So I hear about a friend who has more kids than me and whose husband is a firefighter, and I decide she has it harder than me. I deduce that my troubles are smaller than hers, not as difficult, easier. In fact, I decide that I shouldn't be troubled by my troubles at all. They're nothing compared to hers. So I shame myself.
"You ought to be grateful, you pathetic thing! You don't have it that bad! Your troubles aren't troubles at all! You're just a wimp!"
On the other hand, if a single friend complains to me about his responsibilities at work, I'm tempted to patronize him with things like, "But is your office quiet? Do you have kids fighting in the background all day long? Do you get a lunch break? Are your employees defiant and rude when you ask them to do things?"
If I have the self-control to keep my patronizing comments to myself, I just think them as well as other martyresque thoughts. "No one else seems to have these troubles. I'm the only one. This is too hard. I can't handle this. God is targeting me. I must be doing something wrong., etc."
Hearing about others troubles needn't lead to such unhealthy thought patterns. Sometimes after hearing about other's difficulties, I'm more grateful with what I have, not in a shameful sort of way but in an amazed-by-God's-blessings sort of way. Or I'm lead to pray for them and witness God's provision through my prayer.
And sometimes, but not often, after hearing about other's "easier" problems, I think that I'm blessed because God has put me in a place where he can increase my faith in him.
But I think the only way we can view others in a healthy way is by ceasing to see them as competition. We must stop feeling threatened by the size of their problems, the passion of their opinions, the draw of their popularity, the richness of their wisdom, the consequences of their fool-hearty choices, or the extent of their successes. So long as we feel threatened by others, we cannot see them as God sees them.
The only way I know to stop feeling threatened by others is to believe my own place is secure. This is not wishful thinking or the power of positive thinking. It would be stupid to believe we were good and powerful and likable without proof. What we need is someone with authority to say it, to prove it to us, to demonstrate it.
And he has.