“Comparison is the thief of joy”: Online Service for Sunday 24th October 2021


Prelude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley


Opening Words by Dawn Buckle


We open ourselves to worship today.

May the peace of this hour bring us calm.

May the joy of this hour make our hearts glad.

May the challenge of this hour awaken our courage.

May the communion of this hour confirm our togetherness.


Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point. I will be lighting my chalice for worship at 11.00 am on Sunday morning) words by Cliff Reed


May we keep the flame of truth

burning brightly among us, and by

its light find the treasure within

that is courage, wisdom, and loving kindness.


Opening Prayer


Spirit of Life and Love,

Be with us as we gather for worship,

each in their own place.

Help us to feel a sense of community,

even though we are physically apart.

Help us to care for each other,

in this not quite yet post-Covid world,

keeping in touch however we can,

and helping each other,

however we may.

May we remember that

caution is still needed,

that close contact is still unwise.

Help us to be grateful for the freedoms we have

and to respect the wishes of others.

May we hold in our hearts all those

Who are grieving, lost, alone,

Suffering in any way.



Story The Cracked Pot from The Shortest Distance by Bill Darlison


Many years ago, in India, a certain servant made a daily visit to a well to bring water for his master’s household. He brought the water in two large pots which hung on either end of a pole he carried across his shoulders. One of the pots was flawless and never spilled a drop of water, but the other had a small crack in the bottom and so, at the end of the servant’s two mile walk from the well, it was only half full.

The perfect pot was very proud of its ability to deliver a full quota of water, but the pot with the crack was ashamed of its imperfections, and one day it spoke to the water carrier, “I want to apologise for being so useless,” it said. “Because of me, you don’t’ get the full value of your work. I’m letting you down.”

The water carrier felt sorry for the leaking pot, and he replied with a smile, “As we go back to the master’s house, I want you to look at the beautiful flowers along the path.” The cracked pot did as it was asked. The servant was right: there were beautiful flowers along the path, and the old pot was cheered a little by the sight, but the flowers didn’t really make it feel any better about itself. In fact, in some ways, they made it feel a little worse: after all, they were colourful and fragrant, whereas it was old and leaky. When they got back to the house, the pot still felt sad, because it was only half full and it apologised once again for its imperfections.

“Did you look at the beautiful flowers on the path as I asked you to?” said the servant.

“Yes, I did. They are lovely, but they made me even more aware of my flaw,” said the cracked pot sadly.

“Did you notice that they were only on one side of the path – the side I carry you on? I’ve known about your flaw for a long time, and I took advantage of it. I planted some flower seeds on your side of the path and now, each day as I come back from the well, your leak waters the flowers. Each day I pick some of the beautiful flowers that have grown so well because of you, and use them to decorate our master’s table. Without you being just as you are, we wouldn’t have such beauty in the house.”


Alternative Lord’s Prayer


Spirit of Life and Love, here and everywhere,

May we be aware of your presence in our lives.

May our world be blessed.

May our daily needs be met,

And may our shortcomings be forgiven,

As we forgive those of others.

Give us the strength to resist wrong-doing,

The inspiration and guidance to do right,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

We are your hands in the world; help us to grow.

May we have compassion for all living beings,

And receive whatever life brings,

With courage and trust. Amen


Reading Tributaries by Cen Llwyd from With Heart and Mind 2


In our locality there are a number of small streams and brooks. Visitors travelling through the area would hardly know of their existence. Although having living in the village for nearly 35 years, it is only lately that I have become aware of the existence of some of them, and the meaning of their names.


All these streams flow into larger streams, all of which are tributaries of the river Teifi. For centuries, this river has been Ceredigion’s main life-stream. The Teifi has its source in the hills above the market town of Tregaron and ends its journey near the old port of Cardigan, where it submerges itself in the Irish Sea. Before reaching Cardigan Bay it flows on the level plains of Lampeter and Llandysul….


We sometimes feel insignificant, insufficient, and inadequate, all of which causes difficulties. The failure to feel within ourselves any value and worth generates discontent and a sense of being unregarded, a feeling often similar to being despised.


Whenever such feelings take over our lives, let us remember the small streams and the tributaries. Without them our larger rivers would not flow and our seas would eventually dry up.


We appreciate the first drop of rain to irrigate parched land after a drought, or water trickling through blocked or frozen pipes. Similarly, we value the tributaries and the streams that are like a sip of water to dampen the lips and quench a thirst.


