Please pause the internet Christmas shopping and take a couple of minutes to hear this excellent spoken word about Santa, and how we often view God. It’s no bah-humbug! (Christmas Carol post to follow – don’t think I’m joking.)
This was the trigger for an in-hindsight-amusing conversation with Miriam about Santa in Peppa Pig: ‘So you see, Miriam, Peppa had never met Santa but you can speak to God every day’ (Cue blank/confused/’can we watch another episode now?’ expression from eldest child.)
“Santa rewards those with good behaviour; Jesus draws near to the broken as Saviour.”
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…)
Well isn’t this the most festive sight you ever did see? No?
I know it’s doesn’t look great but please don’t be put off by the beige/white combo and the peeling paint which I’m trying unsuccessfully to hide! It’s actually completely marvellous!
This is an advent calendar for young children, which my wonderful friends created and have kindly given to me. Each day you turn over the relevant day to reveal a picture (see the second photo), look at a Bible story together, maybe do a song and colour in the picture. Eventually your children will have built up their own colourful Bible overview! Brilliant!
If you would like to do this with your children, I can email you the teaching guide and the sheets for each day. You will need: A functioning printer or access to one; some string (unless you choose to do it some other way – a scrapbook? placed around the room?); a children’s Bible. There are really useful notes for each day so don’t feel you have to be an expert to give this a go!
I don’t seem to be able to post the documents on here for you to download, so if you’d like them please could you post a comment below and I’ll email them to you. Why not let me know your favourite Christmas song (Christian or secular, sorry if that offends!) to get us all in the mood! You comment by clicking on the speech bubble, top right.
If I manage to make mine look more festive (could it get any worse?), I will post a picture just to cheer us all up! Happy Advent everybody!
My daughter turned four last weekend. She’s my eldest, and four seems much older than three. Three-year-olds can be classed as toddlers; four-year-olds go to primary school. Yikes.
Miriam has been asking me for months if she can go ice-skating. Living in central London without a car and with two younger children, this is not an easy request to grant, so I told her that when the winter outdoor rinks sprang up we would go. This coincided nicely with her birthday, so I booked us a lesson on her birthday – at the crack of dawn, incidentally!
On the way there, I was thinking about how relieved I feel when I look back over the years since her birth. I’m relieved because I found things so much harder when she was first born than I do now. I expect most people feel like that, although I know some mums love the baby phase and find the pre-school phase harder. I don’t want this to sound ungrateful, because children are such a precious gift, but I found the first three months in particular extremely difficult. I feel so relieved to have gotten this far! Many thanks to God for his grace!
When we arrived at the ice rink, Miriam was given a stabiliser to hold – they give out heavy, plastic penguins with handles so children can push them along and spend less of their time prostrate on the ice. But from the moment she stepped onto the ice, Miriam hated it. Several teachers tried to help her – ‘Come on, take baby steps, I’ve got you, yep small steps, you won’t fall, you’re safe’ etc., but to no avail. She was miserable.
One of the teachers told me to try waiting inside to see if that helped Miriam to get engrossed and start to enjoy it, but as I watched her through the window she just stood there, morosely gripping her penguin, watching the other children slide and shuffle about. It was, for both of us, excruciating.
It did strike me that her experience on the ice was a tiny bit like my experience when Miriam was first born. She had wanted to ice skate because she’d seen it on the TV and it looked fun. It looked elegant and graceful. It looked rewarding. I think she probably assumed it would come naturally – that she’d get it right first time.
My ideas about motherhood were about as naïve as Miriam’s were about skating. Even when people told me ‘it will be hard at first’, I still didn’t really know. You can’t know, can you? Not until you get out there on the ice. Until day three of breastfeeding. Until no amount of pacing will stop the crying. Until you realise that between you and your husband, despite your combined intelligence and the books you’ve read, you have no idea what you’re doing. (I have friends who between them are Doctors three times over, who have at least once managed to put their baby’s disposable nappy on back to front AND inside out!)
