“You are a great mom.”
Initially, in those newborn days with Oshiolema, I took the compliment as necessary fuel. If my life was a pie chart, breastfeeding, up with a crying baby instead of sleeping and chores were even; me-time, time in the Word were those little slivers that are too small to see or title. In photos, Oshiolema was clothed, sometimes smiling and alive. I’d tidy up the scene I was about to snap a photo in, moving a stack of diapers and stained burp cloth aside to make way for a fresh pretty swaddle blanket. I’d write a caption about being up all night with him but it not mattering anymore because he’s so perfect.
But here’s the thing.
I was frustrated and sad and overwhelmed and wondering if I was even cut out for this because wasn’t lack of sleep a pretty constant factor of motherhood? One month into my big new gig and I was already worn out. Wasn’t that a bad sign?
The fact that I could get angry at a newborn for not knowing how to breastfeed scared me. The comments that came as a result of my smoke and mirror scenes comforted me.
The exchange became a secret, hidden idol. Deep in my hearts, subconscious most of the time, it thrived. And when you’re in the business of posting photos and writing blurbs about day-to-day life, that idol falls on fertile soil and quickly grows out of control.
Social media is an interesting beast. We feel connection, we engage in solidarity with strangers, we find an endless stream of inspiration from places we’ve never been and people we’ll likely never know. While all of those things sound wonderful at first, they each carry a shadow behind them. Engaging in solidarity with strangers can create a false sense of community. We’re inspired by people we’ll never know and can almost forget they too are human-flawed and limited. It’s a dangerous ignorance–an intentional amnesia.
Our parents grew up with the Joneses mentality. Maybe a mom on the PTA committee, maybe that one family at church who was always impeccably dressed with well behaved, delightful children. Maybe it was the friend with a career and a nanny, maybe it was the mom in the magazine. And maybe once or twice a year- when those Christmas cards rolled in, moms could check in on where their peers were. Maybe for that one day a week or month or year, a mom would be faced with the temptation to compare. For our parents, the only other time they’d witness such a great collection of highlight reels would be a high school or college reunion. Every 10 years? 20?
Now in my back pocket, in one tap, I have access to one billion ‘Joneses.’
I have this hunch that mothers were much less anxious about making the “best looking/most widely accepted/most popular” decision. My mom would pray, talk to my dad about it, maaaayybe run it by her own mom, and that was it.
Here’s the thing. On social media, no matter how hashtag real someone is, even if we show a photo of our dirty laundry or share a toddler tantrum. At the end of the day, we are still in control of what others see. We can certainly get the gist of who a person is- we can see their heart for the Lord and take note of their love for nachos or truly believe their passion for their job, their family, their clothing, ect.
I can forget I truly do not know them. And when someone I haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting tells me “you’re a great mom,” I’m reminded they don’t know me.
I battle every day against my own selfishness. I love my kids so dearly, but I am impatient. I battle far too often the urge to be quick to anger. I don’t get to the laundry as quickly as I should. Though I mean well and plan as best I can, I am nearly always 10 minutes late. I am tempted to worry too much and can project my anxiety onto my innocent kids. I prioritize the wrong things at times and I put off getting on the floor and playing with these babies the Lord has entrusted to me. I rely fully on Christ alone to help me be what they need every single day and pray He shines through my exceptionally fleshy flesh.
I know great moms in real life. I have a great mom in real life. And they inspire me because I do life with them and watch their heart in those golden-hour pumpkin patch moments as well as the spilled drink, tantrum at the table moments. This reality is so important because I see a fully fleshed out person, flaws and strengths working together to turn comparison and discouragement into lessons learned and Christ modeled.
“Do not compare yourself to strangers on the internet” is a very popular phrase right now. I want to offer up a new one: Don’t compare yourself at all. I can’t say how flattered I am that people say such kind things but the full story is I am flawed and asking for forgiveness from the Lord, my husband and my littles more often than I’d like. When Paul says “ For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” in Romans 7, I could weep. That’s me, friends. Through and through.
I’ve set up a hammock right here in the in-between. I’m not ashamed and unable to take a compliment because of my shortcomings (okay, most of the time) and I’m not using compliments and affirmations from others as fuel for my pride. The cry of my heart here in this hammock is to make the Lord proud–Him alone. He sees it all. Every heart motive, every thought. Whether it be a season of flooding compliments or a season of discouragement, we must resist the temptation to keep our eyes on ourselves, or even worse, others. Instead, we keep our eyes on Jesus.
We trust that our Creator didn’t make any mistakes on us. He didn’t miscalculate our abilities and circumstances. He didn’t mismatch the puzzle pieces of our kids and our patience. No, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:8)