The Lies We Believe: How Comparison Robs Us of Community

“Don’t compare what you know about yourself to what you don’t know about me.”

These words were spoken over 20 years ago by a prominent speaker at a National Youth Workers Convention I attended. His comments were intended to humanize himself, a reminder to the rest of us that his life was not any easier, nor was his ministry any more effective than ours was. This is a lie we tend to believe- one that often robs us of the community we were created for. 

He mentioned the temptation for us to think he was somehow better than us simply because he was standing on a big stage, when in reality, his students bemoaned his “boring talks” and “stupid programs” just like ours did. Sure, he had wisdom to share, but he wanted to make sure we understood it was gained in the trenches, not by some royal edict or heavenly proclamation. 

He was “wise” because he had learned from his mistakes. He was “seasoned” because he had travelled long, difficult roads and persevered. He was not speaking to us because he was somehow “holier” than us; he was simply more experienced. 

And experience is not something you gain on the sidelines.

I have kept his statement tucked away since that day.  Occasionally, I pull it out to remind myself that “perfect” people (or jobs or children or marriages) are rarely what they seem on the outside, and if I take the time to investigate, I might find that their story isn’t all that different than mine. 

Fast forward to this weekend.

I was talking with a few friends, and one of them shared some struggles she was facing with her daughter. I mentioned that I had gone through a similar struggle with one of my girls a few years ago and would love to have lunch to compare notes. My sweet friend smiled at me a little sadly and said, “Oh, that’s okay. I’m sure this is on a whole different level than what you’re thinking. But thank you for offering.”

Y’all.

That is a lie straight from the enemy, and I told her so. 

I know because I have listened to it many times myself. Satan was telling my friend that what was happening in her family was an anomaly, something unusual and terrible that no one else could possibly understand or relate to. He was trying to isolate her, because once we are isolated, the only voice we tend to hear is his, and his job gets so much easier. That sneaky Deceiver loves to twist and distort the truth, whispering shame and despair straight into our hearts.

But he is a liar.

The truth is, none of us have perfect families. No one around us has a perfect life, a perfect spouse, a perfect job, or a perfect child. And chances are, whatever we are going through, there are people in our circles who have struggled or are currently struggling with similar things; we just don’t know it. 

See, my friend was comparing what she knew about herself to what she didn’t know about me. And as a result, she might have missed out on the very encouragement the Lord was trying to send her! 

That sounds just like the enemy’s work to me. 

Somehow my friend had created an idealized impression of my family. Now, if you don’t know me personally, I am pretty much a hot mess most of the time, and so is our family. I am a pretty open person, though, and I try to be very genuine in my (hot mess) life, as well as in my writing. However, there are things that simply can’t, in good conscience, be put on display for everyone to know. 

For instance, it is impossible to share some of our children’s struggles, who are wrestling with their identity and independence, and not risk compromising their reputations. Likewise, proclaiming our own faults and flaws to people who don’t know us or care about us can limit our credibility and influence, because they have no context in which to apply it.  So when someone’s life looks shinier than ours, even someone who is very genuine, there’s a good chance their laundry stinks just like ours does… they have just chosen not to hang it all out for the whole world to see.

Proverbs 13:3 wisely advises, “Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.” And Proverbs 12:23 says, “The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves, but a fool’s heart blurts out folly.” The Bible is full of such admonitions; it simply isn’t wise for us to bear our souls with just anyone. 

At the same time, God also encourages us to pour out our hearts to Him, for He is our refuge (see Ps 63:5, 8). And 1 Peter 5:7 tells us, “Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” 

The Lord never intends for us to carry our burdens by ourselves. When we are struggling, we must not listen to the whispers of the Deceiver, telling us to hide our challenges behind closed doors, especially from the Holy One. 

Bad things grow in the dark. The best thing to do with our struggles is to bring them into the Light- to those who can offer wisdom and encouragement, and most importantly, into the Presence of the One who makes all things new.

