel tense muscles
relax.
We know all about this, don’t we? We feel
these truths deeply. But if we know these
truths, if they make us feel so settled, then
why is it so hard to remember them once we
leave the safe confines of a BYU devotional
or the reassuring embraces of our wise mothers
or fathers or siblings or friends who have
just reminded us of these truths?
Why is it still so hard? And what do we do?
If it is like breathing, what do we do?
What can we do?
Well, for one thing, we can be mindful. One
aspect of mindfulness (and this is certainly
from my novice’s perspective of mindfulness)
is to pay attention to your breathing—and
good things happen. So, first, let’s draw
attention to our tendency to compare. Be mindful
of it, think about it, and sit with it. And
here are some things we notice.
Mortality and modernity seem to be especially
well designed to give us the “customized
curriculum” (Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s wonderful
phrase) that we need to confront our tendency
to compare. And as we confront this, we sense
that comparing can lead to all kinds of trouble.
On the one hand, it can breed arrogance. It
can breed conceit. It can breed disdain and
contempt (thinking of the profound things
that Arthur C. Brooks said at commencement
two weeks ago). It can breed self-satisfaction
and complacency and apathy. On the other hand,
it can breed despair. It can breed hopelessness.
It can breed feelings of worthlessness and
shame. It is a pretty potent instrument for
sin and misery, I would say! Chapter 6 of
3 Nephi presents a situation in which Satan’s
success in getting those Saints to be puffed
up in comparisons and in ranks and in distinctions
meant that “the church began to be broken
up”!
No wonder that Alma said that he sinned in
his wish to be an angel. I have always thought
that was a bit of poetic hyperbole on Alma’s
part. After all, who could fault a desire
to have the voice of an angel to “cry repentance
unto every people”? But maybe he was on
to something. Maybe he understood deeply that
comparisons—which then can fuel envying
and coveting or self-loathing and the paralysis
of inaction—can really be just that debilitating.
They can keep us from playing the vital role
that has been “allotted unto [us],” and
so Alma needed to call it like he saw it:
he was sinning in his wish.
Can’t we just hear echoes of President Ezra
Taft Benson’s classic discourse on pride,
which is always worthy of a reread? President
Benson said,
Let’s pause for a dose of reality here.
I can imagine my own reaction to all of this
if I were sitting in this audience. I can
hear myself thinking: “Well, thank you very
much. Now not only do I feel badly about myself
because of all these comparisons with everyone
around me, I feel even worse because of the
realization that I am sinning when I make
these comparisons. That is just super. I wish
I had just stayed in bed today.” If any
of this is coming across in that way, I get
that. But I think that another way to look
at this would be to see it as empowering.
We can take Nephi’s approach. We can say,
“Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin,”
and “Why should I give way to temptations,
that the evil one have place in my heart to
destroy my peace and afflict my soul?”
We can notice how false these comparisons
most often are—that is, that they are often
based on falsehoods and on faulty premises,
both of ­others’ making and of our own
making. That is worth noting, worth confronting,
and worth ­constantly reminding ourselves.
Korihor’s exchange with Alma rightfully
gets a lot of attention in Church lessons
and discourses. Alma 30 is a rich and layered
chapter. But I think that one of Korihor’s
assertions does not get enough attention for
just how demonstrably false it is. Here is
how that assertion is reported in Alma 30:17.
Korihor asserted that “every man prospered
according to his genius, and that every man
conquered according to his strength.” That
assertion is simply not true, and when we
are honest with ourselves, we know it is not
true.
What I mean is that no one can legitimately
say, in the ultimate sense, “I prospered
because of my genius,” or “I conquered
because of my strength.” We know that, in
reality, so many variables are involved. Where
we are born, when we are born, our race, our
gender, the schools available to us, the education
level of our parents, genetic markers like
height and muscle mass, the timing of our
application and the pool of applicants for
a program or a job—there are so many things
that are out of our control. All of these
factors impact the degree to which we even
have the opportunity to “prosper” or “conquer.”
There have been many geniuses who have not
had equal opportunity to prosper and many
strong men and women who have not had equal
opportunity to conquer. And for that matter,
what does “prospering” or “conquering”
even definitively look like?
We have to be careful here. This does not
mean that we simply acquiesce to biological
determinism or circumstantial determinism,
nor wallow in defeatism. Agency is a reality
and an incomparable endowment. But can we
see why comparisons just are not fair—to
us or to others? There are too many variables
involved. That is why degree of difficulty
matters in Olympic diving—and in life, as
Elder Maxwell would remind us.