One thing that it hurts to admit is that it’s actually a good thing that I didn’t and don’t find motherhood easy. True, this is a result of the Fall – frustrations and disappointments and poo down the wall won’t happen in heaven – but God is also using this season to make me more like Christ. It’s hard to be proud when you’re crying because baby won’t get his wind up, or crying with the pain of breastfeeding or just crying because you haven’t had any sleep, or crying just because. This is when we learn to depend on God more. If I’d found motherhood easy, then I’d have been even more proud and self-sufficient. Instead, God chose in his kindness to refine me: to make me more pure.
It’s amazing how a change in perspective can affect you. Since I’m older than Miriam, I know that ice skating is hard and you have to practise, fall on your bum fifty times, get back up and practise some more before it gets remotely fun. And yet, when I became a mum for the first time I was so shocked at how hard it was! (I don’t know why I’m using the past tense – I still regularly get surprised by how hard it is.) But as we struggle and learn, we’re growing. God is giving us character – which we wouldn’t get if the lesson were easy.
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4.
I have to admit that, compared to God, I am about as wise and patient through difficulty as my four-year-old daughter. Thanks be to God that he has the right perspective, and he’s there with me on the ice, holding my hand and cheering me on.
And do you know, it’s not all bad! Even though Miriam was stubborn, reluctant, sullen and uncooperative, I could see glimpses of a talent for skating. I know that she didn’t believe me when I said from the sidelines, ‘You’re doing it! That’s it!’ And when your mum or your friends or your husband say to you, ‘You’re doing a great job’ and it’s week three and you’re just trying to keep your head above water, you might think, ‘as if!’ but they do mean it. They’re seeing glimpses of the ability God has given you to excel at this particular line of work.
So I’d like to encourage you (no matter how old our child is, by the way!) – if you feel today like you’re slipping around and just getting cold and wet, please remember that God is growing your faith and your character, which is priceless – ‘of greater worth than gold.’ (1 Peter 6:7) And the people you see gliding around have all been in similar positions to you, they’re just further along the journey. And slowly but surely you are making your way across the ice. Small steps!
On an even more personal note, I would just like thank God for giving my daughter breath in her lungs for four whole years. “[Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:17. From emergency C-section until now, may I never forget that it’s the Lord Jesus who is holding us together every. single. day.
There was an advert on recently which was trying to persuade mums to bake to raise money for Children in Need. I was impressed they’d managed to get The Bonnie Tyler to sing a version of ‘I need a Hero.’ They’ve changed the words to, ‘Be a Hero’, and that’s the tag line of the advert.
My two older children were away last week, leaving just me and the baby – my husband was working. I wrote a list of things to do, and for the first time I can remember I actually ticked everything off the list! Catching up with people, getting things prepared in advance of upcoming birthday parties, etc. etc.
I had it in my head that it would be really satisfying to get things done that I can’t normally do, especially things I don’t want to do but know I should (e.g. clean the oven – groan). I could get to the end of the week and think ‘Yes! I’ve arrived! I made the most of my time and now my family and I shall reap the benefits.’
But instead, I got to the end of the week and I still felt tired, and I felt a bit stressed and a bit frustrated. So I started to ask the question, ‘Why?’ There are probably lots of answers but today I realised one reason.
I think that I was believing that by Getting Things Done I would be able to feel truly rested. I would be able to rest, knowing that I’d used my time well and achieved things. I think what I really want is to be Supermum, and when I’ve achieved that, then I can relax and enjoy myself a bit. I’ll finally feel on top of things.
While I’m striving all day long and all week long to reach this Superhero status, I’m ignoring something big (and, yes, blindingly obvious):
I’m not a hero. I need one!
I’m weak; I get tired; I get ratty; I can’t be bothered; I make mistakes; I’m selfish; I watch TV when I should be sleeping; I sleep when I should be cleaning; I clean when I should be reading the Bible, and so on!
The secret of motherhood is not: “Just Get Everything Done.” It’s a good thing, too, because I never get everything done! There’s always more. More mess, more washing, more cleaning, more shopping, more sorting, more cooking…
So what should we Supermum wannabes do? (I’m assuming it’s not just me!)
Jesus says: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ Matthew 11:28-30.
I have these verses stuck up on the wall in the kitchen. Ha ha ha! Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.
