Simcha Fisher, author of The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning writes for several publications and blogs daily at Aleteia. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and ten children. Without supernatural aid, she would hardly be a human being.
The suffering one-upper! You know who I'm talking about. You say you're scrambling to pay for a new transmission? He says he just wishes he even had a car. You sigh because it's hard to find safe foods for your severely allergic child? She swats you down with a tale of her triplets who stop breathing in the presence of the color yellow. You tweeted from the hospital, where you are slowly and painfully recovering from your eleventh foot surgery? Behold, the man born without legs is doing just fine, and even plays the mandolin! Now aren't you ashamed?
Cross-comparing -- when we look at someone else's suffering and call it little, nothing, or even something to be envied -- is unsightly, unhelpful, an often just plain inaccurate.
We may look at someone else's life and think, "MAN, if that was all I had to deal with, I would be flying high! She thinks she's struggling, but she has NO IDEA what real pain is like!" Maybe it's true and maybe it's not. Maybe you really would do very well if you had to put up with what that other person is putting up with. But you are not that other person. You are you, and she is she, and suffering is suffering. What is easy for one person can truly be burdensome for someone else. So we do no one any favors by shrugging off someone else's sorrow. If you can't muster up any sympathy, just move along and get back to your own business.
So that's what I've been working on for the last, oh, thirty years: not comparing crosses; not assuming that a different burden is a lighter burden. That's partly why I wrote my book: to remind people that, if you find NFP a breeze, and sanctifying, and rejuvenating, then give thanks to God; but don't assume that other couples who really are struggling are necessarily stunted, or immature, or selfish. Don't roll your eyes at someone else's pain, just because you're not feeling it yourself.
Don't compare crosses. Deal with what you have to deal with, remember that we're all different, and either offer sympathy, or move along. This is the only way to be human.
Lately, I am starting to realize that there's a companion skill that needs developing: not rolling one's eyes at another person's joy.
I'll continue using the example of NFP to explain what I mean. I've had to remind myself, over and over again, that couples who really do love NFP aren't just lying. The "Oh, how I love the monthly cycle of courtship and honeymoon!" crowd haven't drunk any Kool-Aid. They're not necessarily undersexed, brainwashed saps who have never encountered true suffering.
They're just different from me, and if I expect them to respect my struggles, then I need to learn to respect their joy.
Why is this so hard? Well, it's hard to accept it when I can't have what I want. One way to persuade myself that I'm going to be okay is to persuade myself that I wouldn't really want that thing, anyway. It's a common defense mechanism, and, like all sins, it says much more about me than about the person it's directed toward.
Which is easier? Saying, "Susie there is having a good time. I am not. Good for Susie"? Or saying, "I'm not having a good time. Susie over there looks like she is, but I know better. God must know that silly old Susie would collapse like a bunch of broccoli if she ever had any real problems to deal with. Boy, I'm glad I'm not Susie."
Or, "Susie is too much of a phoney to admit that her life is falling apart in six other ways, and she just doen't talk about those in public."
Or, "Just you wait, Susie. Your time will come."
All of these are easier to say than what is actually true: "Susie is Susie, and I am I. Just as God has given me my individual crosses, and just as no one should scorn me for suffering, God has given each of us individual blessings -- and no one should begrudge me the full enjoyment of those blessings. It's a bad idea to compare your crosses with someone's else's; and it's a bad idea to compare your blessings, too.