Webster Dictionary defines quagmire as a “mixed up and troubled situation; a hopeless tangle (emphasis mine); a predicament.”
I always write when a particular topic boomerangs back to my thought process faster than a spider can spin its web. Or faster than its prey becomes entangled. And that’s exactly what happens when – like the spider’s prey – you are suddenly caught in a web that you didn’t even realize was quickly forming around you. The next thing you’re aware of is that you’re tangled in a (perceived) predicament that usually results in some kind of internal chaos. Unrest and panic ripple from the mind’s center of “shoulds” and “musts.” Life spins out of control thereby creating an internal uneasiness that paralyzes your soul.
So what is this quagmire? Comparison. And we are all guilty. Let’s examine what being IN the quagmire looks like, and then notice how this “predicament” permeates the levels of SELF, CHILDREN, SPOUSE, and OTHERS.
- “I don’t look that way.” This can start at ANY age and continue through the life cycle.
- Tall enough.
- Short enough.
- Skinny enough.
- Big enough (for you weight training men out there).
- Straight enough (for those of us with curls — *sigh*).
- Curly enough (for those who pay for permanents or body waves).
The Point: If you focus on how society or your peers view beauty then your self esteem will waffle as fast as the changing trends. You will never be satisfied with how you are created if your mindset is constantly in comparison mode. Focus, instead, on your physical traits that you really like and learn to develop a positive mindset that “talks” to yourself in a healthy way about your characteristics.
We can also use this same comparison in the work place, the home place, or the church space. It’s never ending. It’s exhausting. It’s unfair. It’s unrealistic. Focus on developing who you are and the best version. And show yourself some grace in the process.
- “My children have to…..” (This list never ends, no matter their ages.)
- have that toy…or else I’m “behind” in giving my infant something to stimulate.
- be in this extracurricular activity…because everyone else their age is.
- play this sport….since other kids their ages are doing it.
- take that class….because Johnny is smart enough for it.
- be on this team….so my child isn’t looked upon as an outcast.
- go to that school…because isn’t that where all the kids go who get into “the” colleges?
- take this educational program…because they won’t be “successful” if they don’t.
- make that grade…so let’s sacrifice time as a family so Johnny can make an A.
- pass this AP exam….because if he doesn’t, he won’t get into “the” college.
- get into that college…because it’s the end all, be all, right?
- study this area of study…because it’s the area that makes you “successful.”
- apply to this graduate school…because if you don’t, you won’t have an edge in the market place.
The Point: As parents, train your child in the way he/she should go based on their unique abilities, passions, and strengths. Do not train your children in the way he/she should go because all of their peers are doing the same. IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT OTHERS’ CHILDREN DO OR DON’T DO. You have been entrusted with your children. Use the energy in discovering who THEY are and what they are capable of doing (academically, athletically, relationally, spiritually). And do not compare your children with each other. EVER!
Lest we think we fall into the quagmire of comparison where our kids are concerned, think again. We do to ourselves in comparing ourselves to others. And we may do it to ourselves with where we used to be with where we are now (reading the list below will explain this).
- “I need to live in that neighborhood….because it’s “the” place to live.”
- “I have to buy this kind of car….because I want people to think I can afford it.”
- “I need to mortgage to the hilt to buy this kind of house….so people will be impressed.”
- “I have to work this hard or else I won’t be able to afford…..all the extracurricular activities my kids are involved in (see above list).
- “I need a second home because….”
- “I need to sell the second home for a bigger second home because….”
- “My spouse needs to be more like……or look more like…or treat me more like…”
THE POINT: It’s not what you have or don’t have. It’s how you perceive what you have and don’t have (materialistically or maritally).
I’ve now lived long enough to see marriages fall apart. Sometimes this happens because the emotional game of comparison (will) has started weaving its internal web (mind) long before any external actions follow (body).
Comparison is a dangerous web that casts its spell at every age and every stage.
John Ortberg, in his most recent book Soul Keeping, states that your soul is comprised of the following parts:
- Will (your intentions; the capacity to choose; “exercising dominion” (Genesis); saying “yes/no”.
- Mind (your thoughts, feelings, values, conscience).
- Body (your face, body language, your actions, your habits).
Furthermore, he indicates that the mind craves to be at peace. I will elaborate on this thought to say that when we are caught in the quagmire of comparison, our minds are not at peace. Ortberg goes on to say that a “soul without a center feels constantly vulnerable to people or circumstances” (p. 100).
So, in my opinion, how do you combat this quagmire?
1. Acknowledge that you DO have a choice (your will).
Because you have been created with volition, you do have a choice about whether you will continue to live in a mindset of comparison or not. That is good news! It IS within your control!
2. Awareness of your thoughts (your mind). When you become consciously aware that your thoughts are taking you down the dangerous path of comparison, stop them. Pray for wisdom and be thankful for what you DO have. Gratitude has a way of crowding out a comparison mindset. Focus your time, energy, and healthy thoughts over those things under your personal dominion.
3. Actions of daily living (your body). Are you caught up in a family schedule that is so chaotic that it sacrifices your core values (your mind)? If so, then examine your lifestyle, your schedule, and your expectations for yourself, your children, and your spouse.
The One who created you desires most of all that you rely on Him to untangle the web of confusion and chaos leading to your personal battles with comparison. Be honest with Him. You will seek Him and find Him when you seek Him with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13). He also promises to “deliver you from all your fears” (Psalm 34:4). And isn’t fear at the very root of our comparison struggles?
When you learn to consciously integrate your will, your mind, and your actions, then your soul will free itself from the quagmire. And what a place of peace it is when you finally free yourself from its web.