the thief of joy

139015530   A couple of years ago I signed up for a casual one-time painting class where I was going to have a masterpiece by the time it was over. That was the sales pitch anyway. Three hours later, as other women snapped pictures of themselves with their artwork, giddy and content from unleashing their inner Van Gogh, I thought mine looked more like an abstract Picasso picture. Clearly a three-year-old year could have painted mine. I just didn’t like how it turned out. The hilarious part was I kept attending these painting classes over and over again determined to find my creative side. I can only compare it to hitting one’s head against a brick wall, expecting a different result other than getting a huge goose egg and a deficit in my bank account.

This is supposed to be relaxing, I thought. Instead my perfectionist side starts to emerge and I get tense. I partly blame being left-handed. Every time I tried to paint my hand would drag through the fresh strokes leaving smudges, with a side of frustration. My downfall came when I looked at the other paintings during the class. Some women totally ignored the instructor’s elementary-style teaching and free handed the entire thing. They would finish way ahead of the class and their painting was something for others to “ooh” and “ahh” at. I was dumbfounded.

After six or seven attempts I finally resigned, accepting the fact that I am not very artistic. I could have probably enjoyed the painting classes regardless of my skill level. The problem arose when I began comparing my artwork to someone else’s. I got in my head and put added pressure on myself because my piece was not as pretty as hers. Looking back I see how ridiculous this was. I robbed myself of a lot of fun, if only I had kept my eyes on my own paper and chilled out.

Blogger, author and speaker Jen Hatmaker encourages women in her latest book For the Love to do just that: chill out, quit striving for perfection in every area of life and for the love, quit competing with each other! She says, “We have the lost the ability to declare a job well-done. We measure our performance against an invented standard and come up wanting, and it is destroying our joy” (5). The modern woman is expected to spin 8,000 plates at once without breaking a sweat and when we fail (because it happens), we look over at our neighbor seemingly knocking it out of the park with everything she puts her mind to and it is destructive.

Comparison is a dangerous game. Sometimes I do it almost automatically because in my flesh there is a desire to be superior, better than, and important. If I am not guarding my mind and hiding myself in Christ, then I forget my identity in Him. I cannot be at rest or secure in who I am, a daughter of the King, when I secretly compete. Comparing myself to another only leads to envy and discontentment. A stubborn, bitter root will start to grow if not quickly uprooted. I begin to believe I have nothing to offer because someone else does it better than me. The truth is that my value is not determined by another, or even by my own standards. Jesus demonstrated my worth when He died on the cross in my place.

It is easy to get caught up in using the measuring stick against one another. He is a better Christian than me; She is more successful because she has a career outside the home; I am a better mom because I stay at home. The list can go on and on and around in circles. What essentially happens is that we step on others going up the ladder as we to try to make ourselves little gods. We start setting value on others as more or less than us, instead of seeing each other as the work of our Creator.

But when I celebrate my gifts, abilities, and smallness the way God intended, I am turning my heart to worship the One who made me. I can practice a grateful heart and have joy. Weeding out the haves and have not’s in my life also allows me to better connect with others if I am not comparing ourselves. There is room to breathe in accepting and praising God for not only the specifics in how He fashioned me, but in how He knitted others together as well. How boring would it be if all of our paintings looked EXACTLY the same? If we all had the same gifts we could not serve one another and function like the body of Christ either. Emily P. Freeman wisely puts it this way: “The answer is not to convince others of our worth. The answer is to accept the invitation of Jesus to be like little children and come to him […] He invites us not to stoop to become less than what we are, but to finally take on the truest shape of ourselves: a small and dependent child of God” (p.142, Simply Tuesday).

The work of my hands or contribution in society does not judge my worth because my identity in Jesus Christ is already enough. I can bravely just be who He created me to be and live and serve with purpose. When I feel that temptation to validate myself to another, I can trust that I am enough to the Lord because He is enough in me. And when I encounter someone who is susceptible to the same sin of comparison as me, I can remember Freeman’s admonition, “More compassion, less comparison”.

Grace upon grace,

April

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