When I was a little girl, there was this dress. It was so deliciously light pink. It came down to the ground, and it had ruffles around the bottom and the neckline and the sleeves. It was my favorite dress ever.
But it didn’t belong to me. It belonged to a girl who was in my Sunday school class for all my growing up years named Joy. Joy, the girl who hardly ever smiled. But that dress she had! She was often late to class, and she flounced in wearing that dress and a sullen expression. To me, it said, “I am so above the rules and all of you. I have The Dress.” I don’t know if all the other girls had looks of pure envy mixed with defeat at the same time, but I know my face did. And Joy wore that dress every single week. Every week! Not once, in all my days of going to church in various dresses, did I have the nicest dress on in the class. Joy always won.
Needless to say, Joy and I weren’t friends. She had some older brothers I was scared of and she had The Dress, so there was pretty much no chance. Also, she was a lot taller and stronger looking than me; I was thoroughly cowed by her in all respects.
Why am I spend any time at all as an adult thinking about Joy and her dress? Well, the desire and struggle for true friendship is a big deal right now. It’s a topic on social media- how social media isn’t a good substitute or how it destroys good friendships. It’s been coming up at MOPS meetings and in books. And it’s been coming up in mothering a six-year-old girl who is experiencing the up and down emotions of being a friend and making friends. Authentic friendship is a work of art, and it does take work. Mostly, it takes working on ourselves and how we view others.
One of my friends from our home church spoke at MOPS last week, and it jogged my childhood memories of feeling less than and unworthy. She spoke about the way comparison knocks women off their feet. She asked what it would look like if women stood strong in who God created them to be, as individuals, with different strengths and weaknesses. All of us in that room were moved. We heard the familiar quote from Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and for some reason, it struck me in a new way. It made me think about the person Joy and her dress from long ago. And all of a sudden, I’m realizing quite a few things that are striking me pretty hard now about Joy. In fact, they are almost slapping my face raw.
Joy wore the same dress every week. I interpreted that as a refusal to wear anything but The Dress. But what if, actually, she only had one church dress??? I had about ten every given year of my life, and there were some especially lovely ones. This was the deep South in the 90s, after all. Did I completely lose the delight I had in my own dresses just because Joy had the perfect dress for a year or two?
More importantly, though, I never even considered that Joy could actually be a friend. I already had some pretty great friends, but Joy’s dress made me feel demeaned, less than, and so I decided in my little girl brain that she probably wanted nothing to do with me. She didn’t need or want me, clearly. She never smiled and she never talked to me and she had the dress.
But what if I had smiled at her? What if I had said, “I like your dress.”?
Comparison is more than the thief of joy. Comparison is a wall blocking the path to true friendship. I completely missed out on being Joy’s friend when I was a little girl. I completely missed out on being thankful and delighted in my own dresses. I completely missed out on sharing love (at church!) with someone else, all because I let a dress make me feel unworthy.
I still see Joy pop up sometimes on social media, and she looks like such a fun, delightful person. It makes me wonder how many other people I think could never want to be my friend because they have [fill in the blank]– a nicer house, a perfect wardrobe, well-behaved and calm children, you name it. And then I think of another thing my friend said at MOPS: “Why would you want all your friends to be just like you?”
How boring. How stagnant. How impossible.
May we be people who see the good things in others and speak words of encouragement when we see it, not words of “I wish I could” or “I am so bad at that.” May we be people who admit when we could use some help. “You are so good at meal planning! Tell me your secrets!” May we be people who will accept encouragement when we receive it ourselves!
May we be true friends.