It happens when we walk into a room. We compare. We mentally measure our beauty, status, talents, or situation against the other women present. If the numbers come out in our favor, we get a boost of confidence; if we come up short, we feel depressed and self-conscious. Comparison is a mood changer. But it’s also a sin from which we can and should get free.
This past Saturday, the women of our church gathered for worship, teaching, and fellowship. It was a sweet time. Mom shared her revised and updated message on “The Snare of Compare,” and we share it here with you now. This is my personal favorite of Mom’s messages, maybe because I need it so much! If you ever struggle with sinful comparison, this talk on John 21 will encourage you to keep your eyes on Christ. Enjoy!
2017 at 5:25 am | by Nicole Whitacre
The other night my husband and I sat with our children and watched home videos until long past bedtime. We laughed at how our youngest daughter used to be obsessed with hand sanitizer because of the glitter and how our oldest son’s curls used to hang over his eyes. We were reminded of God’s faithfulness to our family and, at the same time, experienced it once again. As the kids went to bed, one of my sons said, “That was great Mom, we have to do this again soon.”
You’d think I would be basking in the glow of a sweet family bonding time, but as I washed the dinner dishes, feelings of guilt were already engaged in hand to hand combat with the warm fuzzies. Guilt, as per usual, soon won out. “Those videos don’t show the whole picture. You may have looked like a fun mom playing hide and seek with your kids, but you know you didn’t play with them enough.” Or, “How could you have forgotten the day when all the hot air balloons raced over our house? You didn’t enjoy your children enough when they were little.” You should’ve. You didn’t. You failed.
How should we handle the unpleasant emotion of “mommy guilt”? There is much more to say than I can pack into a post, but here are a few thoughts that I hope prove helpful.
First, it seems to me that there are two main strains of “mommy guilt.” The first kind of mommy guilt isn’t really guilt at all. It’s an emotion we call “guilt,” but it’s usually a vague feeling of discouragement that points to some pride or approval-craving masquerading as “guilt.” We talk to a mom who believes her parenting method is the only way to go. Or we read the latest study that proves parents of really smart, successful children do x, y, and z—and we aren’t even doing x. Bring on the self-flagellation.
The problem with a lot of mommy guilt is that the law we have transgressed is not a biblical one but a cultural one. We have to watch out here: How much of our idea of what it takes to be a good mother is shaped by Scripture and how much is shaped by my friends who believe children should only eat, sleep, or learn in a particular way?
I’m not saying it doesn’t matter how we feed or educate our children. It matters a great deal! Motherhood is an intensely practical endeavor. But how we raise our children should flow from and run back to the one grand goal of mothering: to train up our children in the ways of the Lord (Prov. 22:6). When we start here, mothering gets a lot easier, a lot less burdensome, and a whole lot more fun. We will find a wide scope for our imagination, creativity, and gifting when we chuck the obligation to measure up to certain cultural standards. There is time enough to do what matters in mothering, but only if we do it for what really matters.
To deal with faux mommy guilt, we must learn all that we can from other moms, but preferably older, godly, women who have seen many mothering fads come and go, and have a sense of what matters for the long-term. But most importantly, we must evaluate all parenting advice in light of God’s Word. To borrow a John Piper image from another context, if training our children in the ways of the Lord is like the sun, then everything else such as feeding and sleeping and educating our children will, like the planets in their course, find their proper place. And we moms won’t feel guilty for things we shouldn’t feel guilty about.
The second kind of mommy guilt is the true kind. We are in such a hurry to outrun this unpleasant emotion that we forget it is a God-given feeling. I should feel guilty sometimes because I am a guilty mom. I have broken God’s laws, and I do so multiple times a day. I break God’s laws when I am impatient with my children or when I complain about an interruption. I break God’s law by things I do and things I don’t do. Far from being a negative emotion to avoid at all costs, I must ask God to help me feel the right kind of mommy guilt at the right time.
But true conviction from the Holy Spirit isn’t the vague sense of failure I had the other night. The way to deal with these feelings is to admit that yes, I am a guilty mom—guilty of many sins of commission and omission—but thanks be to God I have a Savior whose sacrifice on my behalf is sufficient to cover all my mommy guilt. He is at work to make this guilty, repentant mother fruitful in her home. That’s what I should have seen the other night when watching home videos: not only my failures but the amazing grace of God in spite of my failures.
