I have these rules. This rule is actually one of my oldest, although the words have changed. Way back in High School days, I determined that in life, there is always someone richer and someone poorer than I am. Someone smarter or better and someone not as smart or worse than I. A few years ago, I heard a sermon from the Columbus Vineyard which put it this way – You’re not as bad as you fear or as good as you imagine.
This rule grounds much of life and helps me makes sense of others and myself. We can all look around with envy at the life others lead. Those that are richer than us in so many more ways than just money. Envy knows no limits. Neither does disdain. Both contain an inexhaustible list of possibilities. Consider just a few – money, health, career, family, length of life, creativeness, abilities, opportunities, fame, and luck (for lack of a better term). It is easy to raise the estimation of others and ourselves through these or put others and ourselves down.
In all areas of life, there will always be someone better and someone worse. But the rule is also deeper than just being okay with life. It begs me to employ what the Apostle Paul called “sound judgment.”
“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” (Romans 12:3, NASB95)
The idea of sound judgment is to have a clear-eyed, sober, self-controlled wisdom that sees things as they truly are without pretense or unfounded fears. I am neither as bad as I fear or as good as I imagine. And neither is anyone else.
This rule allows me to breathe, to create a space of okay. I’m not the best writer in the world, but God uses it anyway. I’m not the best guitar player, but I always enjoy playing. There are IT folks that know way more than I do yet what I know brings value to my job. So, I can appreciate when others are better and remove the fear of not measuring up and the need of trying to prove myself.
The extremes of either one of these will freeze us in place. Our fears will stop us from trying or doing things. Why bother, we’ll just fail. Our pride will stop us from excelling even more. If we think we’re at the pinnacle, then there is nowhere else to go, nothing else to learn or achieve.
But there is also an aspect of this rule that looks outward. Others are neither as bad or as perfect as they appear. Everyone has struggles, everyone has successes. But the folks which are hardest to get to know are those hidden in their fears or shielded by their pride. Everyone we meet has fears to overcome and talents we know nothing about. In short, from the riches to the poorest, they are people too.
Call this a rule for being real. Seeing others as they really are and being real with ourselves. It means removing anything that would mask reality. Those checkboxes of categories we use to shortcut understanding each other. “Oh, you’re one of those,” we think with a wink. It means disconnecting cause and effect from where it doesn’t belong. Our car breaking down is not a sign from heaven of God’s anger. That habit we can’t stand in someone else doesn’t make them a bad person in all respects.
After all, none of us are as bad as we fear or as good as we imagine.