One of my favorite quotes is by Theodore Roosevelt: "Comparison is the thief of joy." It's taken me too many wasted years to realize that comparison is also the thief of holiness.
From as far back as I can remember through the beginning of my married life, I have zeroed in on people, especially other females, who seemed to have that special "thing". I wasn't always sure what it was - peace, maybe? In tune with the Creator and their life's purpose? Whatever it was, it was beautiful and I wanted it.
I have a few stories to share on this that might resonate with you. They are still embarrassing for me to recall, but also helpful for me to remember in trying to be more grounded in who I'm called to be.
I can remember as far back as being a young child in a children's prayer group. There was another young girl, about my age, who was a little homely and shy, but she seemed to have "it". As evidenced by the fact that I can only remember her as "homely" and was slightly jealous of that thing she had, I obviously was far from possessing whatever it was that made her that way.
The summer before college, my fervent prayer was for just one or two great friendships with other women. I knew I needed a support system incredibly badly. I was blessed with an entire community (so, like 20 or so more friendships than I prayed for, plus lots of inspiring acquaintances) of wonderful, genuine, unconditionally loving young women, many of whom I am still friends with today. The unconditional love towards me and the general living of their lives was healing, inspirational and motivating for me to grow in my emotional and spiritual lives. I took away many gems from their words and examples that have helped form the person I am today.
Yet, I still fell into the trap of trying to imitate the specific practices and traits of one of these fabulous ladies I perceived as having a close relationship with God.
Susie seems like she has it spiritually together and she prayers the Liturgy of the Hours, so I'll try that.
Oh, Mary Beth, comes across so centered and wise with her composed face and soft spoken voice. If only I had a sweet voice and a sweeter disposition, maybe I can be holy.
If only I could go to daily Mass and smile at everyone after and approach everyone with the most sincere small talk, then I would be doing a small part of God's work by lifting people up.
I distinctly remember sitting behind this row of radiant nuns at daily Mass and noting their posture and general countenance. They sat incredibly straight and still and managed to never lean against the back part of the chair the entire Mass. I (a life long sloucher) tried to imitate this the entire Mass. I didn't hear a word the priest said or really even pay attention during the consecration, but I walked out of the Church after the final blessing feeling doomed to never be holy because I couldn't manage perfect sacrificial posture for 30 minutes even for JESUS.
Sometimes this came from a place of vainly wanting to appear holy (not cool, but occasionally true). Sometimes it came from a genuine desire for peace and union with the Creator. But I was still going about it in the wrong way.
I was not made with a sweet, soft voice. Small talk makes me nervous and itchy. I'm much better in small group settings where people like to talk about substantial things. If I smiled at everyone, it would surely come across as fake and/or creepy because I'm not a naturally sunny-all-the-time kind of person (and there's nothing wrong with that, fellow melacholics!) For the lay person, the rosary, Liturgy of the Hours, etc. are all optional devotions because the Church knows that it's made up of individuals who aren't all going to use the same tools from the giant toolbox the Church offers.
It took a long long time for me to learn these other people had "it" because they were on the path intended for them. "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you..." (Jeremiah 1:5) is not Before I formed you, and all other human clones exactly like you, in the womb, I knew you. Our paths to Creator are as individual as our personalities, temperaments, struggles and gifts.
In The World's First Love, Fulton Sheen makes a beautiful analogy. He says that if we could imagine for every person there are two portraits - one is how they are perfectly created to be and one is how they are. Between everyone's two pictures are a minus sign with the exception of the blessed Mother, who perfectly matched who she was created to be.
His point is that Mary is set apart from the rest of us in this respect. What I also find interesting is that our "perfect portrait" doesn't look like Mary's perfect portrait. We're called to look like our own self's perfect portrait.
This is why I think that comparison is also the thief of holiness. I feel that my own comparison robbed me of ever hopping on the right path. I wasted a lot of time dawdling around in the brush on the side of the road, watching other people run down their own paths. Comparison leads us astray.
Two tools that have helped me from continually falling in the comparison trap.
1) Knowing myself and asking God in prayer to reveal things about me that I am overlooking.
Even things that I don't want to see and make me cringe. I also pray to not be overcome by the fear of dealing with my own issues or traits that seem insurmountable or too embarrassing to work through. Even just talking to my husband about who he perceives I am, since he knows me more intimately than anyone, is enlightening for me. I'm also a bit of Myers-Briggs junkie and I've found a lot of peace and direction in understanding my personality type and the gifts and flaws that come with it. (I'm in INFP, who are, surprise, massively introspective) A friend recently pointed me to some sources for Myers Briggs and spirituality matching, which I'm still exploring to help me have a pray life that feel more organic and less forced.
2) Rejoicing in others.
The last few months I've been absolutely fixated on this beautiful prayer, The Litany of Humility. It's a great way to scare away the comparison thief! (There's a beautiful sung version by Danielle Rose you can listen to here). It's an absolute antidote to a range of struggles, especially the one I mentioned earlier about being jealous or resentful of another's peace. Especially striking for me in this prayer is asking for the grace to desire "that others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should."
I'm practicing in little ways. Being genuinely happy that someone wiser than I explained something better that resonated with more people instead of feeling embarrassed or resentful of the person for one-upping me. Being happy for someone's growth and peace instead of wallowing in the valley and trying to imitate their actions to get out of my rut.
Painful baby steps. But there is so much joy in finding out our own perfect portrait painted by the Creator!