“Mom, I am one of the worst soccer players at our school,” said my 8-year-old son.
Feeling sorry for him, I replied, “Oh don’t say that. I’m sure you’re decent!”
Frustrated by my dismissal of his analysis, he emphatically replied, “No mom, I am actually pretty bad. I am really one of the worst players.”
Then, I realized that I was projecting my insecurity onto him. He didn’t feel insecure about his ability. He was feeling secure about himself and his limitations. He was able to matter of factly state what was obvious to him and to everyone else with whom he plays soccer.
He felt frustrated by my attempt to protect his self-esteem. He felt unheard, unaffirmed, and patronized. My attempt to build self-esteem was having the opposite effect!
He compared and came out on the other end still joyful to be him, and to be playing soccer “badly.”
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Comparison is the thief of joy.
This quote by Theodore Roosevelt has risen in popularity in the last year.
I get it. It is trying to convince us to not measure our lives to other people’s, especially as social media reels only everyone’s best moments.
However, I find this saying to be very misleading.
Comparison is actually an important skill in life. When used correctly, it helps us. Companies interview and compare candidates. Moms compare schools and teachers. At the Olympics, judges compare performances, people compete against each other because we believe that when done well, it can encourage people to pursue their best.
Comparison in itself is not a bad thing. It doesn’t need to steal our joy.
Rather than teaching our kids to not compare, why not teach our children when and how to compare in a way that will set them free from insecurity? Why not use comparison as a tool to empower them to make decisions in a world full of differences?
The truth is, people will compare them to others. They will compare themselves to others too.
Comparison doesn’t have to lead to the sins of envy, boasting, or pride. It can be done in love, with patience and kindness.
Teach our kids to compare from a place of security, not insecurity.
What does this mean?
It means that we teach our kids to compare not for the purpose of measuring their worth. Currently, in our society, we use the word comparison mostly as a means to measure our worth. But, what if we taught our kids to compare from a place of security in their worth? They can truly grow and thrive, pursuing excellence.
As parents, we know that our kids are not created identically, but often we compare as though they ought to be. This creates insecurity. Our kids need to know that there are differences in talents, skills, and interests. And that it is good and okay. Our inherent value does not fluctuate based on what can be measured and seen on the outside.
The truth is, when we lose joy after we have compared ourselves, usually it is because we compared from a place of insecurity.
Where does our insecurity come from?
Our insecurity comes from a place of unbelief about who God is and who He says we are in Him.
We struggle to embrace God’s declaration over us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139), in all our differences.
Secondly, although the world might give more attention to the famous, the beautiful, the talented, and the rich, our human value is not based on these things. If we lose sight of this, then our kids will pick up on our inner value matrix and they will begin to measure their worth in the same way.
When we begin from a place of unbelief about who God is, who we are in Him, and His deep value and commitment to us in our current place in life, comparison will always lead to loss of joy. In God, our worth doesn’t fluctuate. Our future is always hopeful. It frees us to celebrate the successes of others. We can put all our aspirations, our successes, our failures, and our frustrations in their proper place.
Kids in many ways have the comparison thing down better than adults.
Here is a short snippet of a conversation I recently had with my kids because I was interested to know what they thought about comparison.
Question: “Is it wrong or is it okay to compare?”
Kid Answer: “There is nothing wrong with comparing. You just have to be kind about it.”
Question: “What do you mean?”
Kid Answer: “Well, you can’t brag and say you’re the best, but it’s okay to be the best. It’s not okay to tease someone because they’re not better at something than you.”
Question: “Is it okay that you’re not the best at something?”
Kid Answer: “Of course! No one is best at everything.”
Question: “Who do you think is prettier. Mom or Mommy’s friend?” (I agree that our appearances are not worth comparing, but people do. Whether we like it or not, people make comments about our kids appearances all the time.)
Kid Answer: “Mom, I think your friend is prettier. (My other two agree.)”
Question: “Is it okay that my kids think mommy’s friend is prettier?”