All of this is to say that we should certainly
be more compassionate with everyone because
we do not know what burdens they are carrying
or what life loads are weighing them down.
And we should certainly be more humble when
we succeed. Is it any wonder that King Benjamin
asked, “Can ye say aught of yourselves?
I answer you, Nay.” I wonder how many doors
have been opened in my life because I grew
up in Hooper, Utah. I can take no credit for
the golden ticket of being from that beautiful
beachfront town on the shores of the Great
Salt Lake.
We really must acknowledge that privilege
is real. Prejudice is real. Injustice is real.
Remember that Korihor was anti-Christ. The
demonstrably false statement that we prosper
according to our genius seems to be another
way of denying that we need Christ—or that
we need anyone. Think of the punchline of
Ephesians 2:8–9. We need to be reminded
that it is “by grace” we are saved. It
is the gift of God, lest any of us “should
boast”!
On the beautiful flip side, then, we can trust
that the Lord’s grace is sufficient to ultimately
right every injustice, to make up for every
loss, and to make weak things become strong.
When we come face to face with our weakness,
Ether 12:27 is a good place to turn. We are
reminded that the Lord gives unto men and
women “weakness that they may be humble.”
Not weaknesses but weakness. Weakness. A shared,
universal condition: mortality. Mortality
makes us humble—again and again and again.
And I might submit that this tendency to compare
is part of mortality and that it is universal—to
lesser and greater degrees, of course. When
we are humbled by that recognition, we can
trust that through the Lord’s all-sufficient
grace, weak things can become strong.
And that is ultimately the only place we can
turn, “the only name” by which “salvation
[can] come.” I realize, again and again,
that I cannot overcome this on my own. I realize,
again and again, that I do not have to.
What Elder Ronald A. Rasband reminded religious
educators three months ago is the same message
that has been weighing on my heart, and I
feel inadequate to deliver it with the forcefulness
that it deserves. Elder Rasband titled his
talk “Jesus Christ Is the Answer.” This
is the message we all need to hear. In this
human dilemma, Jesus is the answer: His teachings,
His example, and His power to effect a change
of heart—a lasting, ­saving change of heart—in
each of us.
Let’s consider a thought or two about the
teachings of Jesus Christ. When we find ourselves
worried about how we measure up as we compare
ourselves with everyone around us, and when
we are worried about what others think of
us, at least we are in good company! I am
so grateful that the gospel writers were honest
enough (even, in some cases, honest enough
about themselves!) to include passages that
show that Jesus’s apostles struggled over
this, even squabbled over this. When they
asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom
of heaven?” (perhaps the champion of all
comparison-motivated questions!) “Jesus
called a little child unto him . . . and said
. . . whosoever therefore shall humble himself
as this little child, the same is greatest
in the kingdom of heaven.”
This of course starts cross-references popping
up in our minds. We remember that one of the
ways that King Benjamin recommended that we
overcome our natural man or natural woman
state is to become as a little child.
I have four wonderful children—Parley, Marshall,
Truman, and Ashley—and I have learned so
many lessons from them. An image that is as
vivid in my mind today as it was when it happened
a dozen years ago is a backyard game of catch
with my two oldest boys, Parley and Marshall.
Parley was five or six years old; Marshall
was probably three. I would throw the football
to each of them in turn. Parley was catching
the football almost every time. Marshall,
not so much.
I can see Marshall concentrating, watching
the ball—and then missing it every time.
No matter how I threw the ball, it seemed
like it always hit him on the head as it went
right through his hands, which were closing
for the ball just one beat too early or too
late. Luckily it was a really soft, inflatable
football. But here is the thing I will never
forget: Marshall cheered, jumped up and down,
and squealed in delight every time Parley
caught it. I can still hear his little voice
yelling, “Good catch, Par!” or “That
was great, Par!” And then he would miss
the next throw that came to him. But somehow
that did not dampen his enthusiasm for Parley’s
success. Somehow he knew that his contest
was not with Parley. He could have joy in
Parley’s success. How do we recapture that
sense of childlike celebration for the good
fortune of others?
I think we recapture that sense by thinking
less about ourselves. That statement calls
for so many qualifications. We all have to
be on the lookout for the ways that a sincere
desire for selflessness can, in some terrible
situations, be manipulated into codependency
or victimization. Please know that if we see
this happening to others around us or to ourselves,
we are never called to self-abnegation that
harms our mental or physical or emotional
well-being. Some of the best things we can
do for ourselves or others is to stop abuse
of this kind. Remember that Jesus said that
we must cut off hands or eyes that offend
us, and the Joseph Smith Translation makes
clear that this cutting off might include
so-called friends and family and those we
have trusted who are leading us down pernicious
paths. These are situations that cannot be
ignored.
