As I have mentioned in the past, in addition to being a pastor here, I help run a before school breakfast and tutoring program called Books & Breakfast in Evanston.
And one thing we do with this program is give our little prizes SLIDE when a student has completed their work for an entire week. However, we only give out the prizes one day per week.
Now, there was one day where a student was just super upset, crying, in a really bad place. I got them to tell me that it had to do with a fight that they had gotten in with their mother before school. They were totally distraught. And I was trying to think of a way to help the kid turn their day around, so that they could be present and get the most out of the upcoming school day.
So, I thought, such a great idea, I’ll sneak them one of weekly prizes, even though it wasn’t a prize day, perhaps this little eraser could help them get back on track. And, like I said, such a good idea, it worked like a charm.
It was just the thing to calm them down, and help them get back on track.
However, another student saw me giving out the prize on a non-prize day nonetheless. I thought I had been slick, I thought I had been discrete, but kids just have a 6th sense about this kind of thing.
SLIDE It’s like a spidey sense… Someone is getting a prize that I am not getting. And before I know it I had three kids around me at max whining power. IIIITTTT”SSSSS NOOOOOTTTT FAAAIIRRRR. SLIDE They got a prize and I didn’t. And I quickly realize that I have made a terrible mistake. I don’t have enough prizes to give everyone an extra prize, and I can’t like ask for the prize back from the kid who has just settled down and is now doing their homework.
But, I have these three kinds crying UNFAIR! And one of them is now starting to literally cry because of the great injustice of them not getting a prize. Why do they get a prize and not me, I’ve done everything have. They didn’t even show up on time yesterday. IIIIITTT’SSS NOOOOTTTT FAAAIIIRRRR.
SLIDE So, I did what every adult with an decent moral fiber would do. I lied. I told them that I didn’t have any left and that I couldn’t give them one, but that I would give them an extra one next week. Then I hoped they would forget about it when next week came.
I don’t know if you have witnessed something like this, but there is just nothing quite like a child who thinks they are not being treated fairly, especially when it comes to rewards, treats, or candy.
It’s something that I think is kind of universal in all of us, we are born with the distinct ability to see when someone is getting something we are not. And especially when we are younger, we can feel an indignation of the unfairness of it all that we didn’t get a prize too.
Thankfully as we get older we mature a bit, hopefully we get a little better at managing these experiences of unfair life. Hopefully we don’t break down crying anymore when we see someone else get an extra dessert.
However, I don’t think we really grow out of this acute awareness of the unfair as much as we think we do. We may not throw a tantrum because we didn’t get an eraser too, but we do experience internal distress when we feel like we are getting the short end of the stick in life.
I think about my father who is going to his 50 year high school reunion SLIDE this next month. And high school reunions are notorious for their ability to provoke distress over the unfairness of life. How did that person end up so successful, they were a total dork in high school. How did that person end up so rich, they were a jerk in high school. Did you see the house that person lives in, how on earth did they get that.
But, what is interesting about the last 10 years, is that you don’t have to wait for your high school reunion to provoke these emotions of that’s not fair.
With FB we get to essentially have the high school reunion experience every day.
WOW, that Guy is a CEO now.
Look at how cute and happy her family looks.
Ohhh, a they just got a weekend in Paris, that must of have been fun.
Holy cow my cousin just bought a house.
And I think it is just really easy in that moment when you see your high school best friend’s little sister celebrating her new Mercedes, it really easy to feel just like that second grade student from my opening story. That is not fair...
SLIDE here is the strange truth about life being fair. It’s just not.
And even more than that, if life was fair, for most the people in this room, we wouldn’t actually have more things. If life was fair, big picture speaking, globally, SLIDE everyone’s life in this room would be a lot worse
According to the world food programme - 795 million people in the world do not have enough food. According to the world health organization - 400 million people lack access to essential health care According to Gallup - the median annual income for humans worldwide is $9,733. If you make more than $9,733 in a year, objectively speaking, life has been abundantly fair to you, at least economically.
You see, usually our emotions of “something is unfair” are not really about objective fairness, When we feel that, we are not thinking about where we fall in a global perspective, It all relative.
The truth is, that fair really isn’t the right word for what we struggle with when we see a friend on FB taking a nice vacation that we can’t afford. It’s not about fairness, it’s about comparison.
In general, for myself, when I think something is not fair, I am really just comparing myself to those around me. To those I perceive as peers.
The University of Warwick and Cardiff did a study that found that people’s happiness and contentment had very little to do with their objective wealth, how much money they make, how expensive their car or house is. However, it had a lot to do with much comparative wealth they have, how much money they made, how expensive their car and house is compared to those who live around them. It wasn’t how much money you have, it is how much money you have compared to your neighbors, and your family, and those you grew up with.
And this is why I think FB
makes being content harder than ever, because we are no longer comparing ourselves to those who live around us, or comparing ourselves to high school classmates once per decade.
No, we are comparing ourselves to everyone in our FB feed multiple times every single day. And not just comparing ourselves to their lives, but comparing ourselves to the best pictures of the best moments of the best areas of everyone's life.
The well crafted, most presentable part of everyone in our feed. So, although we live here in Chicago with really high living costs, we find ourselves comparing ourselves to our second cousins ex boyfriend who just bought a brand new 6 bedroom house in rural Wyoming.
And so, we are robbed from seeing and appreciating the current realities of our lives that are so worth seeing and appreciating.
Not because we are uniquely terrible people, NO because we are humans who, like it or not, are prone to comparison. We inevitably will pay attention to the things around us that leave us feeling lesser in some way.
