Bulbs are magic. They are real life magic that you can hold and touch and feel. They are little balls of promise and wonder, hope wrapped up in a papery brown skin, fooling everyone who isn’t willing to wait. They have absolutely no beauty on their own, but planted in the right dirt at the right time, they surprise the world with a gift no one could have imagined. No one, that is but God.
Every Winter I plant paperwhite bulbs in various containers around our home with the hope that they will be in full bloom by Christmas and lend a bit of natural life to the, often, flashy trappings of the season. So this year, as the Fall decorations were taken down and the Christmas bins were hauled in, I grabbed my paper sack of bulbs, found some old potting soil left over from summer, and buried several bulbs in pots on my entry way table. Everyday I noticed how the tiny green stems started to emerge from the dirt, then grow taller and taller until finally the tip of each was bursting delicate, fragrant, white flowers.
All except the the paperwhite in the middle.
While her neighbors on either side were showing off, growing quickly, and then blooming for all to see, she seemed to be asleep, dormant, dysfunctional even. What was the problem with the paperwhite in the middle? Admittedly, I became frustrated with her. I mean there she was, right there in the middle, not doing her job, not producing anything of beauty, not bringing anything to the (entry) table if you will. And then early one morning, as I relished in the slowness of Christmas break from my favorite spot on the couch, appreciating the twinkling lights of the tree, the taste of my coffee, the smell of my candle, the time I had to sit and pray and read the Word without the push and rush of normal life, the paperwhite in the middle caught my eye. And instead of shaking my head in disgust like I had been doing for days, I felt a profound kinship to her. So much so that I pulled the blanket back, set my Bible and coffee aside, and walked across the room to snap a picture of her and her overachieving neighbors.
Have you ever felt like the paper white in the middle?
Has it ever appeared to you that, as you look around, everyone else is growing, blooming, reaching for the sky, and you are still just stuck in the dirt? Man, it has for me. In fact, I’ve probably spent years being the paperwhite in the middle, and honestly just now at 40, On The Other Side of Middle, do I feel like I am finally starting to push through the soil.
Comparison. It’s been called the thief of joy. It’s been called the thief of everything. Either way, it’s a thief. And we know from John 10:10 that, “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy.” So where is the thief of comparison sneaking into your life? What is it trying to steal, kill, and destroy in you?
Young women, perhaps Young Mommas, I am thinking of you today, looking across the room to the paperwhite in the middle. I’m not so far in front of you. I still have 4 children at home to feed, and educate, and train. I have been doing the mommy thing for 12 years now and since my youngest is 5, I figure I have about 13 more to go in this capacity. So, altogether, God willing, I will have children under my roof, parenting them on a daily basis for 25 years of my life. 25 years of my time here on earth will be spent with them being the main focus of not only my heart, but my days, my gas consumption, my grocery lists, and certainly my prayers. Now, if I live to be 80 years old, that is 55 years that will not be spent with them under my roof in this daily, weighty way. I just wonder, could some things wait?
Here is the thing we all know at nausea, and yet the sneaky thief keeps coming for us:
We may be able to do it all but we will not be able to do it all well and at the same time.
If you try, you will not be well. There is a reason that Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall do not happen simultaneously. What chaos that would be; pumpkins and tulips, swim parties and snow days all at once. And how much we would miss, all the little things that make each season distinct and beautiful in it’s own way! And yet, why do we think we can have it all at once in our own lives? Perfectly Pinterest nurseries and thriving social lives? Booming careers and intentional marriages? Fruitful ministries and star athletes? Something is going to give. Can we let it be comparison we kick to the curb, rather than our sanity, our joy, our identity?
Do you know that I planned my wedding, and decorated all 4 of my children’s nurseries without Pinterest. Honestly, I’m kinda bitter about it. Because I love Pinterest. And I love Instagram. And currently I am planning a 6-year-old Star Wars party, an 8-year-old make over slumber party, and my next dinner party menu with their help. It’s fun as long as it’s fun. Here is the sneaky thief part, sometimes those scroll sessions can turn dark. You know it and I know it. All of a sudden you find yourself beneath the pressure of the perfection you are looking at on the screen, comparing your worst days, rooms, plans, meals, outfits, and self to someone else’s best. Because we all know we only post our best. It’s okay, until it isn’t.
In Matthew 6:22-23 Jesus says, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness.” Getting rid of this thief may start as simply as healthy eyes. What we look at. What we gaze upon. What we let in. There was a season in my life that I couldn’t pick up a magazine. I couldn’t read any book but the Word of God. I couldn’t watch a moment of television or a single movie. Do you know why? My eyes were unhealthy. All they saw were people better off than me, with perfect marriages and hair. With loads of money to take perfect family vacations and gorgeous homes to entertain their fabulous friends. I shut it down because my whole body, my whole being, was turning dark simply by looking at the wrong things.