But with that important caveat always in our
minds, here is how President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
captured what the right kind of selflessness
looks like, in the best sense:
When we see the world around us through the
lens of the pure love of Christ, we begin
to understand humility.
Some suppose that humility is about beating
ourselves up. Humility does not mean convincing
ourselves that we are worthless, meaningless,
or of little value. Nor does it mean denying
or withholding the talents God has given us.
Here is how C. S. Lewis said this:
Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble
man he will be what most people call “humble”
nowadays: he will not be a . . . person . . . who
is always telling you that, of course, he
is nobody. Probably all you will think about
him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent
chap who took a real interest in what you
said to him. . . .
Doesn’t this description just fit with the
image of the Son of God kneeling before weary
and confused disciples and washing their feet?
Isn’t this Jesus—while on the cross—assigning
the duties of a son to John because of Jesus’s
concern for His heartbroken mother? This is
Jesus, choosing to be a guest at a publican’s
house without worrying about the way that
His reputation might be harmed in the eyes
of murmurers. This is Jesus, immune to the
criticisms of people who, if they had lived
in today’s world, would be making their
same sniping judgments in the comment sections
of social media posts. This is Jesus, sincerely
and wholeheartedly deflecting praise and glorifying
His Father. And on and on and on.
A brief anecdote from Sister Susan W. Tanner
captures this as beautifully as almost anything
I have ever heard. She was serving as the
general president of the Church’s Young
Women organization when she related this in
an October 2005 general conference talk:
I remember well the insecurities I felt as
a teenager with a bad case of acne. I tried
to care for my skin properly. My parents helped
me get medical attention. For years I even
went without eating chocolate and all the
greasy fast foods around which teens often
socialize, but with no obvious healing consequences.
It was difficult for me at that time to fully
appreciate this body which was giving me so
much grief. But my good mother taught me a
higher law. Over and over she said to me,
“You must do everything you can to make
your appearance pleasing, but
That is it. In a beautiful nutshell, that
is it.
Think of all of the questions that bombard
us on a daily basis: Did I get picked for
a leadership position on my mission? Did I
score more points than my rival in the basketball
game? Did I get the highest score on the test
in my class? Was I the one student from BYU
who landed the internship? Did I play more
flawlessly in my audition than did everyone
else? Did my witty comment in Sunday School
make more people laugh than my roommate’s
comment did? If I glance over at the treadmill
next to mine, will I find that I am running
at a faster pace? And on and on and on. These
constantly nipping questions are all about
me, me, me. And it is exhausting.
Doesn’t it sound freeing and liberating
to think less about ourselves? To not be thinking
about ourselves at all? And to do that effortlessly,
as naturally as breathing, because it is just
who we are? As if the armor of God that we
put on is coated in Teflon, so that none of
this—not flattery, not worry about where
we measure up, and not insecurities fueled
by the lack of retweets—can even possibly
stick to us?
Jesus is the answer: His teachings, His example,
and especially His power to effect this change
in our hearts. I am so thankful for Moroni
7:48:
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto
the Father with all the energy of heart, that
ye may be filled with this love, which he
hath bestowed upon all who are true followers
of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become
the sons of God; that when he shall appear
we shall be like him, for we shall see him
as he is; that we may have this hope; that
we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.
Amen, indeed!
When we pray with all the energy of heart
and strive to be true followers of Jesus Christ,
this pure love of Christ is bestowed on us.
It fills us. This matters so much in this
specific area of our “strivings within”
(isn’t that a fitting phrase from the hymn
“More Holiness Give Me”?) because charity
renders powerless this temptation to compare.
That is because, when filled with charity
that “seeketh not her own,” we are purified
even as Jesus is pure.
One area in which we need that purifying power
is in our motives. President Benson wisely
said about pride that it is in “our motives
for the things we do . . . where the sin is
manifest.”
I have heard historian Richard Lyman Bushman
say this so forcefully. When our motives are
pure, when we act out of a pure heart, and
when our only intent is to bless others, prideful
comparisons are defanged. They have no bearing
in our thinking. When we are filled with charity,
we will be like the Savior. Why was being
pure so natural for Him? Because, simply,
He knew who He was and He knows you and He
knows me. He truly knows us, truly sees who
we are. That changes everything. If we ask
ourselves whether or not Jesus compared Himself
to those around Him or took comfort in where
He stood “on the ladders of . . . success”
and in who was beneath Him, the question becomes
instantly ridiculous. We remember that this
is the Savior who aims to make us—in the
language of Doctrine and Covenants 88—“equal
with him”! There is no jealousy, no competition.
