Iíve recently been thinking about what it means to be a sister, to relate to other Christian women as my sisters in Christ, and to express to them my love, esteem, and care for them as women of God. Why talk about sisterhood? I believe itís a gift which God wants his women to cherish and foster. My experience is that many young women today have not yet discovered what a great gift sisterhood is Ė how truly good it can be. A variety of circumstances make it difficult for Christian women to find priority time for developing strong supportive relationships among their sisters in the Lord. Many young women have lots of virtual friends through cyber-space, email, and cell phones. But these canít replace the personal dimension of being together to pray, love, support, encourage, and call one another on as women of God and sisters in Christ.
I believe that for women, sisterhood is crucial for living a vital and fruitful Christian life. One of the main ways women learn how to be godly women is from other godly women! I have learned so much about what it means from living in a single womenís household during my four years of involvement in University Christian Outreach, the Summer Internship Program, and Detroit Summer Outreach. My current living situation with two other Christian women is another example of the benefits of sisterhood. We pray and share our faith openly. My ability to live out my own call to love others and to grow in holiness, is greatly enhanced because of their example and support.
Often in the area of sisterhood what we put into it is frequently what we get out of it. If I come distracted and preoccupied with my own needs, concerns, and preferences, it will be very difficult to focus my attention on the needs and concerns of my sisters. Itís understandable that we may be tired from working all-day and have limited energy left for engaging in an in-depth relationship with others. But even with these limitations, I can choose to have an attitude that is other focused and willing to give what I have for the sake of my sisters. In reality, we receive sisterhood only by first being a sister to those around us.
Recipe for sisterhood
What inner characteristics or dispositions do we ourselves need in order to be good sisters to others? Here are a few. The first are faith and trust. These allow us to rely on Godís promises and provision for us and therefore we are unafraid. When we lack faith and trust we become self-seeking, stingy, selfish, and grasping. We fail to love. Second we need love: The type of love that gives me the ability to serve outside of myself, place God and others first and myself third. We want to have the disposition of doing all the good to others that we can. This attitude of self-less service, kindness, and doing good deeds is unusual in todayís world and has the power to transform those around us. Third we need quietness and strength, the inner attitude of calmness and peacefulness in our hearts. This disposition is born from faith and trust in God. It helps us to be open to learning, growing, and be persuaded towards holiness, service, and love. Our wish to learn and grow is driven by our desire to be acceptable to God rather than the world around us. Looking to God for acceptance frees us from competition and comparisons, thereby allowing us to more fully give of ourselves and love others.
Sisterhood may come with a cost or inconvenience to one's self but the reward, the joy, that comes from giving of self far outweighs the cost. Luke chapter one, for example, recounts the story of Mary's visit to Elizabeth. Immediately after the angel Gabriel left her, Mary "got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-40)." Mary stayed with Elizabeth for "about three months (Luke 1:56)." Making a journey, living in another town, and caring for her pregnant relative while being newly pregnant herself cannot have been easy. However, the joy Elizabeth and Mary find in supporting one another and being together is clear and reciprocal. Elizabeth is built up and inspired by Mary's faith in God's ability to do what he has promised. Mary likewise is built up and inspired by witnessing God's activity in Elizabeth's life. We all need to experience this type of sisterhood in order to remember and remind each other that our hope and our faith is in the Lord, "for nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37)."
Ruth and Naomi, painting by Sandy Freckleton Gagon
The story of Ruth and Naomi from the Old Testament Book of Ruth, is another example of two women who walked in obedience to God and supported each other in being faithful to God. In particular, Ruth supported Naomi by going to the fields and gleaning grain to provide food for Naomi. Naomi was not a young woman and could not do this for herself. Additionally, the Book of Ruth (Chapter 2, verse 11), explains how Ruth cared for her mother-in-law when her husband had passed away. Ruth left her father and mother and her homeland for Naomiís sake and came to live with Naomiís people, who were Israelites, a people she did not know before. There may be times when we might find ourselves in Ruth's or Naomi's shoes. Like Naomi we sometimes find ourselves in situations where we cannot provide or care for ourselves. In such circumstances, we need to accept the service of others, whether that be requesting others to intercede on our behalf or requesting practical, tangible services. Like Ruth we may be in a position to offer some personal service for another person in need. Hopefully our service and expression of love will be visible to others and be a witness to the joy that comes from being obedient to God.
My own appreciation for sisterhood has developed over time. My first real opportunity for experiencing sisterhood was during a summer household I had in University Christian Outreach. I didn't initially like the experience of living so closely with a group of other single women. It was difficult to be intentionally vulnerable and to build relationships with women I might not have naturally been inclined towards. I soon discovered that I had the wrong attitude. I was surprised at how being willing to be vulnerable allowed others to be vulnerable in return. Once we were able to share honestly, trust was built. It allowed us to truly know one another and be loved as sisters. There was safety and freedom in that level of knowing another and being known in return. Today, I am still friends with these women, even though many of them live far away in other cities and countries. We still keep in contact and continue to support each other in our walks with the Lord, even though we are not able to see each other very often. At the beginning, sisterhood felt less like a gift and more like work. But the decision to pursue being a sister to my sisters has proved invaluable.
As women we are naturally inclined to be very sensitive and aware to spiritual things, and we can be quickly inspired. We read atmosphere, body language, and have a sense for emotions and the unspoken. We have unique gifts that are essential for building unity in the body (conversely we can also, if we choose, pull the body apart, make divisions, and cause disunity through bad speech, gossip, back-biting, etc.). We are naturally disposed to emphasize the personal dimensions of relationships, to reach out and make personal connections, and to form loyal friendships. As women we create a supportive environment that fosters growth, safety, and cares for the well-being of others.
Such an intentionalal approach can feel somewhat counter-intuitive, as though somehow by being intentional we are being disingenuous. I would argue, instead, that by being intentional we are showing how important this area really is to our Christian life. Furthermore, being intentional about this area allows us to develop habits of relating. Hopefully after behaving like a sister I will also start to feel more sisterly, and these behavior patterns will become much more my automatic response.