The Not-So-Pitiful Truth

A dear friend recently loaned me a book called, Stepping Heavenward: One Woman’s Journey to Godliness, by Elizabeth Prentiss written in the mid-1800’s. It has been highly enjoyable and insightful. It is the fictional diary of a woman from her youth through her marriage, subsequent motherhood and many shattering trials.

At one part of the main character’s journal she has just had her third child and meets with some unpleasantness from her less than approving sister-in-law. She addresses this situation so perfectly that I had to retell it here:

“Martha takes a most prosaic view of this proceeding, in which she detects malice prepense on my part. She says I shall now have one mouth the more to fill and two feet the more to shoe, more disturbed nights, more laborious days, and less leisure or visiting, reading, music, and drawing.

Well! This is one side of the story, to be sure, but I look at the other. Here is a sweet, fragrant mouth to kiss; here are two more feet to make music with their pattering about my nursery. Here is a soul to train for God; and the body in which it dwells is worth all it will cost.. I may see less of friends, but I have gained one dearer than them all, to whom, while I minister in Christ’s name, I make a willing sacrifice of what little leisure for my own recreation my other darlings had left me. Yes, my precious baby, you are welcome to your mother’s heart, welcome to her time, her strength, her health, her tenderest cares, to her lifelong prayers! Oh, how rich I am, how truly, how wondrously blest!”

She describes just how I feel with the coming of our 5th child. Having been parted from one in miscarriage before Evangeline and having weaned and quieted my soul as we asked and waited for this one, it feels a great privilege to be tired and sick from pregnancy.

In my Father’s world, in his Book, it is understood what a blessing these little ones are. Who could think of pitying the woman so blessed? Who could pity a woman with so much potential and clay under her roof?


Some pity is a kind of shocked compassion that cannot fathom what a life so spent for others must be like. This pity is confounded as to what such a life  might be like. It is baffled and a little scared and therefore, pitying. It actually worries that you aren’t taking enough time for yourself and that your personal growth will be stunted by so much sacrifice (is there any other way to grow than to sacrifice for others?!). Another form of pity is laced with disdain and condescension. The kind of pity that feels badly that you are so dumb as to have got yourself into such a mess. Don’t you know what causes those?!

Both kinds of pity feel bizarre when expressed to the woman who could not have dared to hope for such blessings and is being poured out and sacrificing, yes, but is reaping the reward of laughter and learning and youthfulness all around. And more so, has found the deep satisfaction of teaching Christ’s ways all day and night to these ripe minds and tender souls. Could anything else be as fulfilling? Difficulties come, long days are many, but the acknowledgement of it isn’t a complaint, but a reality. It’s God’s will.

Bodies may be spent, faces may be tired, time may be pinched, but deep joy is there–not always chipper, but real. So when I meet with pity or disdain for the life of mothering and teaching and training and sacrificing for, Lord willing, 5 souls, may I be as dumbfounded as ever.

note to self: be a drop-out.

I sporadically participate in a competitive world of comparisons.

Note to self: drop out.

This is a plague for moms of every stripe.  Especially young moms with young kids (I think anyway, but who knows maybe it infects the moms with older kids too).

It’s as simple as seeing another child do well at something and, instead of rejoicing for them and moving on, we check to see how our child measures up and are either happy or disappointed at the result.

Or perhaps we see the deftness with which another mom disciplines her kids and we immediately begin to think of what we would have done and find that we fall very short.

So, I say it’s time to drop out of the competitive comparison rat race.  I’ve only dropped out a ga-zillion times before.  But somehow, without realizing it I find myself re-enlisted.

I need to love my kids more by not basing their success on the observation of other individuals who are very different from them in every respect.  Instead  I should focus on who God has made my children to be and expect growth, not perfection.

The same goes for myself.  Concentrate on growth in who God has made me to be.  Cling to Jesus’ sufficiency.

And the dirty little secret is that when we base our children’s success or worth on a standard outside the Bible, such as the measure of other children, we are not loving our kids, we are using them to fulfill our own need and desire for happiness in them through their good behavior or achievement.  We are observing what we think will bring us happiness in the behavior or achievement of other people’s children and applying it to our own kids.

The Bible tells us our children are valuable because God made them.  They are gifts to us.

Plus, the standard of “other people’s children” or the way “other parent’s parent” will never be a high enough standard.  We will be selling ourselves short of the biblical mandates that are the BEST for us and come with the power of Christ working in us to help us in our weaknesses!

I will make a disclaimer here, however, that not all comparisons are bad.  Only the bad ones are bad.  The ones that make you upset with who God has made you and your children to be.  The ones that stir up discontentment and produce smugness or condemnation or apathy.

There is a type of comparison that stirs us up to love and good deeds, that inspires, strengthens and convicts.  I know this kind of comparison because it happens when we are surrounded by people who want the best for us and our kids and who we experience unconditional love with and for.

This good “comparing,” or observing, models for us Biblical commandment-keeping in action.

It happens when I see the families in our small group lovingly parent their kids towards Christ and obedience and I’m inspired and grow in my love for God and for my kids.  Or when I see another mom, humble and lowly, not using her kids to show-off (Lord forgive me for the times I’ve done this), simply nurturing them in the instruction of the Lord.

Comparisons are complicated.  If we’re engaged in them in order to make ourselves feel good about ourselves, the opposite will eventually happen; we’ll feel deficient and we’ll see our children as deficient (and if we don’t smugness and ugliness will overtake us).  But if we look at what godly brothers and sisters do with an attitude of humility, love and learning, we will learn and grow and love.

So, yep, I’m a drop-out.  But just of that bad, competitive kind of comparing.  The other kind I’ll keep: it’s valuable stuff!