Our kids, like most kids, enjoy a healthy dose of competition in their everyday life. Races to be the first one finished with dinner or the first one in pajamas occur often, followed by our four-year-old son saying something to the effect of “Actually, the last one in pajamas wins,” grasping for some sort of victory.
Now some days competition and tallies become a beast all their own, and my day begins to feel a bit like a Berenstain Bears book. The book could be titled something clever like The Berenstain Bears and the Trouble with Keeping Score. One day in particular, I spent all day reassuring my children:
“You each have six grapes and four strawberries.”
“No, he did not watch a show before you woke up this morning.”
“I’m sorry he got to pick two books tonight and you only picked one, but your book was much longer than his two.”
It was exhausting, and I handled it a bit like Mama Bear. I yelled, “In this family, we don’t keep score. It isn’t helpful, and it isn’t how Jesus would want us to behave.” My delivery could have been better, but the truth was there.
The next day I apologized to my children, and we calmly talked about what it means to keep score and how exhausting it can be. I asked them if keeping score was the best way to love our neighbors or to love Jesus. And I told them a secret. I don’t love them differently because of keeping score. I don’t pay attention to who completed their chores in the timeliest fashion or who replied “Yes, ma’am” to the majority of my requests throughout the day in order to pick a favorite.
We are born wanting to keep score.
In childhood, we want our toys and treats and play time and screen time to be fair and equal. As adults, we fight the urge to compare our salaries and the size of our houses. As parents and spouses, we find ourselves seduced by the notion of equality in housework and childcare and emotional and mental burdens.
Even the disciples wanted Jesus to designate rank and explain his tally method. In Matthew 18, “the disciples came to Jesus, saying , ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’” (v. 1). It’s nice to know even the disciples struggled with this issue. Jesus’ response, though, points out why the subject is such a challenge for them, and why we struggle with it too. There, Jesus holds a little child up as an example of the greatest in heaven. It’s the one who humbles themselves, who empties themselves of their pride and incessant need to be the greatest or to even be treated with respect, that Jesus wants us to emulate.
Early in our marriage, my husband and I did a little score keeping. One particular day, it led to an uncomfortable bout of bickering. That day, after some tears, some honest communication, and many apologies, we decided we wouldn’t keep score anymore. It is a good motto for our marriage as we learn what it means to love one another as Christ loves us.
Keeping score is rooted in a need to be the winner, which means another person has to lose. That isn’t love, at least not the kind we read about in 1 Corinthians 13. There Paul tells us that love “does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (vv. 5–7).
When you keep score in life, nobody wins. Keeping score takes energy away from the important things. It means I am spending my time keeping track of the rights and wrongs of others and myself. It puts me in a place of judgment. If I am going to bear and believe and hope and endure alongside my neighbor, keeping score simply isn’t an option.
Scripture: ESVScripture: ESV©.
We’ll never fully be able to stop keeping score. But God loves us anyway. Read a free chapter of Patience and Perfection, which reassures us that God loves us despite our sinfulness.