Recently my dad sent me this quote from John Newton to encourage mothers who struggle with mommy guilt:
“You say you feel overwhelmed with guilt and a sense of unworthiness? Well, indeed you cannot be too aware of the evils inside yourself, but you may be, indeed you are, improperly controlled and affected by them. You say it is hard to understand how a holy God could accept such an awful person as yourself. You then express not only a low opinion of yourself, which is right, but also too low an opinion of the person, work, and promises of the Redeemer, which is wrong.”
Contrary to what our culture tells us, it is right and biblical to have a low opinion of ourselves. What’s wrong is to have too low an opinion of the person, work, and promises of the Redeemer.
So the next time we are struck with a case of mommy guilt, let’s ask: Do I feel guilty because I have broken one of God’s laws or one of my own “laws”? And if we have broken one of God’s laws, let us have a low opinion of ourselves. Let us admit our guilt and ask God (and our children, if appropriate) to forgive us. But let us have a high opinion of Christ. Instead of wallowing in “What a horrible mother I am” let us immediately turn to contemplating the person and work and promises of God. Let us thank him for his amazing grace revealed at the cross and at work in our mothering. And let us trust in his promise to help us in our time of need. This is the way to true freedom from mommy guilt.
I was reading along with my “Read the Bible in a Year” plan the other day and found myself in Genesis 16. (Please don’t do the math on this, cuz you will see how behind I already am.) It’s the Sarai and Hagar saga. And toward the end of the chapter, I came across these words by Hagar: “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Gen. 16:13). The ESV footnote on this verse says, “Or ‘You are a God who sees me.’” In my quiet house, on that early morning, the Lord impressed these words on my heart, bringing fresh wonder and encouragement.
God sees me. Little me, sitting on my couch, already behind on my Bible reading plan, desperately in need of His grace to tackle another day.
And God sees you. Whether you are in a season of plenty or of want, He sees you. He sees your exhaustion as you face another day training your strong-willed two-year-old. He sees your longing for the husband that seems unlikely to ever appear. He sees your tears for the teenager that is wandering far from home. He sees your overwhelmed heart as homework and exams seem like they will never end. He sees your discouragement as you wrestle with the sin that so easily entangles.
God saw Hagar. She wasn’t the great Abraham or Sarah (although He saw them too). But God gave this encouragement specifically to Hagar, the lowly and despised servant. He saw her in her desperate plight and He “looked after her.”
Here are the words Charles Spurgeon spoke to his congregation about this passage:
“Mark, God sees you—selecting any one out of this congregation—he sees you, he sees you as much as if there were nobody else in the world for him to look at. If I have as many people as there are here to look at, of course my attention must be divided; but the infinite mind of God is able to grasp a million objects at once, and yet to set itself, as much upon one, as if there were nothing else but that one; so that you, to-night, are looked at by God as much as if throughout space there were not another creature but yourself. Can you conceive that?”
God sees you today, right now, as if there were not one else but you. Inconceivable!
So cast your cares on this great “God of seeing” and rest in the knowledge that the God who “looked after” Hagar is “looking after” you.
We’re a little late to the party, but we’d like to nominate a book for “2016 Best Book of the Year”: Eve in Exile and the Restoration of Femininity by Rebekah Merkle. Eve in Exile is winsome, witty, and conversational; it is also a grand and inspiring call for women to reject the selfish pursuits of feminism and give their lives away to serve family and home for the sake of Christ. We’ve all four read it (and Dad too!), and we believe is is an important and timely book for the church today.
When I was a teenager, my mother could tell I was being drawn by the siren call of feminism, so she tied me to the mast of truth by taking my sister and me through Elisabeth Elliot’s Let Me Be A Woman. That book helped expose the empty promises of feminist ideology and gave me a biblical vision of femininity to follow as a young woman. Then, when I was pregnant with my first son, Jack, I had the privilege to assist my mom in writing her book Feminine Appeal, which—along with Scripture and my mom’s example, has been my daily guide these last fourteen years of motherhood. Now, in the trenches of motherhood, with two teenagers by the end of this year (yikes!), here comes Eve in Exile giving me fresh encouragement, correction, and creative ideas for how I can serve my family and Christ’s kingdom as a woman.
