Happy New Year!
At this moment, New Year’s Resolution lists are being posted across the internet world. I love New Year’s resolutions. I love reading them. I love making them. Keeping them is of course another story (I can’t tell you how many exercise and read-through-the-Bible-in-year plans I’ve started—and have kept with until well into February).
I already have dozens of ideas brewing for 2013, ideas that involve more early-morning quiet times with God, more made-from-scratch food (which should definitely involve but not be limited to a sourdough starter), less dairy and gluten, better household organization tactics, more creative blog posts, new birthday traditions for our family, perhaps a 10K run (although full disclosure: I’ve gone running a grand total of one time since my 5K two months ago).
I love all of these ideas. I’m excited by all of these ideas, ready for new challenges.
I think I’m going to throw all of them out the window right this second.
Here’s what I want in 2013:
New habits are good. But this year, rather than trying to attain the habits I want, I want to focus on, quite simply, wanting what I already have.
Let’s face it, this is probably the female problem, isn’t it?
And I don’t just mean contentment with my material possessions (although it includes that), but contentment with me, with the way God made me. Contentment with my story, which isn’t like anyone else’s story. Contentment with my spiritual gifts and skills and interests. Contentment with my husband and my children and my family. Contentment with my friends.
It seems God has been going to great lengths to show me how deeply I struggle with discontentment, and He’s also showing me that what I truly need in 2013 is not to have a better exercise routine or eating habits or better behaved children.
What I need is to be content with who I am and what I have, right now, today.
I think that, for me, the blogging world and social media easily become the scapegoat in this struggle. Isn’t that what Pinterest is all about: what we don’t have? Or Facebook, with people’s endless status updates and photos about their exciting lives? Or bloggers who average twenty comments a post (hey, that’s a lot in my book)?
I don’t know.
I don’t think it’s Facebook’s fault that envy floods my heart when I read about a friend’s trip to Europe or the Christmas gifts her children received. And I don’t think it’s that friend’s fault, for sharing her excitement.
I think it’s my fault. It’s my heart that covets, that compares, that judges, that complains.
I totally get people who limit their time on blogs and Pinterest because they struggle with contentment. I also try to set boundaries like that for myself, just like I try to steer clear of the mall.
But if I think that without social media and photos and magazines and stores I will be a content person, I’m believing a lie. That’s legalism. It’s saying that if I carefully arrange and follow outward rules, I’m okay (and conversely, if I’m not okay, it’s something outside me that’s at fault).
The thing God has started revealing to me—which I hope will encourage you too—is that I’ve had my thinking so wrong in this area. I’ve thought that what I need is to “be content” (or be less discontent), just because God commands it (“godliness with contentment is great gain”). I’ve tried harder and I’ve felt devastated when I’ve failed, time and again.
But instead, what God is trying to tell me, is that contentment is something He works in my heart. It doesn’t make me holy; I am holy because Jesus gave me His perfect righteousness.
Contentment isn’t another rule, another New Year’s resolution; it’s a gift. It’s the path to freedom and joy.
It’s the path to beautiful friendships.
It’s the path to celebrating my family, even on the most mundane of days.
It’s the path to awestruck wonder that my Father created me just the way I am, that He doesn’t make mistakes, and that He cherishes me with all my idiosyncrasies and short-comings.
Honestly, what I struggle with most is being discontent with myself. I see friends with strengths in areas I’m weak, I’m faced with my sin and failure, and instead of responding with repentance, I start complaining.
It’s easy to try and spiritualize the complaining, to say, “I’m just frustrated that I can’t do better, that I can’t be better.”
But it’s the sin of discontentment, plain and simple. It’s saying, “God, I don’t like it that You didn’t give me ______ ability (or house, or family, or church). I don’t like it that You haven’t given me victory over ______ sin yet. You should’ve made me different and made my life different.”
I think most of us women, if we’re honest, will admit that we’re critical of others. But I think we’d also be the first to say there’s no one we’re so critical of as ourselves.
And I’m learning that somehow these things go hand-in-hand. The road to being less critical and judgmental of other people is not to beat myself up for my failures more.
It’s a paradox that the more insecure and self-conscious and inadequate I feel, the less I can love other people. My friend’s accomplishment does not highlight my lack of accomplishment—and inasmuch as it does, I can’t truly love her.
Sometimes I need to hear the words: It’s not all about you.
If I can’t read a blog post about a friend’s vegetable garden or kitchen makeover or thoughtful children without comparing her life to mine, then I’m way too self-absorbed (and believe me, I’ll be the first to tell you I do this all the time).
