I never imagined I could sing by myself in front of a crowd of hundreds while controlling a crabby child in my arms. But last Sunday, I did that.

My wife and I sing in the praise band at our church once a month. We have for the last couple years, and it’s been a great experience for us. But as parents to a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old, it comes with challenges.

Early in the process, we usually had somebody there to watch our kids. Our parents would show up, for example, and they could sit with the children, hold the baby, and keep everyone in line while we stood in front of church and led the music for the hour.

Lately, those plans changed. Grandparents haven’t been able to make it, and we’ve been stuck with the kids.

Our 4-year-old is pretty well behaved. He’s even made it through a couple services sitting by himself in the front row, just a few feet from us, while we sang.

In the last couple months, he’s sat in my chair directly behind me, his feet lightly kicking me in the butt throughout each song.

And our 1-year-old? If he’s not being held by Mommy or Daddy, he’s screaming. So leading the worship service generally involves trading him back and forth as our arms get tired.

It’s stressful. It pulls our focus away from the songs we’re trying to sing. And it generally involves copious amounts of sweating and sighing under our breath as we try to keep our tempers from flaring.

What this annoyance looks like to other people

After these kid-wrestling church services, our friends and other members of the congregation wander by and offer their thanks and compliments. We hear a comment given repeatedly:

“It is so great to see your kids up there with you. I love seeing them being involved – and they’re so well-behaved. It’s just beautiful.”

Beautiful?

My wife and I do a lot of silent communication with our eyes, especially when in front of church. With just one look, we can say things like:

  • “He’s so heavy.”
  • “I’m going to take him out and spank him if he doesn’t stop.”
  • “Are you kidding me, with this?”
  • “I can’t do this anymore.”
  • “Ugh.”
  • “He picks now to act like this?”

You get the picture. It’s never positive. And it certainly doesn’t feel beautiful.

But nobody can see that. In the congregation, they smile. They laugh. They watch our boys interact with us up there and love it.

They see it as a great way to involve our family instead of a distracting, stressful burden that we’re carrying in that moment.

Last Sunday, I caught myself answering everyone’s compliments with, “Yeah, well, you didn’t see me take him out into the hall and spank him during the sermon!”

The struggle they don’t see

I’ve reflected on this often in the last couple days, and it actually applies to so much else.

My wife and I are struggling with finances. My business efforts have been riddled with mistakes for the last few years, costing us tens of thousands of dollars and burying us in a seemingly-insurmountable pile of debt.

Adding to that is the looming specter of moving again in May, which may be necessary thanks to a lousy landlord who refuses to correct problems with our home.

Our friends all own houses. They have great kids. Great marriages. They take vacations.

We’re renting. We can’t take vacations. We rarely go out. Our evenings are often spent in tears as we stress about our situation and how (and if!) we’re ever going to recover from it. Angry bills pile up in the mailbox. Our phones ring incessantly from bill collectors.

It’s not where we want to be. At all.

My wife and I feel like, as we hit our mid-thirties, we should have this all figured out. Everyone else does, right?

But how easy is it to not see reality?

When we sing in front of church and wrangle our children, hundreds of people are watching our every move… and they don’t see the struggle.

They see beauty. They see the good parts. There’s even a twinge of envy in their voices when they talk about how our kids behave during the service.

As I think of that, I’m reminded of the ways in which we compare ourselves to others in this season of our lives.

The struggle we don’t see

Just like the congregation watches us and only focuses on the positives of what we’re doing, we watch other people and only focus on the positives of their lives that we can see.

As my wife has gotten involved in moms’ groups, she’s starting to learn about the struggles that everyone else is going through.

Our friends – who often seem like they lead “perfect” lives – deal with all sorts of problems.

Sure, they aren’t worried about money. But their struggles are often way more important than that.

Some have marriages that need a lot of work, and lingering resentment bubbles under the surface.

