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"Less Than and Greater Than"

“Comparison is the thief of joy” - Theodore Roosevelt.

It was the first day of school and I couldn’t wait to eat lunch from my brand new Holly Hobbie lunch box. (That may date me but work with me here.) Holly peaked at me from beneath her bonnet, just to the right of the metallic lunchbox’s shiny silver clasp, assuring me that she’d be ready for me when lunch time came. I proudly displayed that lunch box on the shelf above the coat rack while everyone filtered into the coatroom and back out to the classroom. A few hours later the bell announced it was time for lunch and I raced into the coatroom to get my prized possession. Yes, Holly Hobbie and I were going to have a great lunch together!

It was then that I noticed twenty other lunch boxes also perched proudly on the shelf. I stopped dead in my tracks as my fellow hungry students grabbed their lunches and hustled to the cafeteria. My disposition, however, had now changed from eager to deflated. The other kids were walking out with vibrantly-colored plastic lunch boxes with characters from Marvel comics, Star Wars, and other more “grown-up” themes. Holly Hobbie seemed antiquated, babyish, and inadequate compared to all that.

Fast forward a few decades. Somewhere in the first few years of homeschooling I began to experience that familiar feeling of being “less than” when it came to our curriculum, experiences and methods. Were my kids learning? Yes. As much as kids in other families? Maybe not. Were my kids lacking anything? No. Did they do and have as much as other homeschoolers? Maybe not. In order to measure up, we’d need to invest in “better” curriculum, get involved in more activities, and do math during the summer.

It was exhausting. And the pressure to perform in order to measure up took its toll on me and my children. Summer school math was miserable for all of us, the expensive curriculum was tedious to say the least, and running around to all the clubs, sports, and lessons was leaving less time for academics and, well, fun.

So I began to tailor our homeschool to our family, not to other families. And with that, we began to enjoy each other again, get some wind under our sails, and develop a rhythm that was unique to us. It was good.

I wish I could say my comparison monster ended, but that wouldn’t be true, because now I began to compare myself to other homeschoolers and felt like I was doing it just a bit better. I found myself giving advice that was not always from a place of service, but from a place of “I probably know how to do it better than you.” My kids were happy, polite, and enjoyed learning. Were other homeschool kids measuring up to mine? Maybe. Maybe not.

When the (much needed) conviction from the good Lord came, I realized that pride and shame are simply two sides of the same coin, the coin of “self.” If I measured our homeschool to be “less than” someone else’s, I felt shame. If I measured our homeschool to be “greater than” someone else’s I felt pride. In either case, my worth was based on my perception of how I ranked compared with someone else.

I decided to take my eyes off me and my performance and my kids’ performance and instead put my focus on our “why” for homeschooling and on partnering with my Creator to facilitate a homeschool that He had in His mind and heart for our family. And just our family.

The freedom that ensued allowed me to encourage our kids to pursue opportunities that fit them, not ones that fit the “supposed to” mold in order to measure up.

I was recently at an antique store and saw a Holly Hobbie lunch box that was identical to the one I brought to school so long ago. Two thoughts ran through my mind simultaneously. One, “What the heck is my lunch box doing in an antique store for heaven’s sake? It’s an antique now?!?” And two, “That lunch box was perfect for me at that time. I didn’t say it then, so I’ll say it now. Thank you for that lunch box, Lord.”

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