I’m not an early adopter, and I’m not particularly savvy when it comes to social networking. I’m on Facebook, which makes me about as culturally hip as your mom, and I’m trying to get the gist of Twitter without getting cranky about it (#overtweetersannoyme). But there is now a network that beckons to me with a hypnotic power that I find myself unable to resist: the vast and glittering world of Pinterest.
For the uninitiated (most likely, men), Pinterest is “an online pinboard where you can organize and share the things you love”—at least, that’s how the Pinterest homepage describes it. While this description is adequate, I have come to the realization that it is not unlike describing childbirth as “an experience at the end of your pregnancy during which you expel a baby from your uterus”—technically accurate, yet tragically oversimplified.
Epic in scope, breathtaking in simplicity and utterly, hopelessly addictive, Pinterest actually represents a handy, online measuring stick where I can gauge my own effectiveness as a woman, mother and wife against that of other women. And there’s even a mobile app for this, people. I am completely and utterly hooked.
With just a few keystrokes on my laptop or taps on my phone screen, I am drawn into a portal of dizzying creativity and beauty and ingenuity. Within a span of about four minutes I have identified scores of recipes I want to cook, organizational tips that I want to incorporate, crafts that I want to make, skills that I want to learn, outfits that I want to assemble, nail polish colors I want to buy, hairstyles that I want to try and babies that I want to cuddle because, "OMG, look at that baby, it is dressed like an adorable little ________________[fill in the blank with: sock monkey or porcupine or mermaid or owl or cupcake or turtle … ]." Seriously, I remember when baby pictures like these were found exclusively in coffee table books. Apparently, every young mom in America now sidelines as a professional children’s photographer.
I’m sure for some out there the Pinterest experience begins and ends as a fun and helpful diversion. These women are those well-balanced individuals whom I respect and admire—and with whom I have little in common. For me, Pinterest browsing easily makes the almost imperceptible shift from wide-eyed inspiration into troubled comparison. Suddenly, I realize that every other woman in the virtual room is more stylish, more clever, more organized and certainly more able to construct a coffee table out of a shipping pallet, make all her own liquid soap and laundry detergent, tie a scarf 15 different ways, find 37 different uses for upcycled T-shirts, and crochet whimsical beanies for her infant, who she then poses for the most adorable pictures.
During a recent Pinterest browsing session, it occurred to me that the Pinterest woman is this generation’s Proverbs 31 woman, that biblical model of virtuous femininity whose domestic awesomeness has intimidated Christian women through the ages. The parallels are obvious. Like Pinterest woman, Proverbs 31 woman is crafty, savvy, stylish and industrious. I’m fairly confident that had the Internet existed in the sixth century B.C., the Proverbs 31 woman would have had both a super-fun blog and a rockin’ Etsy store. And get this, conspiracy theorists—Pinterest offers 31 categories, ranging alphabetically from Architecture to Wedding & Events. Thirty-one! Coincidence? I think not.
Of course, the fact that the Proverbs 31 woman was included in the biblical canon leads me to believe that her existence is not meant to embitter my soul, just as the wonderfully creative women who I encounter on Pinterest are not meant to exploit my insecurity. Nevertheless, when I find myself in the company of other women, whether flesh and blood, virtual or even biblical, I shift reflexively into comparison mode. Subconsciously, the question persists: How do I measure up?
Comparison is an ugly thing, for a lot of reasons. Namely, it prompts me to make snap judgments about other women based on external factors, without taking into account such intangibles as “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:4). There’s not a Pinterest category for that, by the way. Comparison also shares a bitter root with regret, enticing me to reflect on the ways I have fallen short in everything from properly arranging the frames in my entryway to parenting my children. A steady diet of comparison and regret has the effect of slowly shriveling my soul to the approximate size and consistency of a lump of coal. Buried in dark recesses of the cold, hard ground of bitterness, I brood over all of my perceived shortcomings, sealed off from light and laughter and life-sustaining air.
I don’t have this whole comparison thing figured out yet. What I do know is that cultivating contentment in my life goes a long way toward choking out the root of comparison. What’s more, “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6), regardless of whether I ever manage to arrange my mantel as cute as everybody else’s. Another helpful step toward contentment and sanity is actually getting to know other women. It is vastly more difficult for me to see someone as no more than the sum of her perfectly fitting jeans and her great hair and her impeccably dressed toddler when I hear her honestly share her story. Comparison ties me up in knots by distracting me from this basic truth: life is messy and wobbly and very, very fragile, and none of us has it all together, no matter how crafty or thrifty or organized we may be. That’s why the abundant life that Jesus offers actually matters. When I let the light of that truth shine down into the narrow mine shaft of my heart, I can suddenly breathe again, and my hard little lump of coal soul begins to soften and expand. When I stop comparing, I discover the freedom to celebrate creativity and beauty without feeling threatened by it. It’s a process that is coming slowly.
My friend Jody, bemused by the Pinterest frenzy that is currently sweeping the nation, declared recently that we all need a “Pintervention.” She’s probably right. My own personal Pintervention involves heavy doses of grace and perspective along with a release from any expectation that I will ever actually attempt any of the projects that I so eagerly pin. It’s very freeing. Although I did take home a discarded shipping pallet from the office last week, so if the urge does strike to craft a homemade coffee table, I’m good to go.
Allison Harrell is a wife, mom of four and staff member at Preston Trail Community Church in Frisco, Texas. When she’s not working, carpooling, cleaning house or pinning, Allison blogs at momontherun.com.