Anchors of hope, Encouragement

Z is for Zap the Zebra: The Sting of Comparison (and the Zap Vest)


30 Seconds for Hope – Children get compared, and usually some child comes up short. Slower development. Not as smart. Behaviorally challenged. Have you ever suffered the sting of someone unfavorably comparing your zebra child with the horse herd? Yet differences aren’t wrong. They’re just… different. To be protected from those comparison zaps, you must grab onto a simple, unchanging reality—namely, that being different is okay. How? By putting on the zap-proof vest of knowing that both your child and you are loved and completely accepted by God, who made you.

And now the full story:

Arriving for a play date, Jesse was still wiping his icy boots on the welcome mat when little Matt shouted, “I can run faster than you can!” I was shocked because Matt hadn’t even offered a preliminary “Hi!” before slinging that zap. Ouch!

Moreover, it obviously wasn’t true. At five, Jesse was definitely faster than his four-year-old friend. I quickly entered first-aid mode to bandage the damage. “Jesse runs fast, too,” I countered, but I’d barely gotten out the words before Matt fired again.

“I have more super-heroes than you have!”

Uh, really? Well…maybe…but in the world of preschool comparisons, I happened to know Jesse would definitely come out on top in a showcase of spaceships. And we were only a few seconds into this play date! Already Matt was comparing, and implying, “I am a horse, but you are a zebra.” Zap!

So what was this all about?

Compare. Shoot. Conquer. Four-year-old Matt knew how to play the game of making himself come out on top. It went like this:

I am:




The Perfect Standard for Everyone to Be Measured By.

Therefore, you are:




A Different Sort of Person Who Fails My Measurement.

Often without realizing it adults do the same, and I include myself in that! At some point, most everyone seeks a bit of reassurance by making comparisons and coming out on top (though we grown-ups are usually more sophisticated in our tactics than little Matt). Unfortunately, this means you may have faced the pain of others implying your child doesn’t measure up in some way.

In reality, most of the time it’s not a matter of right or wrong, but it’s just that the child is different. A different style of learning. A different personality. A different rate of progress. A different spaceship collection.

Your child just might be a zebra in a herd of horses, and that’s OKAY. Really!

When my ADHD son had different sleeping patterns than most other babies, I understood he was different. Very different. But my elderly relatives didn’t always understand, and they had their own opinions about it. Their various assessments of my zebra child led to different comments and even contradictory advice:  “Let the baby cry.” “Don’t let the baby cry.” Since I couldn’t do both, my choice was bound to be wrong in someone’s opinion! Ouch.

When this child didn’t read up to speed in second grade, I feared people were comparing him to my firstborn who was an avid reader. I even sometimes found myself comparing them to each other…oh no! Ouch.

The children of my friends have faced all kinds of comparisons.

Too shy

Too outgoing

Too picky about food

Too…red haired! (What!?)

And these moms have faced other comparisons about opinions related to children:

Food allergies

Nutrition for kids (and adults)

Boundaries for children

And believe it or not…affection!

Yep, we’ve all been wounded by someone who fired a zap without realizing the damage it would cause.

Truth be told, we’ve also been wounded by imagining shots that weren’t actually fired. I know I have. I’ve suspected people were looking down on my kids, or me, only to learn later that I’d misunderstood. But even in the world of imaginary offense, that imaginary wound still hurts because it’s the believing of it that brings on the pain. So… Ouch!

When your child is the zebra that’s hit, you feel like your heart might bleed out. And emotionally you might if you don’t insulate those shots with a zap-proof vest. The good news is you can protect yourself from the hurtful opinions of others through confidence in a bedrock truth: you and your child are unconditionally loved by your Creator, right now, regardless of others’ opinions. A Zap Vest!

Others can have their opinions, and even shoot demeaning glances or huffy words, but you can know that God isn’t upset with your child’s differences. He is glad about your zebra child because God makes, and cares about, zebras! God loves His zebras, even throughout the zap attack.

“But they should just stop comparing,” you say. “Then I wouldn’t be hurt.” Yes, that’s definitely true. No hurtful comparisons, no damage done. But since there will always be someone who doesn’t get it, comparisons are inevitable. Because of this, you need to discover some divine protection from hurtful words. Knowing and believing God’s love can protect you! Like Psalm 31 says,

       You shelter [me] in your presence, far from accusing tongues. Praise the Lord, for he has shown me the wonders of his unfailing love. He kept me safe when my city was under attack. Psalm 31:20-21 (NLT)

Others might attack your world, but even during the onslaught, God’s love is unchanging—full of wonder, never ending and never failing. What a promise!

The zaps will still hurt when they happen (a bullet still bruises, even with a bullet-proof vest), but that pain doesn’t mean you aren’t trusting God enough or not remembering God’s love enough. You merely learn to affirm the truth of God’s love while you’re feeling the pain. I’ve experienced this. I have felt stings and sadness from comparisons yet sensed God’s undergirding acceptance at the same time—an acceptance so different from the frowning opinions I sometimes received (or imagined) from friends or family.

And in the end I’ve even had to remember that it’s okay if the comparers, and their children, are different from me because God loves horses, too!

Obviously none of us will ever fully comprehend the extent of God’s great care for us, but every little smidgen of understanding can insulate us from permanent wounds. We understand God made each of us different, and he loves and accepts every horse and zebra he has made. Different is okay.

So when you feel the sting of a zap at your zebra, or a zap at you, don’t forget to put on the Zap Vest of remembering God’s love.

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