We’ve been generally counseled not to compare ourselves to others. President Uchtdorf reminded us of this with his characteristic good-natured candor:
I want to tell you something that I hope you will take in the right way: God is fully aware that you and I are not perfect.
Let me add: God is also fully aware that the people you think are perfect are not.
And yet we spend so much time and energy comparing ourselves to others—usually comparing our weaknesses to their strengths. This drives us to create expectations for ourselves that are impossible to meet. As a result, we never celebrate our good efforts because they seem to be less than what someone else does.
This is very wise counsel indeed. Still, there are times when when comparisons have something to teach us, otherwise we wouldn’t see examples of Jesus and His prophets comparing in the scriptures. Here are 4 powerful examples of these comparisons, and what we can learn from them.
1. The mighty writing of Mahonri Moriancumer
Near the end of the Book of Mormon, Moroni worries that those who read his abridgement and writings will mock them. Moroni compares the writings of his people to the writings of the brother of Jared, which Moroni feels are “mighty” and “overpowering”. (Ether 12:23-25) The Lord comforts and teaches Moroni. The Lord doesn’t address Moroni’s statement that the brother of Jared’s writings are mightier. The Lord doesn’t praise Moroni’s editing abilities and give him compliments to help his self-esteem. The Lord addresses Moroni’s underlying concern, that his abridgement will be mocked instead of being inspirational:
And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness;
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness. (Ether 12:26-28)
Lesson Learned: If we notice we have a weakness in a calling, especially after observing someone else do it beautifully, we need to remember that the Lord’s grace is sufficient for us. If we are humble, he can make our weakness a strength.
2. The Pride of the Nephites in the time of Jacob
The Lord is merciful of weakness. The Savior doesn’t compare us to another when we’re trying our best. He does occasionally do it (himself or by his prophet) when we think we’re better than others.
A great example of this is in Jacob. The Nephites are in a state of great pride, thinking they are better than the Lamanites. Jacob, the prophet at the time, points out their folly:
And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they. (Jacob 2:13)
Jacob then points out that the Lamanites, whom the Nephites look down on, are more righteous in some ways. He compares them.
Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you … Behold, their husbands love their wives, and their wives love their husbands; and their husbands and their wives love their children; and their unbelief and their hatred towards you is because of the iniquity of their fathers; wherefore, how much better are you than they, in the sight of your great Creator? (Jacob 3:5-7)
Lesson Learned: When we are in a state of great pride, the Lord may use comparison to help us be humble by pointing out that we’re not as awesome as we think we are. He does this out of love, and only when we’re so prideful that nothing else seems to be working.
3. Mary and Martha
Christ makes the famous comparison between Mary and Martha during a visit to Bethany. Mary sat at the feet of the Savior while Martha hustled about. Martha didn’t gently ask Mary to help her. She didn’t ask Mary if they could take turns working and sitting. Martha criticized Mary, right in front of her as if she wasn’t even there. Martha is actually criticizing Jesus’s judgement too, insinuating that he doesn’t care about the unfairness of the situation:
Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. (Luke 10:41)
We know that the Savior loved Martha by the gentleness of his reminder. He didn’t really put down Martha’s service, He just made the comparison that Mary’s choice in that one moment was better. (Luke 10:38-42) Jesus probably would have let Martha continue serving him in her way if she hadn’t brought it up. He might have been able to teach her in a less public way that she needed to remember the “better part”.
Lesson Learned: If you feel like someone’s not doing their part, (and you are), address it privately. If you draw a comparison publicly, you might get corrected publicly too.
4. Alma and Corianton
After Corianton abandoned his mission to chase after the harlot Isabel, Alma compared him to his older brother. Alma never says he loves the older brother more, or even that the older brother has more potential or worth than Corianton. Alma simply points out that Corianton has a good example in his older brother.
And now, my son, I have somewhat more to say unto thee than what I said unto thy brother; for behold, have ye not observed the steadiness of thy brother, his faithfulness, and his diligence in keeping the commandments of God? Behold, has he not set a good example for thee? For thou didst not give so much heed unto my words as did thy brother, among the people of the Zoramites. Now this is what I have against thee; thou didst go on unto boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom. (Alma 39:2-3)
Lesson Learned: The most productive use of comparison is to have an example to follow in a particular attribute. President Kimball has said, “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.” This includes showing us an easily observable example in an area we need to grow in so that we can be more like Him.
If we feel the Spirit pointing out a characteristic or behavior in someone else, it is not the Lord comparing us to make us feel bad. It’s just Him saying, this person is doing this one thing in a way that would be helpful for you to learn. Watch how they do it, and then make it your own.