Here are some notes and thoughts after watching a Bible Study video called The Comparison Trap
by Andy Stanley. Keep in mind that I am writing after having seen one of three parts. Also, because of childcare, I likely will not see all of the video, so let's just call it an analysis of the introduction.
Stanley's description of comparison in our lives reminded me a lot of a theory I had back in high school: I told my friend that it seemed like our entire lives could be summed up into a competition theory. I played sports because I wanted to be better than others (and get girls to notice me). However, it was more than just sports, and when I got a car, added rims and speakers, and cruised around, I was doing the same thing. My friend asked what happens at thirty when we would get old and ugly and not care about getting girls anymore. I suggested it was then about having the best wife and kids and grandkids, still competing.
Stanley's Land of Er is similar to what I came up with in high school and which my friend later told me existed to some extent as a psychological theory. Yes, we compete and compare. The big question ends up being whether or not it's truly bad for us and our eternal souls. While Stanley focuses on richer instead of stronger, the basic concept of competition is still the same. He even takes it further, saying that once we get to Er (richer), we eventually venture to est (richest), so we are never satisfied. We guise the whole comparison by using terms like reaching our full potential, but we are basically setting ourselves up for failure. He says that there is no winning in the comparison game.
I can see where Stanley is right. However, we live in a capitalist, rugged individualist society that kind of wants us to buy into the comparison trap. Rather, it kind of needs us to fall into the trap. I used a couple of examples in our discussion of the video: first, what about Tiger Woods? He became the poster boy for every dad who wanted to make his son great. Would Tiger have chosen a long day on the golf course over watching his favorite Disney show at age five? All the other elite athletes are similar, to some extent, with their canned interview responses of, "Don't let anyone ever tell you to give up on your dreams." Does anyone dream of getting cut from the varsity team, never making VP of the company, marrying an ugly spouse, and having awkward kids? Should we? The response one group member had for me was to look at what happened to Tiger, but that's falling back into the trap: he might have great wealth and fame, but he had trouble staying married to a supermodel, so I'm better than that.
Another truism that a friend and I were discussing recently is that colleges do matter. Stanley makes it seem as if pushing our kids to get the right degree from the right college is pushing too much. Let me tell you from the perspective of a salutatorian who did not get pushed married to a valedictorian who did not get pushed that parents at least need to know why other parents do it and let their kids know. Sure, UW-Milwaukee and UW-Eau Claire are decent schools, and English, Journalism, and Education are decent majors, but I'm an unemployed high school teacher and Lisa works part time as a pastor's assistant. I can't flaunt my Marquette, UW-Madison, or (insert important college here) degree around, and it really does matter. The ones who don't want you to think it matters are graduates of those schools who only hire graduates of those schools and whose kids will be attending those schools.
Solomon, the richest and most respected man of his time, said that envy rots the bones. As an unemployed CEO who just received a $25 million golden parachute, I might agree with him. As an unemployed teacher who did not even get compensation for the sick days I never used, I'd have to say that I want better, at least for my kids. While Stanley might suggest that my desire to sell my screenplays is chasing the wind, it might be all I have left. My wife and I are both about fifteen years into the typical career, and we're both having to start over if we want to maintain the 3 bedroom Ranch life we've come to be satisfied with.
The problem with opening up one hand and remaining tranquil is that others might do the same and get twice or ten times as much. They might not need to chase the wind because their parents had old money or because they made junior partner at age twenty-eight. The part that is difficult about Solomon's and Stanley's advice is that it's coming from those who have done well, which makes one ask if it is therefore the will of God for some to have great success while not others. It makes me wonder about who would want to use this scripture in order to maintain order. It makes me wonder how Jesus would advise me, or even the Old Testament, for that matter. If large families and ample resources are blessings from God and we can legally pray for money if we need it, then where do we all fit in?
The last thought I had as I was watching the video was that it seemed to be a bit of a First World concern. Last spring we watched a video series about girls sold into prostitution in India and little kids living on the streets in Brazil, among other hardship scenarios. We were being encouraged to donate a little extra cash to help them out. When we stand with one hand open and tranquil, will we also then have enough to tithe and give some to causes all around the world? Did I lose my job (as part of God's Will) in order for me to more clearly see this as a way to live? Every single day that I look for a job, I feel like I'm reaching out with both hands, just to find something that offers as much as I lost so that I don't lose my house and end up living on the streets of Rio.