Kid Answer: “I think so. I don’t know why it won’t be.”
Me: “Definitely it is okay. I think she is too!” (Laughter) (Some of you might be mortified because you think all kids think their mom is the most beautiful woman in the world. My kids, they’re straight shooters.)
My kids love for me is not dependent on my appearance. Because I am secure in where their love for me comes from, I am free to admit that I am not as attractive as my friend. They love me because I am their mom. I belong to them and they belong to me.
Security comes from belonging and knowing to whom we belong. Our hearts easily listen to the lies that our value and worth come from what we do, how we look, and our accomplishments. Somehow, we think if we “become someone” then we will belong and then we will be worthy. How untrue it is.
Insecurity is the thief of joy.
Teach our kids to measure themselves rightly.
As my sister and I talked about comparison, she asked, “Don’t we compare because we’re feeling insecure?”
Much of our world operates in this paradigm. So, we tell our kids, don’t compare rather than addressing the area of insecurity in their hearts. Trying to not compare won’t fundamentally change how we see and feel about ourselves. We will feel more frustrated with ourselves.
So, I answered, “We feel insecure so we can’t compare rightly.”
When we are insecure, we cannot measure ourselves rightly.
I have twin daughters. From the very beginning, they were compared. In the womb, one was bigger than the other. One was more active than the other. People compare their personalities. They compare their appearances. It is pretty impossible for them to get away from the comparison.
I understand. Twins are intriguing. It means people show more interest in them and, they are compared a lot.
Our twin daughters share a best friend.
One day, after a camping trip with his family, one of my twins asked me, “Mommy, why didn’t Justin draw a picture of me next to him, but he only made one with my sister?”
I could tell she was kind of bothered by it, but also genuinely interested to know why. I said a quick prayer at the moment because I wanted to answer this question well. It was a teachable and a vulnerable moment and I wanted to respond well to her.
“Can I ask you a question?” I asked.
“Yes” she answered
Then I asked, “You know, I love the love notes you give to mommy. Do you write more notes to mommy or to daddy?”
“To you,” she replied. “I hardly write one to daddy.”
I asked her, “Do you think because you write I love you notes to mommy and not daddy, that it means that you love daddy less than mommy?”
She replied, “Of course not!”
“Exactly,” I replied. “I don’t know why Justin only drew a picture of himself and your sister, but it doesn’t mean he loves you less as his friend. Maybe at the moment, he thought about your sister and just wanted to draw a picture of them together. Be secure in your friendship with Justin and your sister.”
She said, “Oh yeah. That makes sense.”
How often do we compare ourselves from a place of insecurity and interpret people’s actions, words, or lack thereof, as a sign that we are less lovable or worth less? This insecurity prevents us from entering friendships, opportunities, and relationships with openness and joy.
Tackling the Thief of Joy: Insecurity
Jesus said in John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Jesus’ desire is for us to have His joy in us and that our joy may be full. The question is, how do we have His joy in us and have it be full? Jesus spoke to His disciples about how to have this joy and it is true for us today. In John 15: 1-10, Jesus spoke of these four things:
- Abide in me and let my words abide in you. (John 15:1-7)
- Abide in my love (John 15: 9)
- If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love. (John 15: 10)
- This is my commandment: Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: that someone lays down his life for his friends.” (John 15: 12-13)
When we see our joy waning, it is an internal signal to examine if we are seeking joy apart from abiding in Jesus, in His Word, and in His love.
The trap we fall into with comparison is that we are seeking our joy by coming out on top. Jesus offers us something so much better. He teaches us that we find joy as we love others as He has loved us, by laying down our lives for our friends.
Let’s not expend our energy trying not to compare.
Let’s be secure in who we are by attaching ourselves to Jesus, to His Word, and to His love. Then, we will be able to compare well and not lose joy while doing it.
**Resource: As parents, we have the privilege of helping our kids learn to measure themselves rightly. If you wonder why how parents can help their kids have the right grid for comparison and not their peers, read Hold On to Your Kids. **