Comparison, The Thief of Joy
Preparing for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, One Day before Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 126
Old Testament: Exodus 12:21-27
Gospel: John 11:45-57
God of the living, through baptism we pass from the shadow of death to the light of the resurrection. Remain with us and give us hope that, rejoicing in the gift of the Spirit who gives life to our mortal flesh, we may be clothed with the garment of immortality, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves (Psalm 126:5-6).
by Lindsey Funtik, Pastor of Polk United Methodist Church, Polk, Ohio and Coordinator of Volunteer Ministries, Ashland First United Methodist Church, Ashland, Ohio.
During my first year of seminary, I thought that I could have it all. I was a full time master’s student in a residential cohort and interning at a church in Ashland while also helping to lead Young Life in Bucyrus (a 45 minute drive). Papers and events and responsibilities had me stretched extremely thin, so I figured I would add something else on top of it—I would become the Drama Director at my alma mater!
It was one of the most challenging seasons of my life and, though I struggled mentally and physically, I would not trade that experience for the world. As I directed the fall play and the spring musical, I learned so much and my students, my team, and our shared work were my joy. I made lifelong friends, got to flex my theatre muscles, and was constantly, lovingly reminded to breathe and drink enough water. My stint in WHS’ auditorium will stick with me forever.
I was reminded of that stretch of rewarding exhaustion this week while doing my morning prayer meditation (Lectio 365 again—please download and enjoy!). This week, the focus is on mission as it pertains to the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. And guess what show I directed as our musical that fateful year…that's right! "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat!" Cue the refrain of “Go, go, go Joseph you know what they say…” You’re welcome for the earworm.
For those of you who might not be familiar with Donny Osmond or Genesis 37, this story features Joseph, most loved by his father Jacob, and his band of brothers. Not only are said brothers rubbed raw by the fact that their father gave Joseph a special coat, Joseph proceeds to tell them about dreams he has which seem to suggest that they are all going to bow down to him. They are upset, plot to kill him, and, in a greedy last minute change-up, decide that they will just sell him into slavery instead. I find myself thankful that my brother and sister never took such deplorable action, annoying as I may have been.
The story goes on to recount Joseph’s rise through the ranks of Egypt and the eventual mercy that he has on his scheming family, but today I am focused on those brothers. We look at them with contempt, and rightfully so, as what they did was horrible. Once, while directing, I forced the boys cast as brothers to sing “One More Angel In Heaven”, which is a light number in which they inform Jacob of a fictionalized version of Joseph’s death, while I was also yelling at them the truths of what they had done. This was to signify the regret that was settling on them, even when they were sticking to the plan. It made them less one dimensional; I was rather proud of that one.
Anyway, while the brothers are cast as villains, I want to call us out on that a bit. Raise your hand if you struggle with comparison. How about envy? Jealousy? Have you ever desired to see someone fail because you feel threatened by their success? Insecure humans as we are, I think that we all have had the same sort of feelings that cause us to spiral out of control just like Joseph's brothers. Maybe you get passed over for a promotion, or your ex moves on, or you scroll through social media and lose count of the engagement, wedding, and pregnancy announcements that assault your news feed. It might look different for each of us, but I do believe that we all, to a certain extent, know what it is to be troubled by the good fortune of others.
I heard a saying a few years ago and it stuck with me in a big way: comparison is the thief of joy. When we look at others and compare their journey to ours, it can completely suck the oxygen out of our minds and hearts. For Joseph’s brothers, they were so consumed by Jacob's favoritism and Joseph’s dreams that they were led to desperate actions. While I am not accusing anyone of plotting to murder and/or sell their loved ones (if you are pondering that, don’t do it), I do know what it feels like to not measure up and be led to desperation as a result.
So where does this leave us? What can we do when we begin to feel threatened and inferior and envious? The way I see it, this can go one of two ways.
The first path involves simply running with those feelings. Our competitive culture in the West rewards the cutthroat and, though you might not sell anyone to Ishmaelites, there are still plenty of ways to power ahead. You can cut others down with your words, you can focus entirely on your own self and success, and, truthfully, that will probably put you on top in the world's eyes. After all, Joseph's brothers took matters into their own hands and, for the longest time, thought they had gotten away with it. No more Joseph, no more problem.
The second path, however, requires us to look at the speck in our own eye. When I see another succeed and I feel threatened, I can ask why, leaning into that prayerfully. When I feel jealous of another's journey, I can simultaneously have hope for my own future and gratitude for my own present while also cheering on my sisters and brothers. One person’s light need not diminish our own, and this second path might have looked like Joseph's brothers turning around and doing the hard work of wrestling with their feelings toward another without deciding that they have to take that other out of the equation.
This is hard for me. As a middle child, as an enneagram 3/4, as a woman in a world where women still have to fight for validity, I want to be the best, the most unique. I want to ignore my feelings of inferiority so that I might stand out, no matter the cost. My inclination is to want to protect myself because if someone else has a coat of many colors, my clothes no longer look as nice as I thought they did.
But the Kingdom of God is wide and tall and long enough for absolutely everyone to fit inside. Thankfully, God does not play favorites and loves us all so much that He clothes us in His righteousness, which is better than a silly old coat, anyway. And because of this, rather than tearing down, we can build up. Rather than competing, we can play on the same team. Rather than going to so much trouble to remove the competition, we can, by the grace of God, see that there was no game actually being played. Comparison is the thief of joy, so celebrate where you are, celebrate where they are, and know that the Lord of Light adores us all the same.
Cross-Posted from "Reflections on Faith, Words, and The Holiness of Today" (originally published 10.26.2020).