The Comparison Game

comparisonA couple of years ago I was at the place where the year was quickly dwindling down and it had been rather hectic. As I realized that there were only a few months left of school, deep down there was a part of me that began to panic. I felt like I had failed at giving my children the best education possible. In fact, if report cards were to come out on me – the children’s teacher – I was to the point where I would have been satisfied with a C-. I was discouraged, and yet no one knew it.

A homeschool monthly mom’s meeting was scheduled on the topic of “Homeschooling through the High School Years” and I knew this was just the encouragement I needed. So I put on a smile and headed out the door. But what was intended to lift my spirits, turned into guilt and great discouragement. As I listened to various moms share their experiences, I began to compare my life to them and a few hours later ended up driving home in tears.

My discouragement lasted through the next day, until I finally picked up the precious Word of God.

 “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths,” Proverbs 3:6.

“Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established,” Proverbs 4:25-26.

 It was clear. My eyes were not fixed upon God. I was looking around to the left and right, comparing myself and my family to everyone else. And it is just that – the comparison game – that will leave us discouraged every time.

This is not the only thing that can contribute to this type of discouragement for moms. Books, magazines, and social media can all add weight to the problem. Ideas of having the “perfect” marriage or a busy mom’s guide to “getting it all done” can raise our levels of expectations to an unhealthy level. Pictures on Pinterest of beautifully-decorated, insanely-organized, and superbly-spotless homes can also add to the comparison game.

Here’s the truth: Every family will look different. No marriage is perfect. We cannot and should not even try to do everything. And, having a lived-in home when love and laughter flows, is much better than the “picture-perfect” home where all are stressed over spills and messes.

Don’t get me wrong. We are built for relationships and God will often use people to encourage and exhort us to be better wives and mothers. We should examine and learn from others, and we should follow after those who are living godly lives. The Apostle Paul said, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ,” I Corinthians 11:1. But there is a difference between following others by letting their example be an encouragement to us, and comparing our lives to theirs. The Bible warns us to not compare ourselves with others in spiritual matters. “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise,” 2 Corinthians 10:12. The principle applies here as well. It is easy to want to compare ourselves to others, but it is not others that should set our standards. God’s plan for our life is the standard all must seek. God created each of us in a unique way. He created our family unique. Unless we embrace our differences and seek out God’s will for our family, we will constantly struggle in this area.

There is a fine balance between striving for excellence as wives and mothers, and killing ourselves by trying to live up to some unattainable form of perfection that we “think” we see in others. Let’s not forget that often we are only seeing highlights of people’s lives, moments of triumphs, and glimpses of won victories. Often the failures, struggles, and disappointments are not on display. This comparison game trap was a good reminder for me as well. When talking to a new believer, a first time homeschooler, or a newlywed I need to remember that each child of God is on a journey in life to walk in the ways of the Lord. We are all striving to live our life and raise our family in a way that is pleasing to Him. Some are simply further down the road than others.  Some have been traveling longer. Some travel at a faster pace. And some take a different path altogether. My life will not look like yours. Your life will not look like mine. But let each of us look like Christ. If we are going to compare our lives with anyone, let it be His!  “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked,” 1 John 2:6.

Be content to travel down the path that God has laid before you.  Acknowledge Him, take your eyes off self, focus upon the One who establishes all your ways, and let the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your heart and mind focused upon Him.

Keeping up with the Joneses

It is easy to say that we are not striving to keep up with everyone around us, but a simple look at the average person’s lifestyle says otherwise.  While the saying might just be an idiom, to fail to “keep up with the Joneses” is perceived in our culture as demonstrating socioeconomic inferiority.  We are content with our current cell phone until our neighbor gets a smart phone.  We are content with our paid for used car until our friends buy new ones.  We are content with our modest home until a family member moves into a nicer neighborhood than ours.  What is it about “the Joneses” that stir our hearts toward discontentment?

As a believer in Christ I am told in scripture that I brought nothing into the world and that I will certainly take nothing out (I Timothy 6:7).  I am reminded that if I have food and clothing I should be content (I Timothy 6:8).  I am warned to not covet other’s things and to be content with what things God has given me (Hebrews 13:5).
Therefore, it would seem that contentment would be easy for a Christian, but that is not always the case.  It helps to realize that material things and stuff can be very deceiving.  The fact is that Americans are in debt.  We are not buying newer and better things because we have more money.  Living a facade, we are simply buying stuff and going deeper in debt.  From 1997 to 2007, America’s credit card debt
balances increased 75%.  In 2010, the US census bureau reported that US citizens have over $886 billion in credit card debt and that figure was expected to rise to $1.177 trillion by the end of the year.  The report stated that each card holder had an average credit card debt of $5,100 and that number was projected to reach $6,500 by the end of the year.  We are not as prosperous as we look.  According to the Wall Street Journal 70% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and the Department of Commerce says that the US savings rate is (negative)  -.6%.  I heard Dave Ramsey say on the radio the other day that “normal is broke!”

So the question is, Do I really want to keep up with the Joneses? Do I really want to be “normal” according to society?

