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The Comparison Trap: Life Lessons from Little League

We lived in Atlanta in 1995, back when the Braves won the World Series. It was a heady time for the city, with tomahawks hanging from telephone poles and whatnot, but the whole thing was pretty much wasted on me. I don’t understand baseball. Sure, I get the whole “home run” thing, but I’ve never really grasped the subtler points of the game.

Never, perhaps, was that more evident than when I got drafted to coach.

We had just moved to Coronado, California, where I am pretty sure there’s a law that says every child has to play Little League. Wanting to be a good citizen, I signed our kids up. Robbie and Virginia were 5 and 6 at the time, and they got assigned to the same tee ball team.

All was well…until my phone rang. “We need more coaches,” the voice said.

I knew my husband was out (he traveled too much for work), but I didn’t want our family to seem unhelpful. “I can’t coach,” I said brightly, “but I can sew the team banner!”

“We don’t need banners. We need coaches.”

I tried another tack. “I can handle the roster? The snacks?”

“Listen, Mrs. Berndt,” the voice said (sounding not at all like someone who wanted to buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks), “we have too many players. Unless we can find some more coaches, Virginia and Robbie can’t play. We need you.”

I could see that this was not headed anywhere good. “You don’t need me,” I countered. “I can’t catch or throw. My baseball knowledge is zero. Plus…I’m afraid of the ball.”

(It’s true. I am.)

“It’s okay. We will train you. Just come to the coaches’ meeting on Wednesday night. See you then.”

Sigh.

I should have known something was up when I got to the stadium. I was the only gal there. The ONLY mom coach. A sea of dad coaches—all of whom seemed to know one another—lounged on the bleachers, waiting (I assumed) for the training to start.

“Training,” as it turned out, consisted of opening the equipment locker and grabbing stuff. Not knowing what I was allowed to take, I hung back. In the end, there were a couple of leftover bats, a bucket of balls, and one tee that wouldn’t stand up all the way straight.

I threw it all in the back of my Chevy Suburban.

Practice started the following week. Our jerseys were purple, and the first order of business was to choose a team name. I opened the floor for discussion.

“The Purple Wolves!” one kid hollered. “Yeah!” said the others.

“Alrighty then,” I said, “that’s good progress! Our next job is—” (and here’s where I found myself wishing I’d paid better attention to how the Braves did it; the only thing I could remember was the tomahawk chop) “—to make up a team cheer!”

We worked on that one for a while, trying out different wolf poses and howls, and then it was (mercifully) time for practice to end. I sent the kids home with instructions to “work on their wolf stance” and told them I’d see them at Saturday’s game.

Game Day dawned with no small amount of enthusiasm. I’d found a big old beach blanket so my team wouldn’t have to sit on the grass, and I’d packed what I thought was a strong lineup of snacks. At first, the Purple Wolves seemed pretty happy.

But then they looked across the field.

“Oh no…” one kid said.

I followed his gaze. The other team wasn’t seated just yet, but you could tell where they’d be. Every single one of the 14 spots in the opposing lineup was clearly marked on the ground by a carpet sample. A carpet sample! And on top of each tidy square sat a matching red water bottle, with a little baseball stopper on top.

“We’re gonna get killed,” my kid moaned. A few others agreed. And fear spread through my team like wildfire.

Now, if you know anything about tee ball (and if you don’t, consider us friends), you know that nobody keeps score. You cannot lose. And you definitely cannot get killed.

But try telling that to a bunch of kindergartners whose parents are stacked, three deep, in lawn chairs on the sidelines. My Wolves had come ready to play…and yet they were already feeling defeated.

They had fallen prey to The Comparison Trap.

And we do the very same thing.

We can’t help it. We look across the fields of our lives and see moms whose kids make better grades. Or dads who have better jobs. Or neighbors whose lawns have no weeds. Or whatever. And we assume that their lives are all squared-away and amazing, and that ours—at least by comparison—aren’t.

One of the best pieces of parenting advice somebody gave me when our kids were little (and this is a nugget that works for marriages, jobs, and everything else) was this: “Don’t compare your family’s insides to somebody else’s outsides.”

It’s true. Anybody can look like they have their stuff all together, like they are leading a carpet-square life. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from interviewing hundreds of moms and dads over the years (and from our own family’s up-and-down life), it’s that everyone—even the Varsity Christians with the award-winning children and the primo jobs and the clean minivan—has issues. Nobody measures up. Nobody even comes close.

