Futility of Comparison

P1040148I can remember this day as if it was yesterday, when in reality it was 35 years ago. I was in a group of young mothers waiting for instruction to begin our first “toddler swim” lesson. I was new to the community and I didn’t know anyone in the group. The swim instructor asked us to go around the group and tell our names, the names of our children, and the child’s age. She started with the mother next to her and before seven or eight mothers had introduced themselves and their child, I began to dread my turn.

Now no one who knows me has ever thought me shy or retiring. I prefer to sit in the front of all gatherings, so as not to miss anything. If there is a volunteer needed or a prize given out – I want to be front and center. I have been known to “worm” my way to the front of lines and even if it appears all the seats are taken – I will look in the front rows, just in case.

Yet I dreaded all eyes turning toward me when it was my turn to introduce myself and my son. My shame came from the fact that I automatically compared my son with the other toddlers. When a mother said – “This is Wesley and he is 5 months old” I thought – ‘my son is 6 months old and he doesn’t sit up yet’. Compared to Wesley, my son was small and delayed in development. I compared my son to the other toddlers  – and he came up lacking. I was a failure as a mother!

I am ashamed to admit that I compared my child to other children. It didn’t help that there were four other Benjamins in the class. (I guess that was a popular name that year – or maybe just for seminary students with sons)

Why do we compare our children to other children? Why do we compare ourselves to other mothers? Both exercises are futile and unhealthy.  We woman tend to compare ourselves and our children to others as a way to measure if we are “doing all right”. If our child is taller, stronger, crawls faster, or talks more we think we are doing well as a mother. If our child “falls short” in stature, development, or ability, we blame ourselves and think we are failing as mothers.

Reading these words – it seems obvious that is it pointless to measure our value as a mother by the age our child walks, how many words they string together in a sentence, or heaven forbid – at what age they are potty trained. Yet if we are honest  – we have done this to some extent or another. Comparisons permeate our culture and those of us who dedicate our lives to our families often have nothing else by which to measure our success or lack there of.

God has given us a better way!!!

2 Corinthians 10:12-13  (NIV)

12 We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves.When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. 13 We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us,a sphere that also includes you.

It is clear in this Scripture that Paul is asking us to evaluate ourselves by the “sphere of service God Himself has assigned to us.”  Just as I don’t expect the same level of artistic expression from beginning art students as I do from my advanced honor art students, God does not compare us to each other. God looks at what He has assigned us and asks that we be FAITHFUL.

I love these verses from II Timothy.

2 Timothy 4:7-9 (NIV)

7 I have fought the good fight,I have finished the race,I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness,which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Paul is telling Timothy, his young disciple, that he is nearing the end of his life on earth. Paul has fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. Notice it doesn’t say won the fight – just fought it. It doesn’t say won the race, just finished it. It says kept the faith – in other words – been faithful.

This is the standard we use to judge ourselves by – are we faithfully following God in being the women He has assigned us to be?  It is the only measure that matters.

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No Excuses

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Teach high school students and you will hear the most amazing excuses. I am almost awed by the creativity that some students use to explain their lack of responsibility. The operative word is almost. Having had four children navigate the precarious waters of high school has caused me to be a bit hardened to the myriad reasons that a class assignment is not complete or cannot be found to turn in for a grade.

We had a family birthday celebration this weekend and there were two situations with our grandchildren which caused me to realize that they are not that far removed from adolescent reasoning – or should I say adolescent lack of reasoning. Two year olds act without thinking. Fourteen year olds act without thinking. As a teacher and a parent I have found myself asking in a tone of frustration – “What were you thinking?” The truth is ….they weren’t thinking.

God has created us with an amazing capacity to think and understand. Yet it is not automatic. All healthy children are born with the potential to think.  Yet we know from recent brain reasearch that the reasoning capacity of humans is developing as they mature and in many individuals the ability to recognize cause and effect is not fully formed until a person is in their twenties. (Please don’t give in to depression!) That is why God designed families and why children have parents. Children need adults in their lives to set boundaries and explain the cause and effect of certain decisions. Humans are not like snakes or spiders who slither and crawl away soon after birth to fend for themselves. (If they didn’t, their parent might eat them!)

I am so blessed when I see parents of young children limit screen time. It is the rare child who will do this on their own. Once children get outside it is fun to see them play with Tonka trucks and climb trees. They use those large motor skills and gain strength in muscles besides their thumbs.

As children play outside and interact with the world around them they will start to see God’s power and divine nature expressed in creation. Don’t take excuses for not playing outside…unless the weather would lead to adverse cause and effect. As we train our children to think and reason, we are demonstrating God’s nature.

Romans 1:02

20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made,so that people are without excuse.

In God’s plan there are no excuses.

Swords – Ready for Battle

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One of our daughters and son-in-law like to spread out gift giving with their four young children. They will open one present per child (or a group present, such as a game) one day at a time. There are several reasons they do this and one is so that each gift can be enjoyed by itself for a time. After participating in this celebration for several days last week, I saw that there was certainly merit in this approach.

It also led to one of the funniest gift opening situations I have witnessed in my 61 years. This particular evening after a lovely meal and story time, the three boys, aged 5, 3, and 2 were told to put on their pajamas and they would be able to open a present together. There was a rush upstairs to change and as they returned to the living room in front of the tree, a single, long, rectangular present lay wrapped and waiting.

The boys were told to open it together. Without hesitation – they tore the wrapping paper off and opened the box. I only wish I had a video of what happened next! They took the top off and inside were three styrofoam swords. There was a brief moment of recognition….and instantly each grabbed a sword and began “sword fighting” with their brothers. They really went at it! All three knew exactly what to do with their swords and they even had accompanying sound effects… ARGGHH!  I couldn’t stop laughing! Little boys love swords. These swords were from the Dollar Tree and may not last long, but they were a big hit. No one was injured and sword fights continued to break out the rest of our visit. Nana even engaged in some sparring herself!

Now I must confess that we avoided buying any guns or weapons when our children were little. We did not want to encourage aggressive behavior. Yet, it didn’t take long for them to find sticks, pieces of wood, and discarded cardboard from which to fashion a weapon. They even used dried stalks from Joe Pie weeds to “sword fight”.

It struck me how naturally these little boys took to their swords and were ready to fight imaginary battles with each other. It also led me to reflect on the real battles they will face throughout life. How can we prepare these little ones to face real battles? What will they do when they are faced with pressure to cheat or steal? What if they are challenged to pick on someone? How can we make sure that they will respond instantly  – and make the right choice?

Hebrews 4:11

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

This Bible verse draws an important analogy – God’s Word is the Sword of the Spirit.  If our children know God’s Word – if they memorize Bible verses and learn principles from Bible stories – these will equip them to respond to real life battles in positive ways. Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Mary all responded to difficult situations and came out victorious. These people are great examples for our children since these people faced real life challenges.

Resolve this year to help your children be equipped with God’s Word.