Q: “How did you overcome the temptation to constantly compare your life, ministry, and family to others?”
A: Once after my friend, Angela, visited, my husband asked why I was so grumpy. “You usually love having Angela come,” he said. But I replied, “Yeah . . . I don’t think I like Angela anymore.”
My husband was puzzled. “Shannon . . . ” he said. “You love Angela! What’s going on?”
It took me a bit to process, but eventually I realized that it wasn’t Angela that I didn’t like. It was being shown up as a mom.
The whole weekend, Angela’s girls had sweetly played out in the sunshine, enjoying the pool and crafts and playing pretend. My boys had spent the entire weekend trying to shove each other into the pool and jockeying for attention.
They had argued constantly, interrupting each other and trying to outdo each other’s stories—to the wide-eyed surprise of their young female audience.
It was a painful weekend for me. I felt like such a “less than” mom—and that’s a really awful feeling. So what did I want to do? I wanted to pull away and sulk for a while. I wanted to make mental lists of why girls are easier to raise than boys. And I wanted to get out my magnifier and find some flaws in Angela’s kids so I could tell myself, “We’re not the only ones who aren’t perfect.”
In a moment I’ll circle back and tell you why all of these are really bad ideas, but first, I’m wondering. As a mom, a wife, a housekeeper, a neighbor, an employee, a ministry worker, a friend . . . do you ever feel “less than”?
The Wisdom That James Taught
If you’re reading these “Ask an Older Woman” posts, you probably want wisdom. You want to make godly choices and avoid temptations and traps. So with wisdom as our goal, I’d like to point you to some verses in the book of James which have helped me with my comparison struggles.
James is a letter written by James, the pastor of the Jerusalem church and Jesus’ brother. It was one of the first books in the New Testament to be written; probably within a decade of Jesus’s death and resurrection.
When he asks, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” (James 3:13), James knows that the logical answer a decade or so ago would have been the Pharisees and religious leaders. But their “wisdom” led them to murder Jesus—our highly exalted King!
James calls for a new kind of wisdom which is stripped of the world’s measure-up way of thinking. Listen as he connects measure-up comparison (in bold) with the wisdom of our enemy (underlined):
If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. (James 3:14–16, emphasis mine)
Do you see the connection? Our enemy loves these two things, which happen when we measure ourselves against ourselves: Jealousy is when we measure ourselves against someone else and come up lacking (like I did with Angela). Selfish ambition is when we want to be the ones measuring up, and we drive ourselves to outdo others. Both require measure-up comparison, which—as James points out—is rooted in the wisdom from below.
Wisdom, whether from above or below, is always saying, “You should do this . . . ” It takes our hand and leads us in a certain direction. Where does our enemy want to lead us? Straight into bondage, and he often uses measure-up comparison to do it.
Using my situation with Angela, let’s consider three measure-up messages from below alongside the wisdom from above, which leads us a different way.
Three Measure-Up Messages from Below
1. You should pull away.
The enemy always wants me to pull away from other Christians. Sometimes he tempts me to pull away out of inferiority. Other times he tempts me to pull away in pride and think that someone is “beneath” me. But Jesus desires that we as the Church draw together in unity, always building one another up (Eph. 4:12).
Angela is a dear friend, and I’m a better mom because of her influence. She consistently reminds me of what is true and gives me crisp examples of how it looks to live by the wisdom from above. Pulling away from her puts me at a deficit. I need faith-building friends like Angela, and she needs me. We are better together and weaker apart.
2. Her strengths aren’t so great.
Any desire to minimize my friend’s successes or strengths is drenched in envy and bitterness—which is exactly what the enemy wants my heart to be filled with. When I’m envious, I might be glancing over at someone else, but my eyes are on myself. When I’m bitter, I tend to see everything with a tainted me-focused perspective. I can’t rejoice in a good thing unless it’s my good thing.
In contrast, look at the me-free theme which flows through James’s description of heaven’s wisdom: “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). See how selfishness is the opposite of every one of those descriptors?
Heaven’s me-free way of living allows me to appreciate my friend Angela and celebrate her amazing parenting skills. Rather than feeling threatened by her, I’m able to learn from her and grow into a better parent myself.
3. My weaknesses aren’t so bad.
Notice this part of James’s warning: “If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth” (James 3:14). The natural wisdom-from-below response when I’m feeling “less than” is to puff up and make myself seem “greater than.” I’m tempted to boast about my successes or sweep my failures under the rug.
This is what the Pharisees did. They were constantly bragging and making themselves look big in the eyes of other people. Wisdom from above leads me in a completely different direction. God is pleased when I make myself small in repentance and humility.
Honestly, Angela’s visit exposed some parenting holes. There were things I needed to work on with my boys, but recognizing this required humility. I needed to first make myself small and say, “Okay, Lord. What are you showing me? How can I grow?”
Here’s the thing about humility: God favors it. James says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
Friend, who have you been measuring yourself against? Which of these measure-up messages have you been entertaining? Hold onto these me-free truths today:
- I need faith-building friends. We are better together.
- A me-free perspective allows me to celebrate others’ strengths, without being threatened.
- When someone’s strength exposes my weakness, it’s an opportunity to humble myself and grow.
PS: If this topic interests you, check out my new book, Comparison Girl: Lessons from Jesus on Me-Free Living in a Measure-Up World.