I’ve learnt a lot recently about comparisons. Part of our nature is that we compare ourselves to other people. One big problem with this is that we become complacent about our sin – if we believe we’re sinners at all. If we’re Christians, we know we are sinful, but on a day-to-day basis we often slip into the habit of looking around and thinking with a nod, ‘Yeah, I’m doing alright!’
It strikes me that nowhere is this more prevalent than in the world of parenting. Even before your baby is born, you start to compare yourself/the baby/the pregnancy with others. Some of this is just to check that everything’s normal – but not all of it.
Let me give you a few examples, in case you’re not so sure. Let’s take the topic of your child’s eating habits. In the part of the city where I live, there are a growing number of children who have very weak bones because their (extremely wealthy) parents have fed them nothing but fruit and veg. In fact, when my daughter was a baby her growth slowed, and the Health Visitor assumed I was starving her of carbs. (In actual fact, she is about two-thirds rice cake.)
And of course, I also live near many parents who feed their children crisps and sweets for breakfast, and fried chicken and chip-shop chips for tea most nights. They too are malnourished, but in a different way.
So here I am, with my Annabel Karmel Meal Planner, feeling rather smug. Aren’t I marvelous – my children eat a selection of food from each food group (no veg, but I don’t dwell on that). They snack on fruit; they feast on meat – my daughter confessed at a party recently that she’d never before eaten jelly and ice cream! Well can’t I just pat myself on the back and thank God that my kids are so lucky to have me? (I may as well be saying, ‘Thank you God that I am not like this tax collector…’)
Let’s see – are there any other examples? What about how much TV my children watch, how often I read the Bible to them, how many extra-curricular activities I pay for them to do, how I dress my children, whether I breast or bottle feed, whether we eat meals together, whether they watch Disney, how much time I spend reading to my children, what kind of school I send them to, whether I make them wear a helmet or not, etc. etc. etc.
Of course, many of these things do matter a great deal. But instead of comparing myself and looking down on others, why don’t I stop looking around me for a minute and look at where God has actually set the bar?
I’ve been reading Ezekiel, and learning about how the prophet sees a vision of the likeness of God’s glory, which is absolutely mind-blowing: ‘When I saw it, I fell face down…’ (Ezekiel 1:28) And not only that, but we have seen God’s glory in a bigger way, since Jesus showed us his glory, particularly at the cross. There, the holiness of God; his love; his justice; his mercy and grace are blasted out to the world for all to see: ‘We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’ (John 1:14)
So what standard does this glorious God set? Jesus says, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ Hmmm. When I think about that, I don’t feel so proud of myself. How does God feel about my sin? Look at the cross – he poured out his wrath on his Son because of it.
Can you imagine Ezekiel strolling up to the image of God’s glory and saying ‘OK, but do you know I fed my children cereal for breakfast every day! And no sugary drinks!’ Ridiculous I know, but in my heart I whisper that to God when I’m feeling proud.
The right response to God’s glory is to bow down and worship him, and to cry out for mercy – which he freely gives. That should be our response, no matter who we are or what we’ve done. I need to keep reminding myself of this, especially when I’m comparing myself to parents who in my sinful opinion are not as competent as I am. (Gosh, don’t I sound like a delight?) God’s not judging me by comparison. He is holy.
As a church community, I think we can help each other out with this a lot too. We’re always having examples of ‘bad’ parenting thrust in our faces – in the press, at the school gate, or maybe just people we know. So when a wonderful parent in our church says things like, ‘Oh I really lost my patience today with my kids,’ or ‘I just wish I could be more joyful about motherhood,’ we think, ‘But you’re fantastic! You’re the best mother I know!’ And often we console them by saying things like, ‘Oh that’s understandable/everyone feels like that sometimes/you’re much more patient than I am’ etc.
Now I’m not saying we should be judging each other at all – and we definitely should encourage the good we see God doing in people. But if someone is feeling convicted of sin, they need to hear the gospel. And by ‘gospel’, I don’t mean ‘Oh don’t worry, there are loads of people who are much worse than you!’ That’s not good news at all!
Instead of making each other feel better by implying our sin doesn’t really matter, let’s acknowledge that it does matter and remind each other that God has dealt with it all at the cross. You don’t need to feel guilty – not because you’re perfect, but because God has removed your guilt from you:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1: 8-9
I’d much rather be reminded that I am purified from all unrighteousness than be cheered up by the knowledge that someone else is worse than I am! Not only is it more wonderful, but it’s also the truth that I need to hear.
So if you’ve recently entered the world of comparison-parenting, or you’ve been a resident for a long time, may I encourage you that you’re actually worse than you think you are! And if you’re in Christ, God sees you as righteous, holy and perfect:
‘Blessed are those
whose transgressions are forgiven
Whose sins are covered;
Blessed is the one
Whose sin the Lord will never count against them.’
(Romans 4:7-8, quoting Psalm 32)
P.S. You might be thinking – ‘But when I compare myself to people around me, I feel worse, not better! I feel like the worst mum in the world!’ I’m hoping to write about this in my next blog post! (Or at least one in the near future…)