Prayer by Cen Llwyd (adapted)


Spirit of Life and Love,


Let us remember the small streams and tributaries,

and let us, like them, continue to contribute.


In these quiet moments

let us focus on what we can achieve,

and try to accomplish

by means of our actions.


Let us remember the small streams and tributaries,

and let us, like them, continue to contribute.


Let us find ways to achieve what is possible

in order to fulfil not only our own lives,

but the lives of others also,

so as to provide a better journey for all.


Let us remember the small streams and tributaries,

and let us, like them, continue to contribute.




Reading from The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. (adapted)


Comparison is all about conformity and competition. At first it seems like conforming and competing are mutually exclusive, but they’re not. When we compare, we want to see who or what is best out of a specific collection of “alike things.” We may compare things like how we parent with parents who have totally different values or traditions than us, but the comparisons that get us really riled up are the ones we make with the folks living next door, or on our child’s soccer team, or at our school. We don’t compare our houses to the mansions across town; we compare our garden to the gardens near us. When we compare, we want to be the best or have the best of our group.


The comparison mandate becomes this crushing paradox of “fit in and stand out!” It’s not ‘cultivate self-acceptance, belonging and authenticity’, its ‘be just like everyone else, but better.’


It’s easy to see how difficult it is to make time for the important things such as creativity, gratitude, joy, and authenticity when we’re spending enormous amounts of energy conforming and competing…. I can’t tell you how many times I’m feeling so good about myself and my life and my family, and then in a split second it’s gone because I, consciously or unconsciously, start comparing myself to other people.


Time of Stillness and Reflection words by David Usher (adapted)


In this quiet time, we surrender ourselves

to reverence and mystery.


What gifts are ours –

of sight and sound and smell,

of touch and taste with which we explore

and experience the wonder of creation.


What gifts are ours –

of mind and thought

and irrepressible curiosity with which we tap

at the edges of our knowledge.


What gifts are ours –

of open, generous and trusting hearts

with which we reach out in search of each other

and the affirmations of love.


What gifts are ours –

of a world all about us of such beauty and power

in which we pass our fleeting days,

too often insensitive to the opportunity for joy.


Would that we, in moments of quiet such as this,

could let go of the grip of our tightened, ungenerous minds,

and have our hearts be open to all that might enter us.


Would that we could know that beauty cannot be measured,

nor love prescribed.




May we be divine in the practice of our humanity,

and human in the aspiration of our divinity.





Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley


Address Comparison is the Thief of Joy


Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, once said, “comparison is the thief of joy.” I’ve also heard that quote as “the thief of happiness.” And it’s so true. But I believe that we all do it, because as Cen Llwyd wrote in our second reading, “we sometimes feel insignificant, insufficient, and inadequate.” We can be feeling great about ourselves, and then compare what we are doing, who we are, with somebody else, and be instantly plunged into gloom. It’s a bad trick our heads play on us, to keep us small and not brave. It prevents us from using our gifts, from doing what give us joy.


We need to be reminded (often in my case) that each of us is a unique human being, with our own unique gifts, “what gifts are ours” as David Usher reminded us in the words of our Time of Stillness and Reflection. But how often do we stand in our own light, paralysed by comparing ourselves with others? I know I do.


My own particular Achilles’ heel of comparison at present is reading other people’s words, then believing that I couldn’t ever write so brilliantly, so vividly, so why bother? Forgetting that I am comparing their finished pieces with my first drafts and that even these brilliant writers probably spent hours agonising over every sentence, every simile and metaphor, polishing them until they gleam.


When I feel like this, I have to tell myself quite sternly that they are them and I am me, and that only I can write from my particular perspective. Then pick myself up, dust myself down and take up my pen (or apply fingers to keyboard) once again.


Dogberry, in Shakespeare’s wonderful play Much Ado About Nothing, famously said, “Comparisons are odorous.” It is something we all need to remember


I think it is such a shame that so many of us constantly compare ourselves, our lives, our families, our achievements, with those of other people. And I believe that social media has made matters infinitely worse, by giving us access to so many more people’s lives, including celebrities whose every photograph has been airbrushed and photoshopped into perfection. We need to remember that social media can be totally misleading – every post, every photo may have been chosen with care, so that people reading or seeing it will see the post-er in their very best light.


Even the posts of friends can be misleading. And I’m as bad at this as anyone. Like most of us, I guess, I tend to only post positive things about my life. So anyone else reading my posts may compare that one side of my life to the complete and messy and imperfect life that they lead and feel down. Some brave friends do share when they are feeling rubbish, when something has gone wrong. I believe that is a gold standard to which we should all aspire, if we are to fight the demon of comparison.