And if we spend our time looking at other people’s outsides instead of focusing on Jesus (and basking in his immeasurable love for our insides), we’ll be doomed. The comparison trap will feast on our joy and eat us alive.

As it turned out, the Purple Wolves won that first game. Or maybe they lost. I don’t remember. The only thing I remember–the only thing ANYBODY remembers (and people remind me of it, to this day)—is the fight that broke out on the mound.

No, the Carpet Squares didn’t attack. The brawl (which got ugly fast) was an inner-squad thing, between the Purple Wolves’ pitcher and our first baseman, after the latter got hit in the chest with a throw because his attention was elsewhere.

(Did I mention where I’d positioned Virginia and Robbie? No? Okay well. Never mind then.)

🤦‍♀️

Heavenly Father,

Help us understand who we are and the work we’ve been given, and to sink ourselves into that. Don’t let us fall prey to comparison; rather, equip us to do the creative best we can with our lives, secure in the lavishness of your love. (Galatians 6:4, MSG & 1 John 3:1, NIV)

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We Can’t Quench God’s Love

(Note: Robbie and I are in Canada this week. We’re enjoying some good “unplugged” time, but here’s a quick post–along with a pic of the evening view from our dock. This place isn’t fancy, but if you don’t mind a few snakes, mosquitos, and a composting toilet, it’s pretty much paradise.)

“Here is a theologian who puts the hay where the sheep can reach it.”

That’s how Elisabeth Elliot describes J. I. Packer in his timeless book, Knowing GodAnd I have to say that one of of Packer’s most encouraging messages (at least for bottom-shelf sheep like myself) is that nothing we do–and nothing we have ever done–comes as a shocker to God. And none of it can keep him from loving us.

Here’s how Packer puts it:

There is tremendous relief in knowing that His love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion Him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench His determination to bless me.

We can’t quench God’s love. Or (and I love this part) his determination to bless us.

That’s good stuff. But Packer didn’t make it up, of course. I suspect he got it from places like Romans 8:38, which is where Paul says that nothing–neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow, not even the powers of hell–can separate us from God’s love.

Maybe just take a moment right now and let those words settle over your soul.

And if you, or someone you love, needs a little help when it comes to receiving the reality of God’s limitless love, here’s one way we can pray:

Heavenly Father,

I pray that _____, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that _____ may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Amen

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I just want to look at your face.

So next week we’ll be with two of our adult children, Virginia and Robbie. They don’t live in Virginia Beach, and I miss them.

A lot.

Which is why I’ve warned them, already, that I might be a little bit weird. “Don’t mind me if I stare at you when we’re together,” I said. “I just want to look at your face.”

If you’re a parent (and especially if you’re the parent of a newborn), you get it. You know it’s not always polite (and you realize you might border on creepy, if you’re like me and you have grown-up kids), but sometimes you can’t look away. Like Robbie, in this 1989 photo with Hillary. You just love too much.

And as I thought about this “can’t look away” love, I remembered King David’s words in Psalm 27. “One thing I ask of the Lord,” he wrote, “this is what I seek:  that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”

That was my dad’s favorite verse. I loved my father, and I want to love God in the all-consuming way that he did. Truth be told, though, I sometimes read verses like Psalm 27:4 and scratch my head just a bit. David’s request seems so…passive. Like, in our rough-and-tumble world, does gazing at God’s beauty move the needle? Does it help?

(I mean, if we were in David’s shoes and we could ask God for one thing, would we really pick “looking at you”?)

This week, I decided to do a little word study. I’ll spare you the details (cuz when you put a honker of a book like Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible in my beach bag, I can quickly get lost in the weeds), but here’s the main scoop:

That word beauty? It’s an attractiveness that motivates others to embrace that which is praiseworthy. It’s a type of splendor that leaves us inspired and amazed. It’s how the onlookers felt about Jesus in Mark 7:37, when he healed the deaf and dumb man.

“He has done everything well!” people said.

Not only that, but Warren Wiersbe (author of The Bible Exposition Commentarysays that beauty, as it’s used in Psalm 27, means not only the glory of God’s character but also “the richness of His goodness and favor to His people.” In other words, when David focused on God (instead of all the threats that he faced), he didn’t see danger or fear. He saw peace. He saw provision. He saw the strength to move on and live well.

So where does that leave us?

I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking that that leaves me admitting I’m wrong. Gazing at God is not at all passive. It’s practical. It’s the starting place–and the returning place–for experiencing him, and then living a life that will matter.