So how can I really get a proper rest – not a put-your-feet-up, have-a-cuppa rest, but a lasting, peace-in-your-heart rest? Go to Jesus, who is my rest. His priority is not that I tick things off my list. He’s busy looking at my heart. I need to preach this to myself every day! If Jesus doesn’t gauge the success of my day based on the state of my bathroom, then why do I?
I always think Mums look so together and sorted out when you see them, hair done and clothes matching (likewise with their children) – they do look heroic! But inside, aren’t we all weary and burdened, and needing rest for our souls?
I’m so grateful that (unlike Children in Need), God doesn’t command me to be a hero. It’s the opposite! He gives me a hero instead. The God-man who achieved it all on the cross for me, so I don’t need to strive anymore. He gives me the righteousness I have never earned and desperately need. One day I’ll enter the eternal rest which Jesus won for me – and until then he gives me strength to keep being wife and mother each day. And each day, if Jesus is my saviour, The Lord is pleased with me. Thrilled to bits with another day’s work done. He forgives all the things badly done and the things not done, and he loves me loves me loves me. Dwelling on this truth will give me so much more joy in my heart than a nice cup of tea and a sit down.
Finally, and so very importantly: if I’m running around trying to be the hero of my family/the school cake stall/the church lunch, I’m not pointing my children to the hero they really need. This is the worst part of all! It’s good for my kiddiwinks to see that Mum is not Super. She needs Jesus, the Super Saviour, and so do they.
On the way to my daughter Miriam’s nursery there is a bakery which sells, amongst other things, gingerbread men. There are small gingerbread men for 40p, and large gingerbread men (or even butterflies) for £1.
One day, probably about a year ago now, I bought my two children a small gingerbread man each. What a treat. They’d been past that bakery a hundred times and had never asked me to buy them anything. I love giving the children a little treat – a surprise that they really appreciate.
Since then, I’ve bought the children gingerbread men/butterflies several times from the same bakery. Recently when Miriam had her pre-school booster jabs I let her choose whichever one she wanted as a special treat to cheer her up.
A few weeks ago, when I picked Miriam up from nursery I told her we could go and get a small (40p) gingerbread man. I went in and bought her and my son, Ezra, a small one each. Miriam, however, wanted a big gingerbread man. She then proceeded to have a screamy, shouty tantrum outside the bakery in the busy street. I was so embarrassed. She seemed extremely spoilt, shouting ‘I want a big gingerbread man’ at the top of her voice. And as well as feeling embarrassed about it, I felt really sad. A year ago, she was thrilled to get a small gingerbread man, but now she despised it – it wasn’t good enough.
This incident taught me a few things I’d like to share with you.
Firstly, I am just like Miriam. God gives me good things (material or otherwise) – wonderful treats which I am thankful for. But then I get used to them, and I want the ‘next’ thing, I want the nicer/the longer-lasting/the more expensive. The bigger gingerbread man. I set my heart on something, and then after God graciously and generously gives me that thing, I realise it doesn’t satisfy and I move on to something else. This discontentment is caused by idolatry in my heart. I think that something other than God will satisfy my soul. And I even think that for my children. I know it’s good to take pleasure in helping my children to enjoy something, but if I think that something is going to satisfy them, then I’m leaving God out of the picture. I’m teaching them, through my actions and attitude, that satisfaction can be found in something other than God. This realisation has made me very uncomfortable! Oh how I need God’s grace.
So, as well as crying out to God for mercy, what shall I do about it?
Give thanks to God for all of the gifts he kindly gives me each day. At the same time, remember that the greatest gift God could give me is his Son, Jesus Christ. He more than satisfies my deepest needs and desires. I suppose part of this is expecting other things not to satisfy. Know in advance that, although I’d really like that ultra-slim Dyson, it won’t actually change my life if I end up buying it! Only God can give me lasting joy. My children need to see me finding my satisfaction in the Lord.
And when I “treat” my children, I should remember that their pleasure won’t last and they will soon be asking for something else. And it’s my job to point them to the source of all treats, and the real treat himself – Jesus Christ.
“I have seen you in the sanctuary
And beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
My lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
And in your name I will lift up my hand.
My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;
With singing lips my mouth will praise you.”