It’s not fair!

Over the last week or so, I’ve heard this sentiment several times a day.

“It’s not fair! How come D gets to stay up and play after I go to bed?”

“It’s not fair! How come YOU guys get to stay up after I go to bed?” (Because staying up until midnight doing laundry and dishes is SO MUCH FUN!) 

“It’s not fair! You get to wear whatever you want and I have to wear a uniform.” (Do you know how much time I’d save if I didn’t have to bother with putting together an outfit every morning?) 

“It’s not fair! You have a phone and I don’t.” (Don’t even get me started on that one.)

“It’s not fair! Fill in the blank.

As much as the whining can begin to grate on me after a while, I sure understand where she’s coming from. Her sweet 6-year-old heart aches over what she sees as huge injustices in her little world. Her baby sister is on a different sleep schedule than she is and still needs one last bottle after big sis goes to bed. Mom and Dad stay up way too late catching up on household chores and watching Friends. Mostly watching Friends. She doesn’t get to choose her clothing every morning (thank goodness for that—we’d never get out the door), and she doesn’t have any electronics of her own. To her, it’s all wrong. It’s just… not… fair.

Last fall at church, I heard a sermon about the parable of the workers in the vineyard (the link is at the end of this post if you’re interested). Here’s the passage from Matthew chapter 20:

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

I’m sorry, What? This lesson is tough for me to swallow. I think if I were the worker who sweated my hiney off in the vineyard from 9-5, only to be paid the same as some slacker who showed up at 4 p.m., I’d be ticked too. Who cares that this is the payment I agreed to? That guy didn’t deserve the same pay. I’d have protested. Thrown a fit maybe. Whined about it, definitely. Not fair.

Part of my takeaway from this parable and the sermon that day was the reminder that God’s timetable isn’t our timetable. His rewards aren’t always what we expect or deem fair. But the kicker for me was this: Comparing ourselves to others gets us absolutely nowhere. It’s a complete and total waste of time that will eat away at your joy if you let it.

A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot. —Proverbs 14:30

When my big girl complains about all the things her baby sister gets to do (babies know how to have a good time, right?) or all the freedom grown-ups have (ha.), we try to point out all the things that are awesome about being 6. She can ride a bike, she gets to eat dessert, she can color and paint and create, she can read, she gets to sleep in a bunk bed… as opposed to little sister, who has to take naps and has no teeth and can’t walk, and whose daily dose of fun comes from getting into the cat’s water bowl. At this, E will giggle and say something along the lines of, “Oh yeah!” and skip away happily. And just like that, the moment of utter despair has passed when her focus shifts to the good things in her life and she realizes just how great she has it.

Sometimes I need someone to pull me out of the trap of comparison and what’s fair and what’s not. It’s a deep hole, and when I fall in, it hurts. It’s so easy to slip, too. A friend gets a new car or moves into a bigger house, someone’s husband gets a promotion, the other moms are just so much better at EVERYTHING than I am… the list gets long and things start to spiral out of control in my heart.

Nothing good will come of me comparing my life with someone else’s and dwelling on the it’s-not-fairs. Not to mention what a tragedy it is when I lose sight of all God has given me because I’m too distracted by fretting over what He has given to someone else. So I’m challenging myself—and I’ll challenge you, too. When comparison sneaks in and you want to say in your whiniest voice, “It’s not fair!”, “Why them?”, or “Why not me?”, pause for a moment, and take inventory of God’s gifts in your life. What I’ve found so far is that when I stop to look around at the good things, the people, the relationships in my life, I start feeling very, very silly for being envious… and very, very grateful instead.

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By the way, next time my daughter complains that I get to stay up late and she doesn’t, I’m going to offer to trade with her. 7 p.m. bedtime sounds like a dream to this tired mama.

Listen to Jim Keller’s sermon from The Upside of Down series here. 

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