Yesterday, in the grip of the flu, I stumbled to my computer to check my mail, only to be greeted by this, chirping from my inbox. In part, a reader writes:
I love your blog, but honestly, reading it makes me want to quit homeschooling…. I can never imagine myself doing what you do. Do you even sleep??… I just feel very small and incompetent next to all the things you have done and do with your kids.
And I really wanted to cry, but I knew it would make my head hurt worse. My feelings weren't hurt. I was just so sad for this lady. Why do women do this to themselves? We all do it. We all compare ourselves to someone and come up short in our own eyes. And then we are discouraged and we kick the dirt around at our feet and figure it's all hopeless because we can't reach some other person's standard. We're not supposed to reach some other person's standard!
Invariably, February brings burnout, particularly for mothers at home with young children. And, I think, they are particularly inclined to look at magazines, television shows, and weblogs for some other representation of life that seems brighter, cheerier and more orderly than the one in their own homes. This year, almost all of February has been Lenten. Jesus didn't go into the desert with a stack of magazines and a computer. He went alone and He spent the time immersed in God. Can we do that? Can we shut out the cacophony of comparisons for just a few short weeks? Can we look not to the world for our standards but instead to God's unique plan for us?
Lent is half way over; it's not too late. Today, set aside time to sit quietly with your husband and to discern what God wants for your household, then surround yourself only with things which encourage you, educate you, and build you up. Resolve to spend not one minute more reading or watching anything that causes you to compare yourself to someone else unfavorably and to ultimately become discouraged.
Magazines and blogs are staged re-creations of real life. There is no way to convey to the reader the intricacies of exactly how any life is lived. And that's just fine. Because God calls each of us to our own unique mission and, while we can and should share freely, no one's mission looks exactly like anyone else's. The trick is to read everything prayerfully. Whatever the author presents is only the beginning for the reader. It's got to be poured the prayer sifter. What does God want me to do with this inspiration, this seemingly good idea? Is there anything here of use for me or am I supposed to just leave it alone? Or pass it along to someone else?
I watched an overweight woman thumbing through a weight loss magazine in the checkout line last week. By the time she got to the checker, she'd put the magazine back and put a candy bar in with her groceries. She ate the candy bar on her way out the door. Clearly, the magazine didn't inspire her to lose weight–just the opposite. The problem wasn't with the message of the magazine; it was with the heart of the reader. She was searching, looking, perhaps desperately wanting to find encouragement between those glossy pages. Instead, she allowed whatever potentially good advice that was there to sabotage her good intentions. Often, people look to magazines, self-help books, blogs and television to fill a hole, a longing. And they can't fill that hole with what's in the media. The hole can only be filled with the understanding that God has a perfect plan for every soul He created and we are only happy when we live according to that plan.
We can't live someone else's life, no matter how lilting and lovely the prose is that describes it, no matter how beautiful the pictures that illustrate it. God calls us to write our own stories and when we cooperate with Him in the authorship, those stories are more beautiful than any we've ever read.