March 16, 2017

Jess Connolly on Comparison in Friendship

Jess Connolly joined me yesterday to chat about comparison and competition between women, especially those women who are beside us in our real, everyday lives (although we did touch on social media use as well).
Jess is a champion of women and for Jesus. In fact, she's encouraged me--even though we've never met in person--by endorsing my second book, From Good to GraceShe's labored alongside many women, so I wanted to hear from her how she's faced those sneaky temptations of comparison and competition, and what she's learned about friendship in the process. Listen to the audio of our chat or read the transcript below. (I transcribed it for you, dear reader, because there is a bit of a reverberation when Jess speaks....we were on the fly since our Facebook Live chat didn't work.)

CH: Thanks so much for your time. I can't wait to hear everything you have to say about friendship, women, and comparison. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

JC: I have four kids and am married to a church planter. We live in Charleston, SC, and we're church people. I'm your biggest fan, because your first book changed my life. Everyone gave it to me, and I became a big Christine Hoover fan.

CH: That's how I feel about talking to you! I was nervous! But I wanted to talk to you because I see you celebrating women so well. You've been a huge champion for me, even though you don't even know me. I've always appreciated that about you. Because you work so much with other women and you are that way is why I wanted to talk to you today about friendship and comparison. You've probably learned so much through working with other women. You were a co-founder of Influence Network, a co-founder of She Reads Truth, and you co-wrote a book for women, Wild and Free. That's a lot of "co's." I'm sure there have been times where you've struggled with comparison and competing.

I have absolutely struggled with it. I think we all have our own flavor of comparison. I will say that mine isn't social media, but you talk about close up women? That's a different story. I compare myself  most to other women that I'm in close proximity with specifically regarding their gifting. I am a "friend" girl, I'm a lover of women, I'm the kind of person who when you tell your dream to, I say, "Let's do it! I'll do it with you! What do you want to do? Let's make it happen!" I find that this beautiful thing that God's put in me--seeing how He's gifted His daughters--can turn into a gross thing where their gifting is all I can look at.

One of the earliest relationships God used to root out comparison for me is my sister. I have two sisters, one who is three years older than me and one who is 11 years younger than me. My older sister on the outside is seemingly everything that I'm not. I'm 5'4" and curvy with blonde hair, and she's 5'9" and 100 pounds soaking wet with brown hair. We are totally different looking things. We think we're really alike, because we know each other, but if you met us, most people think we're really different. I"m really structured, a big planner, and she's a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kinda gal. We're really different mothers: she never raises her voice. She's super sweet. I always say she's like Snow White. She's not put on, but always happy. I'm melancholy and heavy and a deep thinker. When I was growing up, all I wanted to be was Katie. God used it to lead me to the Lord because she loved Jesus and said, "He's the way," and I said, "Great! I'm in! I'll follow Him too."

I feel like because I had to fight so early on for my own identity and to know who God made me to be, that relationship helped me a ton.

I think the world's answer to comparison is to tell you why you're OK. Oh, your friend has a big house! Well, that's OK, you have a dog. Or your friend is really pretty. Well, that's OK because you're really smart.

The Lord's answer, I think, is to take it too far. When you see something in a woman, encourage her in it. And if you see that attribute and you don't have it, you can think, "Am I supposed to have it?" And if I'm not supposed to have it, then be blessed that she does. We could be so jealous of it, or we could let her bring it into our life. Go to her and say, "You seem to be so joyful. Could you help me with that?'

CH: Don't you think, though, that our common response to people in our life that we really admire is to shrink back from them because they seem to have it so together?

JC: I think that's one response. Hayley and I wrote about this in Wild and Free. She said, "I tend to shrink back and get small." I said "I make noise." When I feel insecure, I enter a room and am like, "Look at me over here!" So I have to watch the other end of the spectrum. If there is a woman that I believe is going to reject me or there is something about her that I feel a tiny bit insecure about, it's my tendency to think, "I don't need you! I'll go over here and make a bunch of noise and it's fine. No big deal!" Instead, I need to get quiet and calm and find out what is going on in my heart and ask myself if I'm loving her well.

CH: Flipping that, are there times when you realize other women are intimidated by you because of your success and your giftedness? How have you handled that?

JC: I don't always do it right. I do struggle with that a lot. And not even because I'm so gifted but because I'm the kind of girl that doesn't have a filter. I have a harder time keeping quiet and buttoned up. I think sometimes specifically with a business, I'm online a lot and that can look like success, but really I'm just sort of saying what's happening.

If people seem intimidated, my response has been two things at the same time: First, I must go to the Lord and ask Him, "Who am I made to be and why am I here?" I'm not made for their praise or their acceptance. Sometimes I cry to my husband about how women might think I'm too Jesus-y. Or I don't always know who I can celebrate wins with. Even with my husband sometimes, I don't want to be too much, because church planting is so slow and arduous and there's no launch day. There is, but it's not extreme. So I have to constantly go to the Lord and say, "Well, this is for you anyway. It's not for them. It's for you."

The second thing is putting on a massive dose of gentleness and humility. The newest thing the Lord's been teaching me is that I'm not too much for Him. Sometimes I actually am too much for people. I shouldn't feel insecure about leaning more into who God made me to be, but sometimes my voice is too loud. Sometimes I do need to get quiet and get gentle and not say everything. Sometimes it is too much for other people.

CH: What do you mean?

JC: Let's put it this way: If I have a friend struggling with infertility, she's not the first person I'm going to send a picture of a positive pregnancy test to, you know? And so I would say that we need to apply that to all areas of our life. We wouldn't call that "shrinking back" or "hiding our joy." We could call that loving her well.