Let’s be realistic, some might say.  We live in this world.  We are a part of this world.  This world and its things are a reality that we must deal with.  All of this is true.  We do live in this world.  The Bible says that there are cares of this world (Mark 4:19).  There is also a wisdom that is of this world (I Corinthians 3:19).  There is a course that people follow in this world (Ephesians 2:2).  And there is a god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4).  But the Bible also says that the “cares of this world” causes us to become unfruitful.  The “wisdom of this world” is foolishness with God.  The “course of this world” works in the children of disobedience. And the “god of this world” blinds the minds of people who do not believe.  This is why we are told in Romans 12:2 to “be not conformed to this world”.

So whether we are talking about conforming to the “Joneses” materialistically or conforming to the “Joneses” physically or conforming to the “Joneses” mentally, we should not desire to keep up with them.  A Christian should not be “normal”.  We should be a peculiar people, set apart, and not conformed to this world and its way of thinking.  Instead “be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God,” Romans 12:2.

Contentment, Godliness, and Great Gain

 Last night I was sitting in a revival service listening to the evangelist preach from 1 Corinthians about the unrighteous who will not inherit the kingdom of God. Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. (1Co 6:9-10) As he is going through this list in my heart I am thinking about all the wickedness in our land.

Fornicators – This has become widely accepted even among Christian people today. How do I know this? Because it is flaunted around in the churches; there is no shame anymore. No one bothers to teach against fornication and its consequences. We sweep it under the rug and think that God does not see or care. But Scripture warns; be not deceived.

Idolaters – How easy it is to think in our mind that we are not idolaters. After all, we have never carved a graven image and bowed down to it. But, an idolater is one who puts ANYTHING above God. It can be the god of humanism. This god is based in evolution. It is what our American children are daily indoctrinated in. We see the fruit of this when people slaughter their unborn babies on the altar of convenience. It can be the god of riches. This happens all the time when people bow down to their job and place it above God. We see the effects of this god when parents neglect their church, the home, and their children in a pursuit of wealth. It can be the god of entertainment. How many families miss church due to sports or hunting? How many people place the TV above their prayer time? How many people care more about what Hollywood thinks than what the preacher says from the Word of God? One of the biggest forms of idolatry is when people make up a god in their own mind. They might claim they are serving the God of the Bible but the god they have created in their mind is nothing like the True Jehovah God of Scripture.

Adulterers – I’m always amazed at how many parents openly accept those who are committing adultery into their home to influence their children. It is done every week in Christian homes via the television and internet. Think about this honestly. As believers in Christ we might say how wrong adultery is to our children. But, if we let them watch movies or TV shows that make light of this sin, then we are justifying it to our children. What we are saying by our actions is that adultery is not really that big of deal.

Homosexuals – This is big in today’s society. We are told to accept this “lifestyle”, our children our indoctrinated in it via the government schools, and it is forced upon us in every avenue of society. Why? It is because the children of God will not take a stand. They will not speak out against it. They continue to watch the programs that have them in it. They continue to vote for politicians who are for it. They continue to buy products from companies that support it. They continue to go to places like Disney World who parade it around. And it is all because we love other things more than we love God. We do not hate the things that God hates.

Thieves – There is more thievery going on today than I have ever seen. Our society EXPECTS something for nothing and they do not care where it comes from. We are fine with the government stealing from one class and giving to other. Then often the ones who do work steal from their employers by being lazy. People will steal spouses from one another. Boys steal the innocence of girls. Children steal from their parents. Thieves are everywhere.

Does it sound like I’m being hard on these people? Probably. I should be. God hates these things. But, as the evangelist went through the list last night he did not stop there. The next on the list was covetous.

Ouch!

Why did God place being covetous between thieves and drunkards? It really is simple. It is because God hates this sin as well. After all, it made the top ten. In fact, covetousness is the cause of a lot of the other sins. I believe that the sin of covetousness is killing the testimony of many Christian people. It is also hindering their Christian growth tremendously, including mine. When I have my eyes on “things of this world” my eyes are off God. When I focus on my “wants” I am not content with my needs. When I store up “treasures for myself” here on earth I neglect to store up heavenly treasures. In doing it all, I become worldly minded not spiritually minded. In I Timothy 6:8 we are told that if we have food and clothing we should be content. In Matthew 6, Jesus told us to seek the kingdom of God and all of our needs will be added to us. And Paul tells Timothy that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1Ti 6:6) In the words of the evangelist last night…

“Christians today are saying, I’m content with my godliness; now give me the great gain!”

Does this describe many Christians today? Does it describe the mindset in our churches? Does this describe the average materialistic American family? I’m afraid it does! I’m afraid it even describes me at times.

God help me to strive to be godly, for you tell me to be holy for You are holy. Lord, help me to make every effort to live a pure life in this world. Father, help me to be content with the things that You give me. I realize that every perfect gift comes from above. Help me to give you honor and glory in my life and live as a light set on a hill in this dark world. Help me to take to heart that godliness with contentment IS great gain and help me live accordingly.