“The cultural chaos in which we are currently living has caused many to despair, and others to simply shrug and accept the postmodern crazy,” observes Rebekah. “But I want to argue that we are in the perfect moment to rethink this whole subject. Because our culture has kicked everything over, since nothing is left but rubble, we actually have the remarkable privilege of being able to think through each line before redrawing it. We can check each boundary against the Scriptures before setting it back in its place. What a blessing! What an opportunity!”
How did we get here? Rebekah’s fly-over of feminism is the best I’ve read, tracing key factors and offering a biblical diagnosis. Where do we go from here—especially considering the mess we’re in now? In the second half of the book, Rebekah takes us back to Scripture to trace God’s design for us as women to subdue, fill, help, and glorify. Rebekah gets practical without being prescriptive, helping us to consider how we may apply Scripture to our lives and situation, whether single or married. If you have felt discouraged and confused, wondering how you can serve Christ faithfully in a culture that is hostile to the gospel and all of its ethical implications, this book will breathe new life into your godly desires and spark your feminine creativity.
We’re so excited about this book, we’ve created a course for women here at our church using Eve in Exile and Feminine Appeal. Our hope is to encourage every woman with a biblical vision of femininity: “Feminine glory is fruitful. It produces. It builds. It creates. And it does so in ways that are profound and staggering and surprising and beautiful and frequently messy and hilarious and ridiculous….As we build, as we glorify, as we try to imitate God in our fruitfulness, we should make sure that our vision for what that will look like is shaped by what God himself has shown us.”
As soon as my girls are old enough, you can bet I am going to take them through Let Me Be A Woman, Feminine Appeal, andEve in Exile. Thank you, Rebekah, for carrying on a godly legacy of women writers and for giving me a gift that I can give to my girls.
I had just set the speed (not very fast) and the incline (not very high) on the treadmill at the Y and put my earbuds in to watch TV for the next twenty-four minutes (not very long), when the first segment of the news program I turned on to watch was introduced this way: “Sixty-nine percent of all divorces are initiated by women; that’s because women want to be in charge.”
This particular segment introduced the author of a new book that apparently was garnering some attention. I don’t recall the title of the book (my comprehension is severely impaired when I’m trying to keep pace with a moving treadmill!), and I only got a vague sense that the author seemed to be suggesting that it is destructive to a marriage when the wife tries to be in charge of her husband. However, the woman conducting the interview seemed so incensed by the author’s position that she barely let the author answer a question before she would interrupt with her own argumentative opinions. In fact, by the end of the interview, I was more aware of the position of the interviewer than that of the author.
While I never got to hear what the author actually meant by “women want to be in charge” and I don’t know if her divorce statistics are accurate, I do know that women wanting to control their husbands is not a new phenomenon. In fact, the origin of this desire goes all the way back to the beginning of time. One of the consequences of the Fall for women, it says in Genesis 3:16, is that their “desire shall be for [their] husband[s].” The form and context of the word desire actually have a negative connotation—an urge to manipulate, control, or have mastery over. So you see, every wife struggles with the desire to control her husband. I know I certainly do! Only by the transforming grace of God can we battle this sinful desire in our hearts.
All this got me thinking about how little our culture understands about the nobility and dignity of God’s commands to men and women in marriage. While it’s true that he calls wives to submit to their own husbands (not all men!) as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22), he also calls husbands to love their wives sacrificially as Christ loves the church. Tall orders, both! Notice that God never commands a husband to make his wife submit, nor the wife to make her husband love her sacrificially. These are commands each is to obey, as to the Lord.
What God commands, he enables; and what he commands he also blesses. The Bible doesn’t just say submit to your husband, period. Respect your husband, period. Love your husband and children, period.
Submitting to our husband makes us beautiful (1 Pet. 3:5).
Our submission displays the beauty of how the church submits to Christ (Eph. 5:22-24).
Respectful and pure conduct of a wife can win unbelieving husbands to the Lord (1 Pet. 3:1-2).
Loving our husband and children adorns the gospel (Tit. 2:4, 10).
Practicing the virtues of Proverbs 31 wins us praise (Pr. 31:28-31).
And given that marriage and motherhood entail a whole lot of serving, we will become great (Matt. 20:26).
When we strive and strain to control our husband, we will never get what we want. But Scripture promises that by God’s grace we can actually achieve greatness, win praise, and become beautiful through submission and sacrifice. Blessings, indeed!