And although with social media the struggle to navigate this fact of being human may be harder than ever, it is not a new thing that only suddenly we in 21st America struggle with. This experience of Comparison has been around as long as humans have been around.
All over the the Bible, for example, there is discussion of how comparison steals from life, and God desires for humanity something more persevering, more resilient -- An ability to find joy, depth and fullness in life, regardless of how our circumstances measure up to others. An ability to find contentment even when life truly is unfair.
St. Paul wrote this to the Church in Galatia Galatians 6 4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, 5 for each one should carry their own load.
So, that sounds right, yeah? But how exactly do we live this out?
You know the answer is not just, stop comparing yourself. What I’ve have experienced and what human behavior teaches us is that just deciding to not do something is almost never enough to actually create change.
If we walk away from this and think that we should through will power and grit overcome this basic human condition of comparison, it is quite unlikely that we will. We will probably keep doing it, but just feel more guilty about it.
But, I do have a couple suggestions that I think, over time, can help.
First, try practicing intentional thankfulness
out loud, directed to God
Gratitude is like the most popular thing on earth right now, so this is not groundbreaking. I think it’s the point of every TED talk.
But just because it’s a cliche doesn’t mean it’s not actually true.
There have been several extensive studies that have come to the conclusion that practicing thankfulness is the number one way to experience more contentment in life.
The uniqueness in what I’m suggesting here is the “out loud” piece and the “directed to God” piece
Expressing thankfulness it in your head is totally great, but what we understand about neuroscience tells us that when we speak something out loud, it activates parts of our brain that would stay dormant if we were to just think it internally.
Specifically, it activates the memory part of our brain, so whatever thankfulness we’re engaging is more likely to last -- we’re more likely to remember it after we’re done expressing thankfulness in this moment
And if part of this exercise is to offer a counterbalance to our general awareness of the parts of our life that we don’t feel totally satisfied in. It just makes sense to go about this in a way that will have the largest impact and that is by saying it out loud. I would also suggest to practice being thankful for specific things and memories. Rather than just saying, I am thankful for my job. Try saying I am thankful that that one project went well.
I am thankful that I have a job that gives me a reliable income so I don’t stress about having enough food to eat. More specificity the better, again, it will just have a larger impact. The second unique piece in this kind of intentional thankfulness I’m talking about is directing it to God It is totally awesome to be grateful in general… so helpful, all the research would show! But directing your expression of thankfulness toward someone (and not just sending it out into the universe in general) takes our acts of thankfulness and doubles the impact by making them acts of relationship as well The reflections from the various authors of the Bible encourage us to see God as the source of every good thing in our life: “Every good and perfect gift comes from God” “He is our God, and we are the sheep of his pasture” -- under his careful and loving watch “Like a good father, no good thing will God withhold from his children” When I direct my thankfulness to God… it really helps me feel like God is really and actually good, to me.
So, when I am having a hard time I find myself a lot more prone to pray. To be asking God for help, asking him to be with me and comfort me.
But, when things are going well, I very rarely think of God at all.
I tend to chalk it up to things just working out or going well. Even if I was praying for something in a hard time, and then it happens, I am prone to just thinking oh well, that worked out nicely. And what happens is that I tend to only associate God being with me in the more challenging times in my life. Which I appreciate, because you know I need him in those times.
However, when I have practiced directing my thankfulness to God it has helped me see him more in the good parts of my life.
Like he was there when my son was played so sweetly with me.
He was there when I did find that job I was worried I would never find.
And when I was praying for a good new living situation, and then I found one I am more likely to consider that God played a role in helping that happen For me, directing my thankfulness to God, even for small things like nice weather, it helps me build up a memory log of God actually being good. And him being with me all the time, including the good ones. One last suggestion along these lines is to consider doing it with someone else. A friend, a spouse, your kids. If you are a parent this is an awesome bed-time routine to start -- it makes you do it everyday, and as your kids get older they'll learn to do it. Being intentionally thankful together is just such a great way to strengthen relationship with people you love. If you do this, you will not overnight just stop comparing yourself to best parts of other people's lives. But, I’ll bet if you did it every single day for a month, and then took stock, you will find yourself more content and happier with your own life, and you will find yourself comparing less
My second suggestion is to ask Jesus to help
you see the world as he sees the world
If seeing the world through FB is to see all the polished and well presented parts of the world
Then seeing through Jesus eyes is seeing all of the broken and unjust parts of the world. Not to see it and pity it. But to see it and be moved by it, to have your heart broken by it, to find yourself moved into action by it.
Throughout Jesus’ life he saw those who would be overlooked, he saw those who were marginalized and outcast, he saw the poor and he saw the sick. Jesus saw and called out injustice, Jesus saw the need, Jesus saw and became familiar with suffering. And so I am encouraging you to pray to see this way too, When I have, the whole comparison game fades a bit in importance because I begin to see the world differently I begin to see what is truly unfair about the world, I see how unfair the educational inequity is our country, how unfair the generational poverty and violence is in our country, how unfair it is for the estimated 500,000 people in our country who are experiencing homelessness, how unfair it is that in some places in our world Women are denied basic human and civil rights because of their gender, how unfair it is that we have millions of refugees in this world who have to choose between living in refugee camps or returning home to very conditions they originally fled.
And as I see the world through those eyes, I find my attention shifting, shifting towards where I believe Jesus’ attention lays, on loving, caring for, advocating, and givin bg voice to whose voices are most often ignored.
And slowly I begin to care less and less about how big my house is compared to my second cousins ex boyfriend who lives in wyoming.
Would you stand with me and pray