Compare Not, Judge Not
Recently, while offering what I thought was pragmatic parenting about a video game to one of my young nieces (I still believe that “it takes a village….”), another parent overheard me. The mother looked at her child and said, “Did you hear that?” Referring to my talk with my niece, she added, “If not, I’m sure you will soon.” She thanked me and walked away. I was stunned.
To flesh out this anecdote, we’ve all had children in our care who refute a grownup’s denial to allow them to do, acquire, or see something with the infamous: “But (friend’s name) does it!” Or sometimes the light of the argument shines on you: “Her mom lets her do it!”
Then my approach kicks in. When my daughters were younger and tried to persuade me with those lines, I’d nip the dispute in the bud, asking: “What’s your name?” I’d talk over the top of their appeals by repeating my question calmly until they grasped my point. Eventually they’d sheepishly reply with their name. Then I’d say: “That’s right, your name is not X and I am not X’s mother. So, what they do or don’t do is not my or your concern.” By the time they were near middle-school age, they dropped the subject as soon as I asked their name, most often with the obligatory eye roll. They knew their argument was lost.
Applying this approach to the faith we strive to live every day, I wonder how a comparison mentality might affect our personal Christianity. Do we evaluate our faith life by comparing it to the actions of others? Such an assessment tips the scales on both ends of the spirituality spectrum, yielding the points of view of inferiority or superiority. Comparing ourselves to others often results in us judging ourselves or those we’re scrutinizing. Matthew 7:1–5 admonishes against this: “Stop judging, that you may not be judged.”
Of course, being like Jesus is part of being a Christian. Indeed, he is the ultimate model for the life we are called to live. And importantly, our Lord also knows and loves each of us personally, by name (Isaiah 43:1–5). He wants us to follow his lead, not the examples of others.
So perhaps the next time you find yourself or your children caught in the snarl of using your Christian neighbors as a benchmark for your own spiritual well-being, step back, read Ezekiel 18:20, and recognize that while the Church is developed and strengthened by communal participation, we are each responsible for our own salvation.
Elizabeth A. Herzing