“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ ”
Luke 18:13 (ESV)
We can all have bad days and feel a bit frustrated or down. Most of the time the next day isn’t quite so bad, and we pick ourselves up and move on. We know that life has its ups and downs, it is part of the human experience. But there are those periods in life when the downs last a bit longer and the ups are harder to come by. The ‘woe is me’ feeling just won’t shift and we find ourselves in the midst of our own pity party.
When that happens, what do you do?
I have heard it said that you should think about all the people whose lives are much harder than yours: the sick; those who live in war torn countries; those with not enough food to eat; those suffering. They truly aren’t hard to find and sometimes we realise that in comparison we don’t really have anything to complain about or feel sorry for.
There may be some merit in doing this but as a rule comparing ourselves to others isn’t helpful. In fact, in certain situations, it could be dangerous.
Jesus tells us a parable about two men praying in the temple. We read about it in Luke 18:9-14. The Pharisee compares himself to the tax collector and feels superior. Perhaps it is a case of – if we can find someone to look down on, we can convince ourselves that we are someone worth looking up to.
But Jesus never told us to be better than others. He told us to be perfect as his Father in heaven is perfect ( Matthew 5:48). When we compare ourselves to God, we realise we have nothing to be proud of, no reason to feel superior to others: ‘…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift…’ (Romans 3:23-24).
The tax collector made no such comparisons: he didn’t look down on others, rather he would not even look up to heaven. Instead, he recognised that he was a sinner without defence and begged God to be merciful. He knew what he had done and who he was praying to: a God who is long suffering and full of mercy and forgiveness.
Perhaps better advice about what to do next time you are feeling a bit down would be this: instead of comparing yourself with those less fortunate, why not read of God’s love, and the promises he makes to each and every one of us in the pages of the Bible? That really does lift a dark mood.
Our heavenly Father, please help us to be careful not to slip into the trap of comparing ourselves to others and feeling superior. Instead, help us to become more like Christ, relying on you and your grace and mercy. And when those dark days come, help us to look once more to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.