If I could access my public library records from the mid-1980s, one title would pop up repeatedly. I checked it out time and again to revisit one particular illustration: a photograph of two girls, presumably sisters. The older girl is holding a beautiful homemade cake, grinning proudly. The younger girl is also holding a cake, but hers is decidedly less lovely than her sister’s. Her shoulders are slumped, her downcast face turned not to the camera but to the cakes. She is caught in the act of comparison.
I had never seen a picture that more perfectly summed up my young existence.
I have two older sisters. They are smart, beautiful, and talented. I picked up from an early age that their head start on development - paired with their giftedness - meant that I would never match up. My cake would always be the lopsided one. I coped with this by carefully taking left turns whenever I could. They played trumpet; I played trombone. They went out for softball; I stuck to soccer. They took up scrapbooking; I learned to knit. When I couldn’t avoid direct comparison, I spent more time worrying about their cakes than my own, so to speak.
At some point it became obvious to me that this was - and this is a word I use very sparingly - dumb. The nonstop comparison was exhausting and defeating and unhealthy - for me, and for my relationships.
I know I’m not alone with this struggle. Social media offers countless invitations to engage in comparison; last year researchers at the University of Houston connected the dots between depression and Facebook. Some scientists even recommend harnessing the motivating power of comparison by focusing on favorable comparisons.
Perhaps it’s a fool’s errand to fend off such a deeply embedded impulse, but for me it seems imperative to at least try.
I have learned to call foul on myself if I see myself getting too Little Sister - with my actual sisters, or with any of the other unsuspecting people I might start to regard as competition. One of the unexpected places I work on this is on my yoga mat: Humble Warrior is a posture of groundedness, strength, and humility - precisely the opposite of Little Sister.
I thought I was getting better about all of this, until last month, when I had one of the biggest Little Sister moments of my life.
The day after I received the extraordinary news that the renowned pastor and author Eugene Peterson had agreed to write the foreword for Very Married: Field Notes on Love & Fidelity, I received a text from my sister telling me to check Glennon Doyle Melton’s blog. Turns out Love Warrior, her book about marriage, is coming out less than a month before mine.
I had big feelings. Glee, because I am a hardcore Momastery fan and I am eager to read another honest and beautiful book of hers. But also fear. I am scared that there’s only room for one new book about marriage, and the obscure writer being published by the small press is automatically the underdog in that scenario.
After a moment of weepy self-pity, I felt anger. Not with Glennon Doyle Melton, or with the great big unfair world. I was angry with myself, for once again letting comparison pilfer my joy. For going Little Sister.
I took a deep breath and gently adjusted my spiritual posture from Little Sister to Humble Warrior.
I pictured myself standing next to Glennon, both of us offering up our tales of love and redemption with great big smiles on our faces. Knowing we have each written the books only we could write. Hoping that our words would reach the readers who need them. Trusting that we have been faithful to our respective callings.
Caught not in the act of comparison, but celebration.