Avoiding The Comparison Trap



Years ago, when Joy and I attended a mother-daughter tea at the home of a lovely, accomplished Christian friend, I found myself tempted all afternoon to compare the shortcomings of our own family with the apparent strengths of the family at hand.As I walked through the front door with its welcoming wreath, I observed a lovely environment with perfectly placed knickknacks from all over the world. But all I could think was, How does she keep her house so beautiful with all of these children around? Six is a lot of kids to keep under control!

The food for the tea was decoratively arranged on beautiful china dishes, but I was thinking, She sure went to a lot of trouble for us. I need to try harder to do special things in my home!

The food was served by the immaculately clad children of our hostess. (I've got to get some new shirts for the kids; ours all look stained and faded.) Each child appeared to be quite gracious. (Boy do I need to go home and work on my kids' manners!) Each boy had a perfect haircut, and each hair was in place. (I hope they don't see my boys' hair, especially not their fingernails!) The mothers present discussed what their children had been doing recently. This child was head of the soccer team; the other child was almost fluent in French and German (at age fourteen!) Another had won a ballet competition. Yet another was teaching piano classes at age fifteen and making hundreds of dollars each month! (I've got a long way to go with my children! I'd better get to work!)

The mother who hosted the tea party, in reality, was just a sweet woman who wanted to make her friends feel special. And I admit I've exaggerated my response just a bit to make a point—though I really did wonder where that mother went for her boys' haircuts! But this is typical of some of the conversations that sometimes go on in my mind. It is so easy to get caught up in petty comparisons and unimportant issues and lose sight of what we are really aiming for as parents!  And of course, in all these areas, I'd put the focus on myself!

I have had people from time to time say, "Oh, you must be so perfect and your children were just always so much easier to train than mine."

I guess since I write from ideals to inspire and encourage, it can feel as though I present a perfect scenario. (No one will ever think that again after they read Nathan's and my new book.) But, I choose to practice and hold fast to ideals with the reality of imperfections and challenging seasons every season along the way. Perfect performance was not my goal, but moving along the direction of ideals one day at a time was what led me forward--a belief that growing and maturing mattered.

Comparing ourselves to others robs us from the joy of being unique.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped comparing myself to people. As a dear friend said, it leads you to sin, no matter what comparison you make. If you think you come out better than them then you become haughty and have an issue with pride and criticism. If you count yourself as less than others, then you are living by works, and will feel inadequate instead of happy with who you are. There is no grace in comparison. 

So living into your own puzzle--warts and all--is the only way you will find peace. Acceptance with grace is how God desires us to live.

Jeremiah 9 gives us a different view of life than that of measuring ourselves by the external performances of life.  This has helped me refocus the priorities of my life and my parenting efforts so many times:

"Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things," declares the LORD. ~Jeremiah 9:23-24

Though this passage was written twenty-six hundred years ago, it is still applicable to us today. Our culture still seeks success through three main areas— the intellect; power and status; and riches. As women, we will be tempted to measure our success by the performance of our own lives, our marriage and our children in these areas as well.

But to step out of the comparison game means learning to like yourself and your family as they are, with holes and scars. Freedom to rest in Christ for who we are brings peace.

According to this passage in Jeremiah, where should our efforts primarily be focused? How can knowing God help us combat the comparison trap we so often fall into as moms?