Life is not a race and treating it this way will stunt our spiritual growth. The only comparisons that we need to make are those with our past self.
If you don’t mind someone who speaks very fast, this is a really great talk about a challenging topic: wrestling with comparisons. Caption may help you follow him better. Brother J.B. HAWS’s talk is more than 6,800 words. By comparison (seems strange to use this word after listening to this speech :)) the famous speech by Brother Wilcox His Grace Is Sufficient is less than 4,000 words, and so it is another classic speech by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence. Initially I thought that brother Haws was speaking so fast because he was nervous, but it was later clear that he had to speak fast, since he had to cram about 50% more words than the average BYU Devotional speaker in the same amount of time. But it is absolutely worthwhile to listen to him.
A few ideas from the speech
As Natural as Breathing
This tendency to compare is something that I think about all the time because I do it all the time. But even that statement is a bit misleading. Saying, “I do it all the time,” is like saying, “I breathe all the time.” It just happens without me thinking about it. It can almost feel reflexive—almost natural. And that is the point. That is why it is so vexatious. We know from Mosiah 3 that when we are left to our “natural” state, we struggle to “[yield] to the enticings of the Holy Spirit.”2 We are not where God wants us to be, and we are not what He knows we can be. We are in opposition to Him, at cross-purposes to His plan. But also, because these comparisons seem to happen so naturally, I hope that we all feel like fellow travelers on this road.
I feel this with the force of truth: our perfect, loving God makes no horizontal comparisons. In this verse Jesus only compared John with John’s former self—John with old John. He only compared Peter with old Peter, with former Peter. And He only compares me with old me.
Here is a more contemporary example from President Boyd K. Packer’s time as a mission president:
I needed a new assistant and had prayed much about the matter. I then called zone conferences, where I met and interviewed every missionary, always with the thought in my mind, “Is this the man?” The answer finally came: “This is the man.” He was appointed. He had been permitted to come on a mission only after some considerable shaping up to become eligible.
After the announcement one of the zone leaders came to see me privately. He came from the same community in the West as did the new assistant. He was obviously disturbed. His first question was, “Do you really know the elder you have appointed as your assistant?”
“Yes, Elder. I know all that you know about him, and a good deal more,” was my answer.
“Why, then, was he appointed your assistant?”
I pondered for a moment and then said, “Elder, why don’t you ask the question that you came to ask?”
“What do you mean?”
“Ask the question that is really on your mind,” I encouraged.
“But I did,” he said.
“No,” I said. “There is another question. The thing that is on your mind is not ‘Why did you appoint him as your assistant’; it is ‘Why did you not appoint me?’”
Now please understand. I thought his unexpressed question to be a very logical and sensible one. . . .
. . . I had sympathy for this young man and admired him greatly for his courage to speak.
“If you should ask why you were not chosen,” I said, “I would have to answer, ‘I do not know, Elder.’ I only know that he was chosen. Perhaps he may fail. But at least I know he is the one with the combination of talents and ability and qualities best calculated to get done what the office needs at the moment.
“This is no reflection upon you. You may yet preside over him and many above him. You may be his bishop or his stake president. You may preside over the Church. I do not know. But his call is no reflection upon you. Do not be injured by it.
“Go back to work and serve the Lord. Sustain him,” I counseled. “Your contest is not with him but with yourself.”
Less About Ourselves
I think we recapture that sense by thinking less about ourselves… Here is how President Dieter F. Uchtdorf captured what the right kind of selflessness looks like, in the best sense:
“When we see the world around us through the lens of the pure love of Christ, we begin to understand humility. Some suppose that humility is about beating ourselves up. Humility does not mean convincing ourselves that we are worthless, meaningless, or of little value. Nor does it mean denying or withholding the talents God has given us. We don’t discover humility by thinking less of ourselves; we discover humility by thinking less about ourselves.“
Here is how C. S. Lewis said this:
“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a . . . person . . . who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. . . . He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.“
A brief anecdote from Sister Susan W. Tanner captures this as beautifully as almost anything I have ever heard. She was serving as the general president of the Church’s Young Women organization when she related this in an October 2005 general conference talk:
“I remember well the insecurities I felt as a teenager with a bad case of acne. I tried to care for my skin properly. My parents helped me get medical attention. For years I even went without eating chocolate and all the greasy fast foods around which teens often socialize, but with no obvious healing consequences. It was difficult for me at that time to fully appreciate this body which was giving me so much grief. But my good mother taught me a higher law. Over and over she said to me, “You must do everything you can to make your appearance pleasing, but the minute you walk out the door, forget yourself and start concentrating on others.” “