If gazing at God feels foreign to you, or if you just need a little help getting started, check out my friend Sara Hagerty’s “adoration” series on Instagram. You’ll find her @sarahagertywrites, or click here to download a whole month’s worth of ways to see and love God.

 

Heavenly Father,

You are all that we need; your presence is all we desire. Help us fix our gaze on you, that we might daily look to you and your strength, and seek your face always. (1 Chronicles 16:11)

Amen

And P.S., all you empty nesters out there:  Gazing at God is infinitely more satisfying than staring at your kids. Especially when they know how much you miss them and then, right before they come home, they send you a photo like this:

(Seriously Robbie? What even is that thing on your face??)

🙅‍♀️

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Forget the iPotty; Add Prayer to Your Baby Wish List

I’ve been to a few baby showers in recent months, and I’m amazed at all the stuff you can buy. Today’s registries include everything from traditional onesies and blankets to what-the-heck items like the Baby Butt Fan (“experts agree” that air drying prevents diaper rash), the iPotty (because apparently today’s toddlers don’t want to miss a minute of screen time), and the Kickbee (a thing pregnant moms wrap on their bellies to digitally detect baby’s kicks–and then tweet them out to the world).

(I know. How did my generation make it through nine months without that?)

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in addition to burp cloths and bottles, we could add character traits to our cart? Think about it. Expectant mothers could add things like wisdom, kindness, and self-control for their kids. I might register for gentleness and patience, and an others-centered outlook on life. And wouldn’t we all want gifts like perseverance, integrity, a joyful spirit, and a thankful heart?

The list, of course, could go on. And how cool would it be if all we had to do was throw a shower and have our friends bring us these blessings?

Happily, God’s got another–better–way to give these good gifts to our kids. He invites us to ask him for them.

In his book, How to PrayR.A. Torrey says that prayer is “God’s appointed way for obtaining things, and the great secret of all lack in our experience, in our life and in our work is neglect of prayer.”

Torrey’s not the one who came up with the link between asking and receiving; we see that played out in the Bible (see, for instance, Matthew 7:7 and John 16:24). For a lot of folks, though, Torrey’s words can feel daunting. We know we should pray, but sometimes we don’t–and we can beat ourselves up over that lack.

And perhaps no one beats themselves up more than young moms. This comment, shared last week on a friend’s Instagram post, pierced my heart:

I was such a good pray-er until God blessed me with a second boy. I have three energetic sons, ages 3, 5 and 1. Between teething and nighttime breastfeeding and everything else, I feel so bad in all spheres. And I feel guilty.

Boy, can I ever relate. Robbie and I had four kids in six years, and honestly? I don’t know how today’s mothers do it. I see them making their own baby food and checking labels for all things organic; I remember dumping Trix cereal out on the high chair and hoping that counted as fruit.

And prayer time? That was reserved for people who had fewer kids and less laundry than I did. Any time I heard about some Varsity Christian who spent hours in prayer (like the persecuted people on the other side of the world all seemed to be doing) I’d want to throw in the prayer towel and quit. “I’m just not that holy,” I’d think to myself. “I’m just not that good.”

And I’d feel bad for my kids, cuz I knew they had a lame-Christian mom.

But then I met Cynthia Heald, a best-selling author whose books include Becoming a Woman of Prayer“I’d like to be a woman of prayer,” I told her, “but I’m not. I almost never have time to sit down with my notebook and a Bible to pray–and I feel like my prayers don’t really count.”

Cynthia set me straight. “You can pray in the carpool line,” she said, “or while you’re washing dishes. Pray while you walk through your neighborhood, or while you clean the bathroom. It doesn’t take a lot of time or preparation to meet God. Just go to him, and you’re there.”

Now, I am sure that Cynthia Heald would encourage all of us to make time in our schedules for some concentrated, uninterrupted prayer, but her gentle advice to “just do it” got me started. I began to pray while I drove, while I made lunches, and even while I scrubbed toilets, using (and I realize this sounds kind of pathetic) the smell of Lysol, in place of biblical incense, to remind me to pray.

All of which is to say (especially to the new mamas out there):  Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t believe the lie that your prayers have to be perfect, or long, or written down in a beautiful faux-leather journal to count.

That season will come.