Body image is another terrible source of comparison. Most of us, I would guess, occasionally feel insecure about our bodies, as we compare our lumps and bumps to those of celebrities, which fill our tv screens, magazines and social media feeds with images of their slim selves with their air-brushed perfect faces and bodies, back in their skinny jeans weeks after giving birth.


The other day, I was reading one of the “before and after” stories in the slimming magazine I had bought that morning and was brought up standing by the following statement: “It’s amazing how your body changes. My waist has gone down from 45 inches to 30 inches, my bust has reduced from 46 inches to 36 inches and my hips are down from 47 inches to 34 inches.” The lady concerned was understandably pleased about this and was looking fantastic in her “after” photo.


But my reaction was rather different, as my vital statistics are very similar to hers. I thought, “My God! I’m an ‘after’! What on earth am I worrying about?” My BMI is at the top end of normal and I’ve been the same weight, plus or minus a few pounds, for the last decade.


It was a real moment of liberation from comparison. I finally realised that I have been suckered in to years of obsessive worrying by popular culture. I suppose that on the good side, it has made me eat more or less healthily, but what a waste of emotional energy! Comparison is indeed the thief of joy.


This experience helped me to (finally) realise that all body shapes and sizes have their own beauty and that it was about time that women like me set ourselves free from the obsession with chasing after some externally-imposed standard of “the perfect body” and started to appreciate the wonderful, marvellous, intricate bodies that we have, that walk, stand, sit, lie, reach out in longing, caress, and generally do what we want them to do.


Every person’s body is a gift from God and a home for our souls. If we must have an obsession, let it be not one of comparing ourselves with other, but of learning to be at home in them and looking after them, treating them with the respect they deserve, by eating and drinking good stuff, and by doing sufficient exercise to keep them fit and healthy.


The words of the readings and prayers I shared earlier were chosen to underscore my belief that everyone has particular gifts which they can use as best they can, to make the world a happier place and ourselves happier, more fulfilled people. And sometimes, even our flaws can contribute to the happiness of others. Bill Darlison’s wonderful story of the cracked pot, which compared itself with its perfect companion, is a case in point. The wise water carrier had chosen to turn this pot’s flaw into a wonderful gift, by planting the flower seeds on its side of the path. Such a fabulous lesson for all of us.


And Cen Llwyd’s reflection on the small streams and brooks which nevertheless make their contribution to the River Teifi and thus enable the land around to be fertile and green is another. Without the contributions to society that each of us makes (however small and insignificant we may believe them to be) our world would be a poorer, less happy place. As Cen wrote in his beautiful prayer, “Let us find ways to achieve what is possible in order to fulfil not only our own lives, but the lives of others also, so as to provide a better journey for all. Let us remember the small streams and tributaries, and let us, like them, continue to contribute.”


The basis of comparison is judgement, but really, who are we to judge others or even to judge ourselves, as we do every time we compare? Who are we to say, ‘You are worse than me’ or ‘I am worse than you.’? There are some words I love by St Francis de Sales: “When it comes to being gentle, start with yourself. Don’t get upset with your imperfections… It’s a great mistake, because it leads nowhere. To get angry because you angry, upset at being upset, disappointed because you are disappointed… You cannot correct a mistake by repeating it.”


“You cannot correct a mistake by repeating it.” Oh. How often do we pile anger on top of anger, upset on top of upset, and disappointment on top of disappointment, rather than trying to gently, rationally explore how not to repeat our mistakes? I know I do…


In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus bids us to be wary of judging others if our own copybook is less than spotless: “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.”


It is only too easy for us to judge others without really knowing them. To judge them by how they look, what they say, how they act. Without knowing what is in their hearts, what their motivations are, what their life experience has been, which has led them to this point in their lives. And we judge ourselves even more harshly, by comparing our worst bits to other people’s best bits.


So let us wave farewell to the demon of comparison, which truly is the thief of joy. Let us appreciate that each of us has some unique gift (probably many unique gifts) which only we can share with the world. Let us step away from judgement and recognise the spark of the divine in ourselves and in each other.




Closing Words


Spirit of Life and Love,

May we learn to put a true value

On ourselves and other people,

And not fall into the errors

Of comparison and judgement.

May we return to our everyday world refreshed,

may we share the love we feel,

may we look out for each other,

and may we keep up our hearts,

now and in the days to come.



Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley