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11/16/2013
Give thanks!

By KEITH ANDERSON

I met a youth worker once who had a saying posted on her wall that read: "Whenever you compare yourself to others, you will always lose."

Since first hearing these words, I've pondered them often and continue to find wisdom and help from them, noticing that sometimes I compare myself from a need to look for someone worse off in order to feel better about my situation, OR that I compare myself from a place of envy as I notice what someone else has that I don't have but I really, really want. Either way, someone comes out looking better at the expense of the other. Ouch!

Another source of direction comes from Paul's words in Scripture where he shares that he's learned to be content in all situations (Philippians 4:11). And if anyone had cause to feel badly for being mistreated it would have to be Paul as he traveled as a missionary in order to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. Not comparing ourselves to others is hard to do, though, especially as we live in such a culture of consumerism. I recently heard a statistic that the average American is bombarded with three thousand ads per day. Wow, that's a lot of tugging and pulling on our hearts, thoughts and checkbooks! There's a valid reason we feel badly when we can't have the latest iPod, car or pair of jeans, we're intentionally and craftily conditioned to feel less than complete until we 'splurge' for the next new product.

In all honesty, though, whether it's an American culture of consumerism or not, coveting, envy or insecurity (the main motivators for comparing, in my opinion) have existed since the earliest of days. So when we look back in time, it's no surprise that we find a counter measure — or spiritual discipline — to help keep our internal desire with others at bay. As St. Paul faithfully taught and practiced, you can teach yourself to be content in every situation. What Paul doesn't say is that this is not always a lesson easy to learn or to master. So try any of the following exercises (or all of the them) and see where they take you over time.

• Begin a gratitude journal by keeping a record of the "abundance" or good things that you currently have. Write 10 each day for a week (or a month), never repeating an item.

• End every day by saying thank you to God for at least one thing, then tell God what that one thing meant for you.

• Write a letter of thanks to someone who has made a positive influence in your life in the past week, month or year.

• Begin to take note of the times you compare yourself with others, noting the impact of your comparison on you and on the other person. Reflect and learn so that over time you begin to refrain from needing to compare yourself to others.

• If possible, invite someone to join you and your family to share Thanksgiving together making it clear to your guests that they are not expected to return the favor.

• Share any insights gained from these exercises with a trusted friend.

As families and friends gather to celebrate this coming Thanksgiving Day, may God fully satisfy your every need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:19-20).

The Rev. Keith Anderson is pastor of First Lutheran Church