One of the most helpful things OCD ended up revealing about me was that I have a tendency to moralize preferences. Quite honestly, I think this is a huge issue for modern women and you don’t have to be on the brink of a mental illness to be caught in the comparison trap. What do I mean by moralizing preferences? Well we live in an age where you have information and opinions available to you about everything. Some of this information we use to make decisions is strictly opinion or isn’t quality, but nonetheless most of us have immediate access to information that we used to not have access to for the purposes of educating ourselves about a variety of topics. The term “google” is now an accepted verb in our society, sometimes as simplistically accepted as the verbs run or eat or swim. So, we do as much research as we want, and then we form our opinions or view things as facts. We decide what we think is “right” for us. Examples of this are where and how you choose to have your baby (home, birth center, hospital, ob, midwife, natural birth, epidural), what kind of food you choose to eat (preservatives, natural, organic, local, frugal, paleo), where you choose to live (urban, suburban, city, country, midtown, north, south, east, west), or your education preferences (homeschooled, public, private, community college, classical education, university).
For me, I have a hard time choosing “rights” because I usually see the pros and cons in all options which generally leads to difficulty in making a decisions. I just want to make the best decision. I look at others lives and see what they choose and sometimes I feel guilty I didn’t choose that or wonder if I should choose that. When OCD kicks in, I am overcome with fear that I didn’t chose a certain way or ping-pong back and forth between what is right and wrong. It’s quite mentally exhausting and can be crippling in decision-making. Then to make it more complicated if I’m forced in some instance to choose a way or at least decide what way I would choose, I have a tendency to judge others who don’t choose that way or get irritated at others who choose differently than me who I think “make me feel” like I didn’t choose right by the way they continue to promote their preferences. This complicated mess is what happens when we moralize choices.
Now to be clear, I believe in absolute truth. I’m not talking about core doctrine here. I’m talking about the everyday ways we choose to live our lives. How we have a tendency to compare ourselves with the people who dress differently than us, style their house differently than us, eat differently than us, raise kids or birth babies differently than as us….the ways we live our preferences in everyday choices are endless. And they can be divisive, too. Particularly when we make morally important what is actually morally neutral or amoral. It’s what through the Bible we have labeled as legalism, adding to God’s law.
When OCD became a stronghold in my life, I was living in Arlington, VA. If you don’t know much about Arlington, VA, it’s across the river from DC and one of the wealthiest counties in the country. It’s an area were most people are highly educated and that means people are highly educated about their preferences, too. It’s where I first learned about organic food, birth center & home births, and specialty grocery stores & CSA. It’s where I heard about classical education in homeschooling and went to Pinterest parties galore. People live their lives in Arlington in a particular way they have chosen. It’s not all the same, but it’s intentional.
While intentional isn’t bad, and I think it is important to be educated and decisive about options, it can become a problem if A) you become burdened by the weight of trying to live up to others ways of living B) you judge others for not living up to the standards you have created for yourself and/or C) you find yourself only associating or being friends with people who have the same preferences as you. I think many of us vacillate at times between A, B, or C. We judge Sally for not educating or disciplining her kids correctly yet fall into despair because Samantha is better than us at raising her kids. We look at Suzy and think she should eat better, but are inwardly jealous of Sara because she is super fit and eats better than us. We pray fervently that God would provide us friends that we can relate to and many times by relate, we mean people who live in the same neighborhood, eat the same food, are in the same season of life, and educate their kids the way we do. And then we feel guilty about it all because we realize we are overwhelmed and can’t even live up to the ways of life we choose for ourselves.
But, rarely is life meant to be lived in the world of either/or. I think that is why the bible magnifies mystery and paradox. Romans 14 specifically addresses not passing judgment about certain preferences, as well as walking in love toward others when there are different preferences involved. We must never forget “none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:7-8). The simple fact is that whatever decisions we make, we make them before our Maker and we are His. Our life mission is not to try to reconcile each other to our preferences. Our life mission is to try to help reconcile each other to our Maker.
We don’t have to settle for either/or when we can have more of the Lord with both/and, somewhere in the middle. CS Lewis* said “the more we share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have.” I’ve come to learn that the Heavenly bread is much more than manna, cheap bread from the store, gluten free, or organic fresh-baked. But, thanks can be given to the Lord for all of this bread. We need to see that we get more of the Lord when we open our hearts to love others who have different preferences from ourselves.
So, we can celebrate that our friend has joy and creates and sets a Pinterest worthy table to her style and preference (even when it isn’t ours), as well as celebrate when our friend has chosen minimalist life and has us over and we eat on paper plates and her house is a mess. We learn to be content in both settings simply because we are with a friend and we are comfortable with ourselves in the Lord to celebrate who they are and not try to be them. We can celebrate when a new life is born in a hospital with an epidural and at home without one. Either way, it’s an absolute miracle to be celebrated! We can also educate ourselves on our preferences, but loosen our grip to include a friend in our life who eats food with preservatives or a friend who drinks raw milk. And have them both over and cook the way we have chosen for our family and have faith that the call to grace-filled hospitality is greater than the weight of our expectations or preferences. Or we can freely cook a dish or set a table in a way that is different from our own preferences but we know would bless a friend by meeting their preferences. We don’t have to hold a guilt of performance to others expectations and ways of life but we don’t have say “it’s my way or no way” either. We can celebrate both ways. Because the greater call should always win. Love and grace are always greater than any one of my or your preferences.
*CS Lewis wrote this in The Four Loves, found quoted in Prayer by Tim Keller (pg. 119).