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That's Not Fair

"Mom, that's not fair! Yesterday you gave Emily more money for the book fair than you just gave me!"

I remember this scene as though it just happened: In a mad dash to get my elementary school-aged daughters prepared for school one morning, I quickly surveyed their backpacks and homework folders and school lunches to make sure all was at ready. Check! Then I remembered it was Sarah's day to attend her school's annual book fair. So I scrounged around in my purse, dug out my wallet, and handed her several bills for making purchases. But somehow, Sarah, my eldest, knew how much I'd given Emily the previous day for her grade's visit to the book fair—several dollars more than I'd handed Sarah.', 'Sarah's protest caught me off guard, but it shouldn't have. Girls only two years apart in age had a way of keeping score—and reminding me when I fell short.

My first thought was to hand over more cash, the easy way out; I was in no mood for whining. Then my acquiescence turned to annoyance. What does Sarah mean, "unfair"? I inwardly harrumphed. Does she have any idea how much her dad and I routinely spend on her? I thought of all of Sarah's activities—her ice-skating lessons and private coaching, the costumes and registration fees and travel expenses for competitions. From purely a spending perspective, Emily, who'd not yet found her niche in any extracurricular activity, could claim to be the shortchanged one.

A little too sharply, I told Sarah it was none of her business how much I'd given Emily. Then I bit my tongue before I launched into a lengthier tirade. To be honest, I wasn't sure how to justify my actions so Sarah would understand. How could I explain to this enthusiastic and capable reader that Emily needed more encouragement, more motivation, than she did? That giving Emily a few extra dollars was my way of trying to kindle within her a passion for reading Sarah already had?

I sighed as we loaded into the car. Would either of my children ever comprehend the big picture of parenting before they themselves became parents? Or stop comparing themselves to each other, as though book-fair allowances somehow equated to love?

Then another rather uncomfortable thought struck me. Don't I behave just like my daughters when I complain about how someone else seems gifted with the bigger and better "toys" or talents I wish I'd received? And does God, my heavenly Parent, feel annoyed at my lack of gratitude, just as I feel about Sarah's?

This disconcerting insight stuck with me. I realized that when I compared myself to others, conveniently forgetting how God alone knows all his plans behind our circumstances, I immaturely ignored the fact my heavenly Father's parenting decisions might have purposes to which I wasn't privy.

But, as with all spiritual lessons, I'm a recalcitrant learner who needs an occasional refresher, such as the bracing reminder I received while reading some passages from the Gospel of John a couple days ago. The resurrected Jesus had appeared to the disciples and cooked them fish. Then Jesus turned to Simon Peter and briefed him on the type of death he'd suffer for his faith (John 21: 18-19). Peter, ever the tactless one, saw John and blurted out, "What about him, Lord?" And Jesus quickly rebuked him: "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you {italics mine}? You must follow me" ( 21:21-22).

When I secretly question, What about her, Lord? I'm inappropriately nosy, more concerned about other people's business than following the Lord. Whether it's wishing I had someone else's ability to lead, or to speak publicly (something I dread), or to make friends, or to excel in any other area where I perceive I've been "shortchanged," my trying to keep score reeks of ingratitude for what I've already received.

Just acknowledging this makes me wince, because I'm revealing character traits I'd rather deny. But I suspect if we're gut-level honest, most of us grumble an occasional "That's not fair, God," and compare our lot with that of others around us.

Thanksgiving is only a few days away. I need to remember Jesus' words to Peter, to me, whenever I focus on what I don't have and forget how much I've been given, none of which I deserve—"What is that to you? You must follow me."

And perhaps someday, I'll gain an even fuller comprehension of the big picture of God's parenting, and stop equating blessings to my heavenly Father's love.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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