“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.”
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.
Jeff Allinder says
Oh. My. Goodness.
Kelly, I couldn’t have imagined that you’d hit me so hard again right after that Super Bowl post. This is such a wise and layered set of thoughts. The pitfalls of comparison would have been an amazing post all by itself. I have gotten much better at this with age, but it is a great thing to remind ourselves about. Then you throw in some Proverbs (I feel like I could read Proverbs constantly over and over and get something out of it every day forever). Choosing when and who to share with is a great companion to the first message!
One more thing in case any of your other readers sees this – I hope this story connects with someone. My son just had one of his most amazing accomplishments thus far in his 14 year life. And yet, the past five days have been as jam packed and overflowing with teenaged angst as we have ever experienced in our house. Rather than feel proud and excited about this accomplishment, he feels conspicuous. He wants to excel, but he feels like the eyes and weight of the world are upon him. I’ve been grinding almost 24/7 to figure out how I can help him overcome these feelings…hours of conversation with my wife. And I don’t know if we’ve helped or not. Or if we will…so we pray. We watch our son struggle with things that we cannot solve. And I’ll bet there are parents and kids in our community (fortunately none of whom will ever read this) that are envious and think all kinds of negative things about us. My son admonished me for not being deferential enough when accepting congratulations from another parent!
Thank you Kelly for your willingness to share – I will reaffirm a commitment to not basing my happiness on comparing to others. I will celebrate the successes of my friends and those in our community, and I will stand with those that struggle!
I love this! I don’t love that C is struggling, of course, but Jeff and I absolutely can relate. It is heartbreaking when our kids work so hard towards a dream and miss it. But it is also surprisingly just as difficult when they achieve their dreams, only to find it is lonely at the top! Your kids are blessed to have great parents who are so invested in walking these parts of their journey with them. As always, thanks for commenting and sharing your perspectives!
Love you Kelly! 😘❤️
Thank you for being so transparent, so eager to help others with what you’ve learned in your own experiences, and such a good friend to those who need it most! Thanks for your post my friend!
Sweet friend, I can say the same for you. So thankful God has put us in community together!