God created us with a need and desire for community– both with Him and other believers- because He knew the burdens would be too much for us to bear alone. I love this passage from Ecclesiastes (Ch. 4, v. 9-12):

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” (NIV)

Friends, if we are tempted to think no one else will understand what we are going through, it’s not true. If you are looking at other people’s lives (especially mine!) and thinking they are perfect, or at least more perfect than yours, you are being deceived. At best, they are a little further down the road. But more likely, they just haven’t put their struggles on display.

I am embarrassed to admit how often I have allowed the fear of what other people might think keep me from reaching out. We cannot let the lies of the enemy or our own insecurities keep us from experiencing the hope and peace Jesus offers us! We need each other!

In what areas are you struggling? What challenge are you facing for which someone else might be able to offer insight or wisdom? Who have you put on a pedestal of perfection without finding out their real story? And who around you might benefit from the difficult lessons the Lord has taught you?

Let’s choose NOT to compare what we know about ourselves to what we don’t know about other people. 

Instead, let’s lean in to the community the Lord has given us, unburdening our hearts and learning from one another, as we share this journey together. 

The Gift of Hope

It is two days before Christmas. 

A stack of presents sits on the bed waiting to be wrapped. 

There is laundry to be done, food to prepare, and a half-dozen items still left unchecked on my to-do list. Yet, I find myself returning to the gifts. 

I have always loved opening gifts on Christmas morning. When I was a girl, I used to wake up in the early morning hours and sneak into the living room to peak at the gifts before everyone else woke up. Santa never wrapped the gifts he brought, so I would make a quick scan of the room, searching for that special something I had hoped for and making note of anything I thought my brothers might be excited about. Once I had taken assessment of the loot, I would sneak back to my bed and watch the minutes tick by, until it was finally time to get up. 

But it was more than the actual gifts I received; there was something magical about those pre-dawn expeditions to the Christmas tree. The twinkling lights cast a mystical glow over the room, and the packages all looked so beautiful piled one on top of another, each adorned with brightly colored ribbons or bows. I knew I would love the gifts inside, but there was something about the anticipation in those solitary moments that filled those boxes with something else…

Hope.

Soon enough I would find out if all my hinting, asking, and praying had paid off. But in that moment, the real gift was the hope of things to come. The hope of dreams fulfilled. 

Sometimes all we need is a little hope.

I look at these gifts lying on my bed and think about the hope contained in each one. I reach for a football for my little man, and with it I wrap the hope of neighborhood pick-up games and father-son bonding time. Next, there’s an Indoor S’more maker and some board games, each wrapped with layers of family time and the hope of many beautiful, lifelong memories. The socks and shirt for my hubby are enveloped in the hope of good health, resulting in many years of wearing. And the gift cards for our girls seem straight forward enough, but are also packaged with the hope of quality time and great conversations. 

Simple gifts, really, but each wrapped in the hope of so much more.

I think about that Christmas long ago, when Mary watched strangers bring gifts to her baby boy, pondering the mysteries they contained and treasuring those moments in her heart. How her heart must have soared when she opened the chest full of gold; a gift for royalty, stoking her hope in the angel’s promise, that her baby was going to be something more, a King like no other. The frankincense filled her with hope as well- a gift in recognition of the divine role Jesus would play in Israel’s restoration. Her baby really was the Messiah! Oh blessed hope!

But what of the gift of myrrh? Did Mary understand the hope contained in that meaningful gift? I imagine not. Myrrh was used for many things, the most common being an embalming oil. It seems a strange gift for a baby; but it was the perfect gift for a Savior! It was a foreshadowing of His journey to come, and confirmation to us all these years later that none of it was by accident. 

That baby was born so He could die for us. 

He was a simple gift, really, but wrapped in the hope of so much more. He was the hope of things to come, the hope of dreams fulfilled. 

Sometimes all we need is a little hope.

The Investment of Listening: How to listen so teens will talk

“Mom, you just don’t understand! You’re not even listening to me!” she lamented as she stomped off, slamming her door.