That’s not what I want at all. If I want to be free to celebrate with my friend in her uniqueness—to celebrate her successes, her children, her hobbies—then I need to accept that what God has given me, the way He has made me, is good.
I need to be content.
I’ve become even more aware of this issue of late in an area I’m sure you’ll agree that we women relentlessly compare ourselves in: child-rearing. Whether it’s the behavior of our kids, discipline style, rules in our homes, school choices, birth choices, food choices, work choices, family routines, we’ll find something to measure our worth and each other’s worth by.
And that has made me stop short, because if I’ve deceived myself into thinking I can confine my struggle with insecurity and discontentment to my own heart, I’m wrong. My kids are five and three, and you better believe they can already pick up on unspoken dynamics, on the way my friends and I communicate through our kids’ fight during a play date, on the comments I make about that friend and her discipline choices later.
My sin of discontentment and comparison and self-righteousness always affects other people.
Do I really want to raise Amie to believe that as long as she is friends with girls, she will experience and inflict criticism and comparison and gossip? Do I want to raise her to think I’m in some sort of mom competition? You better believe she will learn by my example rather than what I tell her is right (it’s a sobering prospect).
I’m speaking strong words here. But I’m doing it because I think we tend to assign sin interesting categories. We have the “big” sins of lying, lust, sexual promiscuity, stealing—and I’m not making light of these sins at all.
But sometimes we women like to diminish the deeper, in some ways every bit as damaging sins of comparison and gossip. We shrug them off, Oh that’s just how women are. But, as someone once told me: they are poison. They poison our hearts, our relationship with God, our relationship with the people we love most. Just as men should not indulge the poison of lust, I should not indulge the poison of discontentment and comparison.
Lately God’s showing me that He’s not just hitting me over the head with my daily failure in this area—adding this sin to the growing heap I’m becoming more and more aware of.
He doesn’t look on me the way I look at myself: as not enough, as dropping dozens of balls in my personal life, as beating myself up over the way I fail to love my kids and my husband.
No. That’s not who He is at all.
He’s looking at me with compassion. He’s right there as I scroll through the blog of that family who has four kids and an artsy/messy DIY house. He’s whispering, Enjoy the beauty you see. I created that family with their gifts and passions. But I have something different for you. Will you accept it? If so, I’ll fill your heart with joy and gratitude. I’ll make you free.
The more He tucks these words deep into my soul, the more I breathe a sigh of relief. Suddenly, I begin to rejoice with my friends and their stories—both the good parts and the hard parts. I begin to view people less as one-dimensional (“She has it all together, her life looks perfect”), and I begin to embrace that the people around me are every bit as complex as I am. They have strengths and weakness, joys and struggles. The more I can respect and get to know them and affirm and love them.
I think a big step toward change in this area is simply identifying and being very honest with this tendency in my heart. Instead of focusing on trying to change it, I’m asking God to show me when it comes up—when I’m either envying someone or judging them, and to help me to repent of my judgmental heart instead of deceiving myself into thinking they’re the problem.
You know what else has begun to do leaps and bounds for my friendships? It’s to simply bring up the elephant in the room. It feels awkward to come right out and say, “It’s easy for us compare ourselves to each other in _______ area”—because we tend to think no one has the same struggle that we do. (Note: I’ve learned that broaching this topic by saying “I’m jealous of you,” is not helpful. It will not be taken as a compliment, and it fosters guardedness, not transparency.)
The times I’ve worked up the courage to have this conversation have been hugely life-giving and encouraging. Recently, with two separate friends, I said something to the effect of, “It’s obvious that our kids’ personalities are different and some of our family rules are different, and I love those differences. I love learning from the strengths your family has. I love that our kids are each so unique. I see their arguments and struggles as a positive thing because we can help them learn how to love and respect each other through it (very important life skills, by the way!).”
This has done wonders for our friendship. There’s a sweetness and trust that comes from essentially saying, I love you for you, not for the choices you make or the way your kids act. We are different and I celebrate that, I am enjoying you and I can learn from you too!
Before you get too impressed, I’ve only learned this kind of talk from friends who’ve said similar things to me, and I’m endlessly grateful for it. One of my sweetest memories is sitting with a friend and actually confessing our competitive spirits with one another (she brought it up!), then praying and confessing them to the Lord. I loved watching God answer our prayer.
For 2013, I’m praying for more of that. More transparency, more repentance, more love. I’m praying for contentment. I’m remembering that God gives these gifts—not me. I’m waiting on Him, with bated breath, to see how He’ll work. I know He’ll answer.