If the temptation to compare reared its head,
He “gave no heed” to it. And we can be
like Him.
The truth is, we are going to walk out of
this room and right back into the pressure
cooker. Universities, the job market, social
media (oh, social media!), and even Church
basketball are all set up systemically, almost
intrinsically, to force comparisons upon us.
But that does not mean that we have to give
heed!
A few years ago, after we had read in class
excerpts from President Benson’s talk on
pride, including some of the passages we have
read here about competition and comparison,
a student asked, “Then how I am even supposed
to play sports?” Admittedly, I did not have
any easy answers then, and I do not have any
easy answers now. It is tough. But I do say
that we should not shy away from these crucibles
of comparison in which our character is forged
and in which we can really practice what we
are talking about here.
We can play sports and feel the thrill of
our muscles stretching and responding as we
are learning new skills and putting into action
things that we have practiced; our contest
can be just with ourselves, and we can honestly
celebrate the successes of others. We can
take our exams in school without worrying
about how our grades compare to those of others.
Instead, we can measure ourselves against
only ourselves and feel the thrill of calling
on new knowledge to solve new problems. (Okay,
I admit that I might be waxing a bit too poetic
about the thrill of celebrating new knowledge
when we have to take school exams, but you
catch my drift.) We can play musical pieces,
paint paintings, write stories, and join in
the joy that these expressions of talents
and hard work will bring to others.
Think of how Jesus freely used His talents
and gifts to bless others, over and over and
over. This is not about hiding under a bushel;
this is about not worrying how brightly our
light shines in comparison with the person
right next to us. This is about having pure
motives—being purified even as He is pure.
After all, Jesus is the very light that we
want to “hold up”! And do we ever need
this light! Does the world ever need this
light! Why? Because we come to realize that
everyone, to some degree or another, feels
these insecurities. It is so vital that we
reach to lift others because everyone feels
the weight of this trying to pull them down.
There is even a syndrome to describe this
weight: impostor syndrome. It is this nagging
sense that no matter what you have accomplished,
sooner or later someone will discover that
you simply are not good enough, that you do
not belong, and that your qualifications really
are a sham. In a world in which that weight
drags on everyone, we need people who respond
to President Benson’s call to “[conquer]
enmity toward our brothers and sisters, [esteem]
them as ourselves, and [lift] them as high
or higher than we are.”
This whole endeavor is rife with paradoxes,
but, as Terryl L. Givens has so aptly put
it, as disciples of Christ, we are a “people
of paradox”! These very tensions can be
so productive. The best way to remember that
our contests are only with ourselves is to
think less about ourselves. The best way to
stop comparing ourselves with others is to
think more of others! When we don’t find
easy answers, it is my hope and my prayer
that the Spirit will teach us of these “peaceable
things of the kingdom,” even when they are
hard for us to articulate.
There is no question that you and I are going
to fail at many things we attempt to do, and
in the eyes of those making comparisons, we
all are repeatedly going to fall short. There
is always a bigger fish, so to speak. You
are going to get emails or voicemails or text
messages—maybe even this very day—notifying
you that someone else was hired for a job,
that someone else was picked for the team,
that someone is not interested in a second
date, that someone else has been called as
Relief Society president, and so on. But do
not take that as a mark of your worth. Disappointments
do sting, but they can also be wonderfully,
albeit painfully, formative. All things really
can “work together for [the] good [of] them
that love God.” But do not let the temptation
to compare give these disappointments destructive
power. These comparisons are counterfeits;
they do not—cannot—adequately measure
what really matters. When disappointments
hit, we take a deep breath; we remember what
really matters.
I remember being very struck the first time
I heard someone quote what President David
O. McKay said about imagining our future interview
with the Lord. Elder Robert D. Hales quoted
this in a BYU devotional in 1988. The focus
of President McKay’s hypothetical interview
was the quality of our relationships, with
special attention on individuals in our immediate
families. Pointedly, deliberately, President
McKay stressed that the Lord will not ask
about our professions, only our integrity.
He will not ask for our résumé of Church
callings, only our interest in ministering
to others. These are the things that really
matter.