For now, take your parenting cue from the disciples. Granted, they never had to make a Pilgrim costume out of a grocery bag and brown packing tape, but they did need to know how to pray–and so they asked Jesus for help. They asked him to teach them, and we can do the same thing. We can ask God to show us how to pray, and to help us make the most of our minutes.

God knows what it’s like to have kids and to want good things for their lives. Prayer is the vehicle he invented for us to ask him to provide.

And all we have to do is…just do it.

Heavenly Father,

Teach us to live wisely and well. (Psalm 90:12 MSG)

Prompt us to lift up our hands to you and plead for the lives of our children. (Lamentations 2:19 NLT)

And remind us, when we are weary and worn, that we can come boldly before your throne, knowing that your grace is always there to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:16 NLT)

Amen

(Note to moms eyeing the iPotty: We used that book, Toilet Training in Less than a Daywhich, if I remember right, worked really well and only required salty chips, candy rewards, and like 17 gallons of apple juice.)

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The Dog Days of Summer

Many of you know our dog, Max. Max has taught me two things this summer.

The first is the value of the iPhone “portrait” feature. My old phone finally gave up, and when Robbie brought home a new one (shopping for anything plug-in being a Blue Job, chez Berndt), I snapped this:

Max has never looked this good in his life.

(And that is not being unkind. Those who have met Max in person, or seen him in previous blogs, know I speak only the truth. But hey. There is more to life than great hair.)

The second lesson from Max is that good things happen when you decide to be nice.

I am not what you might call a Dog Person. I don’t mind them; in fact, I would go so far as to say that I like most dogs. And that I trust people who have dogs more than people who don’t. But if you invite us over for dinner, Robbie’s the one who will sit on the floor and get your pup’s hair and his breath and his ticks or whatever all over his clothing, not me.

But all of that’s changed in the last 100 days.

101, to be exact.

That’s how long it’s been since Max had surgery to take out his spleen. The docs biopsied whatever was in there, and the news was not good. They gave our guy 18-45 days.

I may not be a dog person, but I was the one who brought Max home as a Christmas morning surprise back in 2007, and I found myself rocked by this verdict. And if Max had three-to-six weeks left to live, I resolved to make them the best weeks of his life.

I bought chewy dog treats.

Took him out for some walks.

I might even have talked baby talk, once in awhile. (Which is not something I ever did for our kids.)

And…I began petting him. Not a lot (because then I would have to get out the Roomba and watch it suck up the hairs, which can take up a lot of my valuable time). But a little. And if Max was surprised, he didn’t show it. He just acted happy.

It’s Day 101 and Max seems healthier–and more active–than ever. Maybe he felt weighed down by that spleen? Maybe he is thrilled with the treats, after 11 years of dry kibble? Maybe all he ever wanted was to go for an actual walk?

I don’t know.

But what I do know is this.

I can’t point to the exact day when it happened, but I find myself LOVING our dog. And doing things I haven’t, before. Things like standing in the pet aisle at the grocery store, wondering whether he likes “salmon and veggie” or “chicken and rice” in his bowl, or what shape (bone? bacon strip? tube?) he prefers for his treats.

I know, I know. Some of you are reading this, and you are aghast. Who among us, you think, doesn’t buy  bacon-shaped treats BEFORE it’s almost too late? I get that. Unsubscribe if you must; I won’t judge.

And some of you will wonder what possible lesson or truth I could mine from this story. I will tell you. It’s this:

The nicer you are, the more you will love. I don’t know how it works, exactly, but when you decide to be kind to someone (and I think this works for family members and co-workers, as well as mangy golden retrievers), the more attractive they will appear, and the more you will want to be nice. It’s as if love begets love. And not only will you find yourself giving love; others will start loving you back. (I can’t be positive, but I am pretty sure Max thinks I’m awesome.)

And I can’t help but wonder if it’s that way with God. He is so good to us, and he always has been, covering us in love since the beginning of time. When he looks at us, he doesn’t see all our scabs and our warts and our failings. He just sees the object of his boundless affection. He sees us as lovely.

And as we bask in that love, we are transformed. We love, the Bible says, because he first loved us.

Heavenly Father,

Help me to extend love to ______, and to pray for them even if they come against me. Equip me to love others the way that you have loved me. (Matthew 5:44, John 15:12)

And P.S., Ecclesiastes 9:4 says that “a live dog is better than a dead lion.” I don’t really understand that verse, but I do know that I love my live dog, so if anyone wants to pray for us to enjoy another 100 great days (or more!), we’d be grateful.

 

 

 

 

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