This scene repeated itself countless times during our younger daughter’s pre-teen years (and still does on occasion). And she wasn’t wrong. I was hearing her words, but I was not really listening to what she was trying to communicate, probably because I was too focused on what I wanted her to understand instead. Thankfully, my husband is a rock star and filled in the gaps for us during those tumultuous years, always reminding us how much we loved each other and never letting us give up on trying to understand one another. He reminded me of a foundational truth in ministry and life:

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

If you are like me, there are so many things we want our teens to know: lessons we’d rather them not learn the hard way (like we did), wisdom we have acquired through decades of walking with God, and just basic common sense that they may be lacking. Yet, so often when we try to impart this much needed wisdom to them, we are met with blank stares and deaf ears. Why? 

Because kids don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. 

So that begs the question: How do we let the teenagers in our lives know that we care about them?

There are many different ways to accomplish this, but for now we are going to focus on the investment of active listening. My 12th grade small group girls are currently learning about the 5 Love Languages (Gary Chapman), and yesterday I asked them what it looks like to spend time with someone without it actually being “Quality Time.” 

One girl quickly replied, “Sitting next to each other, but with one or both of you on your phone the whole time.” Great example. 

“So, if quality time doesn’t just mean being in close proximity with someone, what does it actually look like? What is it about being with someone that makes you feel loved (or doesn’t)?” 

After a few minutes, they began to share words like “intentional,” and “uninterrupted.” They mentioned that what they do together (the activity) doesn’t matter as much as how they do it. They want to know that the other person is there because they really want to be with them and not just because they have nothing better to do.

When I asked for examples of when they had spent Quality Time with someone, I noticed something interesting. When they talked about ways they had shown love to others (especially their parents), they mentioned the activities- “It didn’t really matter to him that we were just throwing the football/making cookies/reading & studying/etc. I think he mostly liked that I was doing it with him.” But when they shared about someone investing quality time in them, they focused on the conversation instead of the activity. 

What can we learn from this? 

Our teens want someone to listen.

Digging a little deeper, they confirmed that not all “listening” is the same. As with my opening illustration with my daughter, someone can hear your words without hearing your heart. Here are some of the important things they shared about listening:

1. Eye Contact.  There is an obvious difference between when someone is looking in your eyes and when they are looking around the room or at their phone. When you are interested in something, it holds your attention. Our teens desperately want to know that what they are saying is more important than our latest notification.

2. Ask Questions.  “When someone asks questions about what I’m telling them, it shows they are really listening and engaged. Not only that, it makes me feel like they are actually interested and want to know more!” As the listener, asking questions can help us learn more about the person and situation. It can also help us clarify their emotions…

3. Sympathize/Empathize.  Teens want to know that we understand them, which means, more than anything, they want us to validate their feelings. “Wow, I can’t believe your coach did that! That must have made you so mad!” “She really said that? Ugh. I bet that really hurt your feelings!” Remember, there will be a time to share what we know, but first, we need to show how much we care! 

Full disclosure– I usually do this really well with my small group girls, but not so well with my own kids. I tend to rush right into imparting my wisdom and telling them how to fix it, usually pointing out their part in the problem as I go. Do not do this!! I am training myself to repeat “FOCUS ON HER FEELINGS, FOCUS ON HER FEELINGS” and let the rest of it go. For now. (Men, this advice is pretty applicable for the women in your life, too!) 

Also, while you want to validate their feelings, resist the urge to gossip or slander anyone. They have enough friends- they are talking to you as an adult. Our goal is to show them how much they are loved and point them to Jesus. We can empathize with their feelings without compromising our witness.

4. Ask and wait. Do they want a solution to their problem or do they just want someone to understand? Sometimes this is evident as you listen, but if not, just ask: “Do you have any idea how you want to respond? Is there anything I can do to help?” If they want your help, they will ask for it. If not, trust that your presence is enough. Those doors will open eventually, maybe when they are not so emotional, because they are learning they can trust you. Sometimes sharing a story of a time you went through something similar (and had a positive outcome or learned something important) can be helpful; just make sure you are not trying to make the conversation about you. Teens see through stuff like that in a heartbeat. We are the adults; we are there to support and encourage them, not to feed our own ego or make ourselves feel important. 