I don't think we hide what God is doing. I don't think we hide our praise of Him. I just think we love people well.

CH: So how do you specifically celebrate friends and draw out what God is doing in them, even if they would think, "Oh, I look at Jess and I think what I'm doing is very small?" Are there specific ways that you try to celebrate others?

JC: Success for me in life is knowing my friends' coffee drink. If sometime in the last six months or so, I've brought it to them without them asking, that's success for me. If I have three women whose coffee order I know and on a random Tuesday can pop in with it, then we're winning.

On top of that, there are two ways I celebrate friends and invite friendship: I ask them how their hearts are, and I confess to them how my heart is doing, even if they don't ask.

Especially in church ministry, that's often an issue--that others don't ask the leader how their heart is. Many women ask, "How do I find women who love me well?" I say, "You love them well and you ask them to love you well." When I get done with a conversation and they stand up to go, I say, "Next time, it would mean a lot to me if you asked me how my heart is."

CH: Do you actually say that?

JC: I literally do.

CH: I love that. I would be afraid to say that, but that's what I want people to know sometimes.

JC: They always say, "Oh, I just assumed you have people who ask you that. You have your husband and you're in ministry." I say, "I want to give you the eggs in my basket." That's the phrase I use. "I want you to be able to hold them with me. I want to tell you how I'm doing, and that I need you." I think we empower people by being needy with them, by saying how we could use prayer, or asking them to take our kids, or asking them to pick something up for us at the store. When you say that to a friend, they're usually more than glad to do it.

CH: As women, I think that's our biggest struggle in friendship. We're afraid to say, "I'm in need." You just wrote an Instagram post where you talked about almost berating yourself in the middle of running a marathon because you needed help from others. How do we get past that thought that says, "Don't be that person. Don't be needy. Be a giver, not a needy person?"

JC: By acting on it a few times and realizing that it blesses people. We all know people who know how to be needy. I think we're all scared that we're that person. I think we ask our friends: "Am I being that person? Did I take it too far?" Then let them speak into it.

The marathon is such a great example because I was saying inwardly to myself, "I don't want anyone to feel this." I don't want anyone else to feel the weight of it. I wonder if you've felt that way about writing books?

CH: This is how I feel about everything. Why would you hide the weight you're carrying? I know why I do it, but why do you do it?

JC: I think I didn't want my friends to have to cheer me on. I didn't want to be the needy one. I think anytime we're stepping out in leadership, we don't anyone to say, "Maybe you can't handle this." The truth is I can't handle it. I have to do it in community. The marathon is the perfect example. I was going to run it with the friends I'd planned to run it with and not tell anyone else. It was going to be no big deal. I'll have a meeting right afterwards, it will totally be fine. I have a photo shoot in the afternoon, no big deal, it's great. That's what I told myself.

The Lord knew better. He let me have a complete emotional breakdown in the middle of the marathon. My husband of course said, "I'm coming, no matter what." My friend Rachel said, "I'm coming, no matter what." Sure enough, ten miles in, I was weeping and asked them to run the whole rest of the way with me. It was a great reminder. If we're going to do things for the Lord that are outside of ourselves, we're going to be needy.

CH: A lot of times we look at others who are doing a lot and think they have it all together. I think it's good for everyone to realize that we're all in the same boat. It's just that we have different giftings. If we can look at other people like that and say, "Jess has these giftings and God is using her. I need to use my giftings, though they may be different." But we all need each other's support in that, no competition, no shrinking back. We also need to tell each other the truth about what it's like to walk in those giftings.

JC: Yes, if anyone is listening and they think, "Oh, I'm just doing laundry," well I need that too. I need the people on a random Tuesday maybe more than I need someone during a marathon.

We have to continually praise the Lord for what we have. If we really believe God, even if we have less in comparison in an area, can we just say, "God, I have you! You've redeemed me. You've given me a purpose and a hope, and I'm going to call this blessed and I'm going to call this abundance." When I look at another woman, I want to love her well. And I'm not loving her well if I'm saying, "She shouldn't have that," or "She has that, but why don't I?"

With social media comparison, people say, "Just don't follow that person on social media." But I say maybe press in and look at her life and thank God for it. Or maybe ask God for eyes to really see her as a human. Press into why you're comparing yourself. Know this isn't an Instagram issue that can be solved when you unfollow, because then when you go to church, you'll compare yourself to the person right next to you. We need to press in and see why we're responding the way we are.

CH: We all have the same hopes and hurts. We're the same. It doesn't matter what our lifestage  is or whether we're married or not. I think pressing in to actually getting to know people who you've assumed things about really helps. Jess, any last words about friendship? What is your biggest piece of advice to women about friendship?

JC: Be the friend you want. If you want a friend, don't spend one moment bemoaning that you don't have them; go be one! If you want someone to speak life into you, go speak life into someone else. If you say, "No one's asked me how they can pray for me in the last six months," ask someone else how you can pray for them. If you need someone to help you with your kids, go serve someone else and help with theirs.

I don't think that's a cop out. I don't think that's pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. I think that's how we build community. Someone has to start. We're all leaders. We're all ambassadors.

Find Jess on Instagram (@jessaconnolly), Twitter (@jessaconnolly), or at You can also order her book, "Wild and Free" here:

The release date for my book is a month away! Preorder Messy Beautiful Friendship and then head here to grab preorder goodies, including an interview with Jen Wilkin on when friendship goes wrong and the first two chapters of the book!