I once worked on a research project for a marketer who’s primary customer was moms. They employed a team of social scientists to study the women they hoped to reach — anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, you name it. Researchers worked to uncover the truths beyond the cursory answers — the things that really made moms tick.
One day, after weeks (and months) of interviews, in-home observations and shop-alongs, I asked my counterpart (a PhD psychologist) what the single biggest insight was that she’d learned about mothers in all her years of research. You know what she told me?
She said, “While every woman will say she wants to be a good mom, what that really means is she wants to be perceived as good in the eyes of other moms.”
It’s not that the women she studied consciously tried to play to the crowds. It’s not that they were narcissists worried more about public perception than parenting. More often it was that they felt they needed a social barometer to validate whether or not they were succeeding or failing their kids to begin with. So we compare. Her little girl is starting preschool at 2 and my daughter’s already 2 1/2. Am I doing ok? She seems to be so organized. She always has a snack in her bag and I always seem to leave something at home. Am I doing ok? Her kids are so well-mannered and Judah thinks it’s funny to hit me in the face and laugh. Am I doing ok?
The truth is that I know few alphas who see motherhood as a competitive sport — an opportunity to best the women around them for fun. More often we’re comparing because under all our efforts we’re afraid that maybe we don’t measure up. That day I learned that there’s actually empirical evidence to prove what I’d experienced since having Avery two years before — that self-doubt and motherhood go hand in hand.
This is an issue for all sorts of reasons that I’ll explore in future posts. The issue I want to talk about today is the problems it poses with discipleship.
I consider a disciple to be one who is learning (the greek word for disciple is “mathetes” and it means “learner”) to do the things that Jesus did for the reasons that Jesus did them. A disciple is one who is learning to have the character and the competencies of Jesus. Very few of us are capable of simply reading the bible and instantly picking up everything Jesus did. Most of us need help. Ideally someone who’s just a little further along to help us learn — to show us how to do the things we’re struggling to sort out.
Those of us who have had the privilege of being discipled well at some point in our lives describe times when we watched the person who was investing in us and learned from their example. They gave us something to imitate — a starting point to grow.
We know that the Great Commission challenges all followers of Jesus to go and make disciples — but if discipleship is imitation, it begs the question, “Would I want someone to imitate my life?”
And this is where the constant comparison — and the crisis of confidence it produces — can grind everything to a halt. I know many many women who love Jesus, who are doing a great job both in their personal discipleship and in raising their kids, yet hesitate to extend an invitation to disciple others. There are two reasons I commonly see for this:
1. We’re afraid that inviting people into our lives opens us up to scrutiny. This is a big one. I once had a good friend who felt the Lord was calling her to start a missional community, but didn’t want to do it because she was afraid people would judge how messy her house was. I met a bright and beautiful woman recently who was in tears because she knew discipling others would mean inviting them into her home and she feared that people might judge her (sometimes) unruly children. There’s an inherent vulnerability involved when you open your life up to examination — and an oft-accompanying fear that you may be weighed and found wanting.
2. We’re afraid our lives are, in fact, not worth imitating. I’m not saying that everyone has a life worth imitating. If you don’t think you do, it’s worth spending some time thinking about what needs to change so you can have one. But for most women I know, there’s a great deal they could invest in others if only they had the confidence to do so. If they could silence their inner-critic for long enough to see where God has grown them and what he might like them to offer — it’s incredible the breakthrough they might see.
3. I read this beautiful proverb once that said “When sleeping women wake, mountains move.” It made me think of all the incredible women I know who are asleep to their abilities. Asleep to their potential. Asleep to the innate gifts they have just waiting to be unleashed. Asleep, even, to the work God would like to do through them.
I don’t know that I’ve found the path to playdate bliss. I’m not immune to comparison and I often feel that I’m falling short. But I have learned this:
- When I am secure in my identity as my Father’s daughter, the critics voices grow faint. Suddenly it doesn’t matter that much if they find the fingerprints on the walls appalling or (OMG) is that non-organic milk!?!
- God’s grace is more than sufficient to cover the areas where I still need to grow. Whenever I invite women into a discipling relationship I say this, “I’m not a perfect example of Christ, but I’m a living example.” We have to have humility in our posture. Awareness that we’re an unfinished product. But also the courage to the do work of the kingdom knowing that the King is constantly at our side.
I won’t be a perfect mom this side of glory. But the more I invest in others, the more I experience God’s love, His grace and the gift of His community. I wonder — so many women around you are stuck in this cycle of comparison and competition — what would it look like for you to stop that cycle and embrace the call to invest?