C. S. Lewis once proposed,
I would submit that
this includes becoming the sort of people
who slough off the tendency to compare just
like water off the proverbial duck’s back.
Like Lehi in his dream, we pay no heed to
those siren voices or those “finger[s] of
scorn.”
So, with all of this said, in our quest to
become people of a particular sort, how do
we evaluate how we are doing? Well, not by
comparing! This is another of those paradoxes.
If we are not careful, we might fall into
the trap that is waiting for us just around
the corner. Can’t you just hear yourself
saying, “I am doing so well at this not-comparing
thing. I bet I compare myself to others way
less than my roommate does.” And here we
go again. One thing we all need is something
that Elder Maxwell recommended in another
classic, must-read address titled “Notwithstanding
My Weakness.” Here is one of his recommendations
to help “manage” what he called “these
vexing feelings of inadequacy”:
We can make quiet but more honest inventories
of our strengths, since, in this connection,
most of us are dishonest bookkeepers and need
confirming “outside auditors.”
I have to pause here to acknowledge deep,
personal gratitude for so many “outside
auditors” in my life, especially my wife
and my mother, who personify all that we have
talked about today and who just are this way!
We can be those all-­important outside auditors
that others need.
I am also confident that President Benson
would say to us, just as he did in 1989:
We must be careful, as we seek to become more
and more godlike, that we do not become discouraged
and lose hope. Becoming Christlike is a lifetime
pursuit and very often involves growth and
change that is slow, almost imperceptible.
In “tiny, daily” ways, then, we practice.
We purify our motives. We pray with all the
energy of heart for the Lord to fill us with
the love and grace that make our practice
and our purifying ­efficacious—until this
all feels as natural and as effortless as
breathing, as the love between parents and
children, and as the love between siblings
or lifelong friends.
And lastly, we combat falsehood with truth:
We see Korihor’s lie, and we raise it with
a truth about the celestial kingdom, the kingdom
in which we will “see as [we] are seen,
and know as [we] are known.” Could we pray
for clearer glimpses of that in the here and
now? Could we pray more to see others that
way? Could our prayers and our comparisons
stay riveted on how we are becoming “new
creature[s]” in Christ, on how far His grace
has taken us and can yet take us from our
old selves?
Here is one last story. I love this story
as much as any story that has ever appeared
in the New Era. It is called “The Visitor,”
by Ken Merrell, from the May 2000 issue.
When I was 18, as I was preparing to serve
a mission, my bishop called me to teach the
Sunbeams. . . .
One day I invited Mike to come to church and
sit in my class. Mike was my age but had stopped
attending church completely by the time he
was 12. We had remained friends over the years.
. . . Once in a while Mike would accept my
invitations to come to an activity. It always
surprised me when he did, so I kept ­inviting
him.
At that time, Mike had long, black hair and
a beard. . . . I don’t remember when I invited
him to my Primary class, but one day he showed
up.
“Class, I would like to introduce you to
my friend Mike,” is how I began my lesson.
“He is visiting us today.”
Mike sat next to me in front. The children
sat in a semicircle with their eyes fixed
on him. They were much quieter than usual.
I was about five or six minutes into the lesson
when one little boy got up from his chair
and walked across the room and stood directly
in front of my friend. . . .
. . . The other children watched the two of
them for a few minutes. . . .
Then it happened. . . .
With the innocence of a child, [the boy] said
to Mike, “Are you Jesus?”
The look on Mike’s face was total surprise.
It seemed, as I glanced at the children’s
faces, they all had the same question on their
minds.
Mike looked at me as if to say, Help, what
do I say?
I stepped in. “No, this is not Jesus. This
is His brother.”
Mike looked at me as if in shock.
Then without hesitation the boy . . . reached
up and wrapped his arms around Mike’s neck.
“I can tell,” the boy said as he hugged
Mike.
The author ends the story by saying that just
over a year later, Mike was serving as a missionary.
My guess is that he was reminded of something
that day that he had not thought about for
a very, very long time.
So, I say this to you and I say this to me:
Let’s all find a mirror. Let’s look at
ourselves. Let’s see as we are seen. Let’s
repeat, “My contest is not with anyone else;
my contest is with myself. The race is against
sin, not against each other.” Then we must
pray with all the energy of heart to be filled
with the pure love of Christ, of Him who is
“the author and finisher of our faith.”
We must refuse to let lies “interrupt [our]
rejoicings” over the truths that are deeper
and more convincing than the falsehoods of
comparisons. And then we must walk out the
door, forget ourselves, and start concentrating
on others.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


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