Ever since I can remember I have had the tendency to compare myself to other people. Maybe we all do that to some extent, but I had gotten a PhD in the process before I could ride a bike. Now I was by no means a popular kid or a superstar or even terribly attractive. I didn't make the teams or the clubs or anything with any social currency.
This tendency toward comparison naturally led to what popular culture calls "poor self esteem." I was the poster child. I thought I was fat. I thought I was ugly. I thought I was a failure. Enter the gospel. 1981. God took hold of my life and began to give me hope. But the comparisons continued.
Now we know how hard it is to be a woman in our culture . . . to be compared to or to compare ourselves to models that don't even look that way in real life. Blow that up and out and that is what all of us face on every level in every aspect of life. And if you are prone to comparison, like I am, well . . . you're toast.
There is no better stage for the comparison drama to play itself out than motherhood. I thought I wallowed in feelings of inadequacy and failure before! Motherhood managed to grind me down, chew me up, and spit me out.
I seemed to be AWOL when God handed out managerial skills and parenting know-how. There was not a gene in my body that was comfortable with calling all the shots and barking orders and scheduling activities and refereeing arguments and training in righteousness and being tidy and artsy. I could not be Captain Kangaroo, Elisabeth Elliott, and Martha Stewart rolled into one.
Last week something happened that I can only liken to having scales fall from my eyes. I am currently enrolled in an online class from the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation and was listening to a lecture by Dr. David Powlison. In this lecture he talks about the very basic issue of human differences.
We all are different. This is the reality. God is exceedingly creative in how He creates human beings. These differences can be found on a horizontal spectrum. These differences run that gamut of the physical and temperamental and even situational. Tall vs. short. Old vs. young. Athletic vs. clumsy. Extrovert vs. introvert. Artsy vs. engineer-like. Male vs. female. Organized vs. scattered. Quiet vs. talkative. Smart vs. intellectually challenged. Rich vs. poor. And so on, ad nauseum.
These are just differences. That is all. But we, or our culture, turn the horizontal vertical and once vertical, the differences are assigned value. Good, better, best—or bottom of the heap. This is where the comparison game hits home. "That mom over there is more organized than I am and that is up the ladder from me. Therefore, I am a bad mom." "That woman has a perfect figure and is 44 years old . . . and I look like a Weeble. I am lesser of a person." "That person's kid just got a scholarship to an Ivy League college and mine is struggling to finish high school. I am a failure as a mother."
Do you see what is happening? We, the created, are assigning value to things that our Creator never intended. We can panic and climb and step on one another to drag ourselves to the top of the ladder but, as Dr. Powlison points out, it is a ladder to nowhere. It is a lie.
As Ed Welch says in his excellent book, Shame Interrupted, "The fact that we don't compare well to other people is not a sin. It is the result of limitations we all experience."
We are finite people created by a loving and highly creative God. Who do we think we are to establish our own pecking orders and ranks of righteousness? There is no need for self-exaltation. There is no need for us to build a Ladder to Nowhere. He already came to us and redeemed us, differences and all.