5.  Point them to Jesus.  When a teen opens up to an adult, they are expecting an adult’s response. Once we have done all the things mentioned above- focused attention, asked questions, empathized with them, and asked to help- then we can offer to pray with them. We might share some Scripture that applies to their circumstance or that will encourage them. This can be intimidating if you are not used to doing it, but you will likely be surprised at how receptive they are. And really, Jesus is the One who has the answers they are seeking. He is the One whose love and acceptance matters so much more than ours. The sooner they grasp that, the stronger their faith will be. We just get to be a conduit of His love and grace in their lives!

Finally, the thing I so often forget is that listening to teens in the little, insignificant things is what opens the door to them sharing the big things when the time comes. Learning to be excited about another episode of Fuller House or the latest cast list of a Broadway show or the play-by-play of the football game paves the way for the more significant conversations. If we are faithful with the little things, they learn to trust us with the bigger things. And the truth is, we learn so much about them in those little things- what is important to them, what makes them angry, what brings them joy. Knowing those things helps us truly care about them.

And once they know how much we care, they might just care about what (and WHO) we know.

How are your active listening skills with the teens in your life? Which of these areas are you strong in and which require some growth? Who made a difference in your life by taking the time to truly listen to you in your teen years?

Let’s be intentional this week about showing our teens how much we care by taking the time to really listen.

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

Last weekend, my husband and I took our oldest daughter to visit Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky (but that’s another blogpost entirely!). Before we left, we stopped by the campus bookstore and I purchased a devotional book, This Day with the Master, written by Dr. Dennis Kinlaw. He was president of Asbury (then) College many years ago when Jeff was attending Seminary across the street, and Jeff has often mentioned the influence he had on him both personally and spiritually, so I figured it would be a good buy. I have not been disappointed!

As we begin the Advent season, I thought I’d share some thoughts from my prayer journal yesterday, inspired by the December 5 entry in this book. The Scripture reading was 2 Chronicles Chapter 30, in which King Hezekiah decided to honor God by inviting all the scattered people of Israel to celebrate the Passover Feast in the temple of Jerusalem even though they were a month late. This is the part that really stood out to me:

“Since many of the people had not purified (or prepared) themselves, the Levites had to slaughter their Passover Lamb for them, to set them apart for the Lord…” But King Hezekiah prayed for them and they were allowed to eat the Passover meal anyway, even though this was contrary to the Law. He said, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God— the Lord, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary. And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.”   (2 Chronicles 30:17-20, partially paraphrased)

What a beautiful passage, Lord! Your people turning back to You and You receiving them, “even though they were not properly cleansed.” The motives of their hearts were pure and that was enough for You to accept the sacrifice made on their behalf. A gift of grace before the coming of the greatest Gift of Grace!

Dr. Kinlaw’s devotion uses this passage to talk about the importance of “Holy Moments” which change lives and the world— forever.  This passage is a reminder of how preparing our hearts before our recurring holy moments can make them even more impactful. When I go on a trip or host a party, there is so much involved in the preparation: planning, organizing, cleaning, packing, decorating, etc.

How little I prepare for spiritual moments compared to how much I prepare for everything else!

Forgive me, Lord.

How can I prepare my heart to receive You in a new way this Christmas?

First, I need to make room for You in the “Inn.” Not cast you off into the leftover rooms, but clear out space for You so You have the place of honor in my life. Practically, this means making my time with You each day a top prioritygetting up earlier if necessary, allowing enough time to really listen to You, choosing this time with You over other things. And not just “having God Time,” but coming expectantly, ready to see You and hear You and learn from Your Word. With our crazy schedule and chaotic life, this is more of a challenge than I would like it to be! But I know that is where my preparation begins.

It also may require some cleaning up and decluttering of my heart, mind, and schedule.

Lord, help me get rid of the things I store inside that really don’t belong there, things that just take up space and distract me from what matters. Some of these things are harmfulbitterness, unforgiveness, discontentment.  Most, however, are simply “good” clutter that must be intentionally removed if I want to make room for the coming of the Christ Child.

Oh, what peace is ushered in with the creation of holy space!

As I prepare my heart to receive You this Christmas, my heart sings out, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!” God with us.

GOD… with us.

God WITH us.

God with… US.

Please come, Lord Jesus! My heart is waiting.

Let every heart prepare Him room…