Some don’t even see their spouses because they have to work 50-60 hours a week to pay for that big house. Or they both work, so they rarely have time for each other or to spend with their kids in any meaningful way.

Some deal with very serious health problems.

Some hate their jobs, but they pay well so they keep them.

Some can’t have kids of their own.

There are other examples, but you get the idea.

And this is not a judgment on them – everyone has struggles. No exceptions. We all make choices in life and deal with the consequences of those choices. Nobody chooses to struggle.

But how easy is it to ignore this stuff and compare yourself to the good things?

The riches we don’t see

When I start listing off the things I’m thankful for, I start realizing how stupid this comparison game really is.

As far as we know, my wife, my kids, and I are perfectly healthy.

My wife and I have a very strong relationship. We talk about everything. We spend meaningful time together almost every night.

Unlike what I hear from most husbands when “the guys” get together, my wife and I have a very healthy sex life.

My wife gets to stay home every day and be with our kids.

I work from home, so no commute or annoying coworkers.

If my wife needs to run to the store during the day, she can do so during naptime while I just keep the baby monitor in the office.

I get to cook dinner every night, often from scratch.

My kids and I enjoy each other’s company every evening, playing with toys or having a laugh-filled dance party several times a week.

We have beautiful children of our own who do behave pretty well during that hour of church.

The list goes on, but again, you get the idea. This isn’t about “how great our lives are compared to everyone else’s”, but more a reminder that even though things feel hopeless and our struggle brings us to our knees several times a week, there are people out there who make great money and would kill to have these things in their lives.

Are you ignoring your riches?

When we compare ourselves, we take the thing that is weakest in our lives and compare it to someone else’s strongest.

It’s stupid. We know we do it. And we do it anyway.

It makes us all miserable. And I won’t spend a bunch of time talking about how social media amplifies it. That’s been done to death.

The only way to change that isn’t to get rid of social media. It’s to focus on gratitude. Regardless of the tragedy in your life, there’s something to be thankful for.

Don’t wait until Christmas or Thanksgiving to think about those things. Spend a little time every day giving thanks for the good in your life. It’s there.

It doesn’t mean the bad things aren’t bad, or that they don’t need to be worked on. But how can you work on the bad things if you don’t appreciate the good things that you already have?

More [blank] won’t make things better

There’s an old adage that says “more money won’t make things better”.

The idea is that, if you struggle managing your money now, then more of it won’t solve your problems. That’s why so many lottery winners wind up penniless, miserable, and – often – dead.

If you can’t find happiness now, then more of what you want won’t make you any happier.

Here’s just a quick list of things that you could possibly be thankful for:

  • If you’re in the United States, you’re probably richer than 90% of the world’s population
  • You have a roof over your head that protects you from the elements
  • You have family
  • You have friends
  • There is love in your life
  • Maybe there is money in your life
  • Your career is headed in the right direction
  • You’re wearing clothes
  • You have internet access, which puts almost all the world’s information and entertainment at your fingertips
  • You have a running car that can take you miles with a push of your foot
  • The sun is shining
  • Snow is falling and it’s beautiful (I will forever maintain that snow is a good thing)
  • You’re breathing
  • You’re relatively healthy
  • You’re not healthy, but you have a path to health in front of you
  • You’re not healthy, but you have access to medical resources that didn’t even exist a few decades ago and you no longer live under an immediate death sentence
  • There’s food in your pantry

Just start getting inventive. List off the most mundane, ridiculous, take-them-for-granted things. Keep going until you’re in a better mood.

Those things that you think everyone has? Not everyone does. And even if they have “everything figured out”, there’s probably something about your life that they envy.

As I build my business and fix my career, this is my main concern. I won’t get anywhere if I keep focusing on what’s not going right. Having a “growth mindset” means I have to believe that life is good and will keep getting better.

Do you struggle with playing the comparison game? (If not, you’re probably lying.) In what ways can you build gratitude into your life now, regardless of your struggles?