If comparison is the thief of joy and contentment, right expectations is their best friend, holding their hands, walking them right in your front door. And right expectations, for yourself, your life, your kids, your home, your relationships, your bank account is not found out there, they are found within. When you still yourself and your hustle to be perfect, or at least to be more, and listen to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, He will set those right expectations for you. Isaiah 30:21 says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ”This is the way; walk in it.”. In Proverbs 4:25, 27 we read, “Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you… Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” What is comparison if it is not looking to the right and left, looking around at how everyone else is doing it? Do you trust the Holy Spirit’s voice in your life saying, “This is the way. This is your way. This is all I am asking of you right now, in this season. Walk in this, not that or that or that. There will be time later. For now, look straight ahead and walk on Girl.”
It’s hard. I know. It’s noisy here too. The still small voice sure can get drown out quickly by the volume of life, kids, laundry and to do’s. It’s a lot easier to scroll Pinterest or Instagram or Facebook than it is to do the work of listening. But a little intentional listening in the beginning can bring clarity and peace while that lazy scroll, that looking to the right and left, may end up heaping the kind of expectations and pressures you were never meant to carry.
Young mommas, I used to be so very limited in my view of what my relationship with Jesus had to look like. When my days did not start before dawn with uninterrupted scripture reading, journaling, prayer time and Beth Moore because the baby had been up all night, or woke up too early, or my body just couldn’t sacrifice one more moment of sleep, well I had failed! My days became a snowball of failure. If my mornings didn’t begin right, how could my days, my attempts at this mommy thing, my marriage, my homemaking, the things the Lord was calling me to in that season go right? A snow ball is interesting, isn’t it? It starts off soft and harmless but as it rolls on, gaining speed, picking up rocks and debris on the way, in the end it is downright dangerous. And so it was with my days, picking up all the bad and letting the thing knock me over every night with all the ways I had failed.
Let me tell you a golden secret that may save you from snowball days: Let your relationship with Jesus adjust to your season.
Just like there is a season to till, plant, grow, reap, there is a season to gain knowledge and there is a season to use it! If you know the Bible at all, you probably know the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” STOP. If you never did another Bible study, you have plenty to work on right there. You don’t master things like the fruit of the Spirit by gaining more knowledge, you only master them by the the power of the Holy Spirit. And He is always listening, speaking, spurring you on towards Christ-likeness, whether you were up all night with a sick kid, or you had an hour in the Word this morning. Here are a few scriptures that rocked my world in my snowball days:
“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” John 5:39-40
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” I Corinthians 4:20
“They are the kind who work their way into people’s homes and win the confidence of vulnerable women who are burdened with the guilt of sin and controlled by various desires. Such women are forever following new teachings but they are never able to understand the the truth.” II Timothy 3:6-7
GIRLS, LET THAT NEVER BE SAID OF US!
We find life in our relationship with Jesus, and our study and knowledge of the Scripture only serve to lead us into His presence and power. I’ll let you in on another secret: you can get there, into His presence and His power, no matter what your days look like, no matter what your hands are doing, no matter the season you are in. You can be folding laundry and communing with God at the same time. You can be fixing dinner, driving someone to basketball, watching PAW Patrol, and wiping a booty and be in the presence of God. I decided a long time ago that the only way I was going to be able to be obedient to the command to “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17) was to shift all of my thoughts and self-talk into prayers. My busy hands and worn-out body can be about the very unglamorous work of my life while my spirit is in heavenly places, in the presence of Jesus, always being ministered to.
So here is my question to you, Young Momma… Do you trust Him? When He says things like, “But seek first the kingdom of God and ALL THESE THINGS WILL BE ADDED UNTO YOU” (Matthew 6:33) do you believe Him? Do you believe that the sacrifices you make today will kill your dreams for the future, or that ALL THESE THINGS WILL BE ADDED UNTO YOU, in due season? Do you trust I Thessalonians 5:24 when it says “The one who calls you is faithful and He will do it?” It’s not your hustle, Girl. Pinterest perfect expectations are a thief. Settle down into the soil and stop looking to the right or left and trust the still small voice of the Holy Spirit.
Here is what I know from my own life. All those years I felt like the paperwhite in the middle were not wasted. Oh, I know you couldn’t see the growth and progress from out there. I know it looked like I wasn’t bringing much to the table, wasn’t producing much beauty or value. But my neighbors’ standards weren’t mine. They bloomed when they were supposed to and so did I. The soil of these years, isn’t merely dirt. If you let it, if you spend these years rooted in right expectations, enjoying the slowness of the season and getting healthy eyes on everything from homemaking to Bible study, the soil will be the rich, fertile ground you will emerge from. No one can see the roots growing strong. Trust the season. Trust the process. Trust the Word.
My paperwhite in the middle eventually grew as proud and tall as her neighbors. Just about the time their flowers were beginning to drop, she bloomed. Her perfect timing added beauty right when the arrangement needed new life. She wasn’t dead or dormant down in that soil, she just knew her season. Do you trust yours? Comparison is a sneaky thief, but a bulb is sneaky too. One is out to steal, kill, and destroy the joy of this season, and one is just below the surface poised to burst through with abundant life in her time. Settle in, Young Momma, your time is coming and you’re going to be gorgeous!