And we love it. I mean, we don't live by it, but we love the ideal. In all areas of our lives but one, we are supposed to ignore what everyone else is doing and simply do our best to the glory of God. That's enough. But in what one area does this not apply? I say we preach the exact opposite when it comes to suffering and pain. Comparison is king when it comes to suffering. We're supposed to be stoic in the face of difficulty.
"I can't really let fill in the blank get me down because so and so is dealing with fill in the blank, and that's so much worse than what I'm dealing with. Thank God I'm not going through that situation right now."
Isn't that what we tell ourselves? It's certainly what I tell myself. I berate myself and say I shouldn't struggle so much with something because at least I'm not dealing with cancer, ISIS, death, etc. And we absolutely need perspective. Sometimes we're being whiny over things that don't matter. For example, the Chinese restaurant forgot my egg rolls last night. I didn't realize it until I'd gotten home. HOW COULD THEY DO THAT?!?!! The egg rolls are my favorite part! They're like dessert! In that moment when I realized I didn't have my beloved egg roll, I felt sadness and anger. And then I got over it because it's an egg roll. I'm better off for not eating it anyway, and it's barely a blip on my radar of life. Sometimes we make problems so much bigger in our minds than they really need to be. And sometimes we suffer through hard things that still aren't as catastrophic as what someone else is going through. There's always someone going down a darker, rougher road than we are at the moment.
Still. That doesn't mean we're not in pain; that we're not grappling with circumstances and feelings that we don't exactly know how to get a handle on. Being stoic in the face of pain is a lie. Have you read the Psalms? They are full of laments. They are full of words expressing sorrow, pain, regret, and anger. Those people were going through difficult things, and they cried out to God in their pain. He didn't tell them to get over it because some other person was going through a quantifiably more difficult situation at the moment.
When we put it like that, it seems ridiculous, right? Of course God isn't going to put us on a sliding scale to determine how much pain we should allow ourselves to feel. We live through painful situations, and we feel pain. It's human. It's appropriate. Telling ourselves it's not really that bad doesn't make that pain go away. We're just compounding our suffering with a lie. We're pouring salt on the wound. In that moment, the pain really is that bad. Why is it wrong to acknowledge it, feel it, and take it to God?
Obviously, we need balance. Sometimes we might need the friend that gently reminds us that things aren't as terrible as we feel at the moment. Even so, isn't it better to work through the struggles we have instead of pretending it's not really there? I know I'm not fooling myself when I try the comparison trick. I just feel worse for feeling sad or angry in the first place. It's another one of those downward spirals of guilt.
I think of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18. Aren't we just being Pharisees when our go-to answer to someone's personal pain and suffering is "well, just be thankful you're not dealing with fill in the blank. Now that person really has something to feel bad about."
I don't want to be a Pharisee. I don't want to shut someone down when they're actually willing to open up and share their suffering with me. I hope I can be a comfort. After the week I and some people close to me have had, I hope we can all find comfort instead of comparison.