Have you ever noticed that, in our life, when we consider worldly gains like money, success, etc., we always compare our lives to certain icons of our culture. When we aspire to great business sense, we compare ourselves to the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates degree of business sense and financial wealth. When we aspire to sports athleticism, we compare ourselves to the Steph Currys and the Alex Rodriguezes of the world. It’s fully logical, it makes perfect sense that you would compare yourself to someone that you would aspire to be like. An acting student would choose a Gary Oldman type of actor to aspire to be. As a musician, I have seen many guitarists compare themselves to the plethora of virtuosoes, seeking to imitate their style and training regiments.
Yet, when it comes to our theology and righteousness, we always compare ourselves to those who are “less righteous” in our eyes. I’ve heard so many times in my life that “I’m bad, but I’m not as bad as _______.” Or, “hey, at least I don’t do _______.”
I find it grievous that when it comes to accomplishing worldly goals, we tend to focus on those who are exponentially better than we are, but when it comes to righteousness, we focus on those who make us feel better about who we already are. I have never heard someone say, “I want to be as compassionate as Mother Theresa,” or “I want to know more theology than _______ (insert random theologian here).
To me, it says a lot about our character that we can aspire to greatness in things that mean nothing, but aspire to mediocrity in the things that actually matter. And this just a generalization, obviously there are exceptions to it, but it was something that was placed on my heart the other day.
Our role models in this life so often tend to be those who have “succeeded” in this life, but our role models for eternity tend to be those who make us feel like we have nothing to worry about. It seems as though it should be the opposite. When we consider our lives and our finances, we should first bring to mind the homeless beggar down the street, the Dalits of India, the Christians in the Middle East or China. And our focus on our righteousness should be to attain to the level of the saints. We should aspire to be the John Chrysostoms, the Basil the Greats, the Mother Theresas of this generation.
When we are able to reverse the trend of comparison in our lives, we will truly be able to recognize how abundantly we have been given, and how little we truly need, and thus be able to bless others with the same grace, mercy, compassion, love that we have been shown. As St Basil teaches us, “If you begin to guard your wealth, it will not be yours. But, if you begin to distribute it, you will not lose it.” and as St Isaac the Syrian teaches us, “A cruel and merciless heart is never purified. A merciful man is the doctor of his own soul, because as it were by a strong wind from his heart, he drives out the darkness of the passions.”