When Winning Looks Like Surrender

By Sara Elsner

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“We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”- 2 Corinthians 10:12 NIV - 

I first felt jealousy when I overheard the principal talking to my first grade teacher, and I realized the “cutest” was not me. I had a drowning feeling, and my mind flailed to reassert my own significance. I felt intimidated by a peer who got affirmation that I wanted. She would eventually become my best childhood friend, but the relationship would become strained whenever comparison happened. 

And it did happen. Both ways. Because it does. And when comparison happens nobody wins, because someone always feels like they are not enough. And that is how I often felt. 

I wish I could say, after meeting Jesus fourteen years later, that I never again experienced jealousy or comparison – that I never again felt I was not enough. I also wish I could say the teachings in the New Testament regarding struggles with envy, written to followers of Christ, are not there because we struggle with it. But they are. Because we do. 

(See Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 3:3,13:4; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:19-25,6:4; Philippians 2:3-4, James 3:14-16) 

And when women who struggle with comparison and jealousy become moms in playgroups, on ball fields and courts, in dance, voice, and piano studios, PTA’s, or even homeschool support groups, what could and should be constructive, can rapidly deteriorate to destructive, because of comparison and jealousy. 

And heaven forbid it should enter the Church. And by the way, Heaven DOES forbid it – by way of the Tenth Commandment and the previously listed scriptures written to New Testament Christ followers. 

The settings mentioned above are where we and our children should grow, learn, make friends, and be part of a team – where moms should encourage one another in the parenting journey, where believers of Christ should share their faith through authentic relationships, and where fellow followers of Christ should truly sharpen and support one another. 

Comparison, envy, and selfish ambition stunt this growth in and between individuals, and a toxin is released that inhibits relationships and the expansion of the kingdom of heaven. And it can become a generational stronghold. 

Comparison unfortunately happens among moms, and it’s often about what appears to be success for our own or others’ children in any given arena. It happens because there is always a temptation in this fallen world to feel that we, or our kids, aren’t enough, or don’t have enough. And we want to resolve that lack and assert our children’s or our own significance. We may even project an image that implies we are winning in an area of life in order to compensate for lack in another area. 

Cue the highlight reels of social media. Cue the smug one-upmanship responses to others’ kids’ achievements in any category. Cue the need to be “the best” at something – or at everything – whenever we fall prey to the comparison trap as momma bears. 

To compare our reality with the highlight reels of others is not wise.To compare our highlight reels with the highlight reels of others is not wise. To compare is not wise. 

I used to be a slave to all of the above. And there is nothing wrong with a parent being proud of their child’s growth and achievement. But a fine line gets crossed when a child’s or a parent’s feeling of worth is connected to those achievements, or any recognition associated with them. And crossing this line can become a stronghold we unwittingly pass on to our children – unintentionally communicating performance-based love, or that they must be “the best” instead of doing “their best.”

As it is with other sin, some people struggle with comparison, jealousy, and selfish ambition more than others. As it is with much sin, jealousy loves company, and jealousy breeds jealousy. As moms raising children in a fallen world, and as part of Christ’s Bride-not-yet-fully-sanctified, we must guard our hearts against this contagious virus. If we see its symptoms in ourselves or others, it can be tempting to yield to it. 

“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every evil practice.” - James 3:16 NIV - 

These symptoms can seem to surface out of nowhere, and before two momma bears know it, they are sparring for the significance of their own children and their own mom-success credentials – in categories ranging from potty-training proficiency to PSAT preparation to prayer! The sad part is that both moms may limp away from those encounters with discouraged hearts, and hell scores goals in dividing what could have been a powerful force of two momma bears contending together for both their families. 

There IS an antidote to the virus of comparison and jealousy. And it not only inoculates the one who administers it, it disarms the insecurity and offense that spread the virus. It’s the kingdom principle of gaining by surrender. 

“Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave -- ” -- Matthew 20:26-27 NIV -- 

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:3-4 -- 

To be free of comparison requires consistent heart-guarding with boosters of these truths, both preventively, and at the earliest detection of jealousy symptoms in ourselves or others. 

Truly putting others’ needs first defeats jealousy, diffuses defensiveness, and miraculously satisfies our own hunger to be affirmed

Scripture DOES call us to train, encourage, and build up our children. But it’s valuable to teach them that neither they, nor we momma bears, are “fighting for their position” to platform their gifts. It’s healthiest for them to know we are consistently cheering them on while they are developing their gifts to be ready when God opens doors for them to contribute to something bigger than they are. 

And we momma bears will be wise to realize that winning from heaven’s perspective sometimes looks like losing from the world’s perspective. 


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A wife of thirty-ish years and homeschooling mom of eight, “plus-three”, Sara enjoys cooking for her remaining household of seven that grows to at least thirteen when their married kids are also seated at their family’s twenty foot table. As a math major, Sara battles symmetry-addiction, and she can’t avoid using both sides of her brain as she gardens and decorates. Check her out on Instagram and Facebook!