Closer Than a Sister
Growing up, I always wanted a sister. It's not that I didn't love my brother. I did, and I do. I wouldn't trade my brother for the world. I didn't want a sister instead of a brother but in addition to my brother. I'd watch my mom with her sisters and wish I had a relationship like that. Sisterhood is special, and the sisterhood of believing women is even more special.
Christina Fox, in her newest book, Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ helps Friendships to Flourish, discusses the importance of our friendships with other believers. From the beginning, we were created to live in community with others. It's not good for man or woman to be alone. And that statement goes beyond marriage. Whether or not we are single, married, widowed, or divorced, we need each other. We need friends.
But we also need something more than friendship. Christina points out that the most common analogy used in the New Testament to describe the relationship of believers is one of family. We are brothers and sisters united together in Christ. (34) We are the body, and we need each other.
While we should all be familiar with these concepts, it is easy to forget that we have a real need for relationships with people who know us, in real life. Christina explains that it is tempting for us to look to online relationships to fill our needs. She writes:
The truth is, engaging with people face to face and living life together is a fading reality in our society today. In the past, community was already made for us and we just slipped right in and became a part of it. But today things are different. More people work at home and in isolation from others. We engage with our friends through an intermediary: a phone, device, or a computer. We don't know how to relate to people like we once did. We live life at a top speed and think that a quick text is a realistic substitute for face to face interaction. In this way, social media can be a challenge to Christian community. (169)
Instead of relationships of carefully crafted social media images of ourselves, we need actual people who know us as we really are and whom we know as well. These are people who can share life together with us. As Christina puts it:
Sharing a common life together is not about doing activities but about sharing life. Spiritual Life. It is about working together to bring about God's Kingdom purposes. It is about serving together, helping each other through trials, lifting each other up when we fall, praying for one another, urging one another on in the faith. And ultimately, it is reflecting Christ in our love for one another, imaging Him to the fallen world around us. (55)
Christina explains that this is what sisterhood is all about. It's about meeting physical needs. It's about mourning together and rejoicing together. It's about exhorting and encouraging each other, spurring each other on in the race. And it's about not pretending we have it all together:
How do we pretend? We put on our very best each Sunday morning and respond to each greeting of "How are you?" with a smile, a nod, and an "I am well. How are you?" in return. When in reality, we had one of the worst weeks of our lives. We pretend that life is going smoothly when it is not. We pretend that we have it altogether when we don't. We pretend that we have no struggles, no temptations, and no sorrows. ...
[S]ince we are all broken sinners in need of salvation, why do we pretend otherwise? Why do we pretend that we have no sin? Why do we pretend that we have it altogether [sic] and that we have no doubts, struggles, temptations, or trials? Why do we pretend that our quiet times are always fruitful, that our marriage is thriving, that we have no fears? (106-107)
Of course, it takes time and effort to build the kinds of relationships where we can trust each other with our struggles and fears and needs. It's not always easy, as Christina points out. Not everyone is trustworthy. Sometimes friends hurt us, even our brothers and sisters in the church. When that happens, as it does for most of us at some point, it can be hard to open up and allow others into our lives again. But when we withdraw and isolate ourselves so that we can't get hurt again, we become increasingly lonely, and we miss out on the opportunities God has given us to serve others and to be ministered to.
Christina points out the cyclical nature of these actions. We feel lonely and don't trust others, so we stay away. But because we stay away, we don't get to know anyone, so we feel lonely and don't trust others. (171) The only answer is to go against our instincts to withdraw into ourselves and to seek out the fellowship and friendships that we can have in the body of Christ. (184)
That isn't to say that there is never a time to withdraw. Some individuals and some churches are not safe. In those cases, it is wise to protect yourself and your family by removing yourself from those particular people. But when that has been done, we should still long for and look for good churches and good people who can be true friends and sisters to us.
Our union with Christ will strengthen our desire to be active in the body of Christ. Don't let the sins of others separate you from the joy of community and sisterhood. Christina encourages women to cultivate friendships with others in church through whatever opportunities are available. (152) She reminds us that we all have something to offer. We all have gifts to use. We all have ways to serve each other.
Going back to my point about wanting a sister, I never got a sister from my parents. However, God has most graciously given me many sisters in my life. Some came to me through marriage. Others came through friendships with Christian women that God put in my life. I am extremely thankful for each of these sisters.
These are the sisters who cleaned my house and fed my family when I was sick with hyperemesis. These are the sisters who cried and mourned with me when my daughter died. These are the sisters who rejoiced with me when my sons were born. These are the sisters who have encouraged me and exhorted me to grow in faith. To paraphrase Proverbs 18:24, these are the friends who stick closer than a sister.
I highly recommend Christina's book to all who long for friendship and sisterhood. The book, while focused on women, has application for all believers. It would be helpful for pastors and churches as well. Christina's book is a great reminder of the importance of friendships in the church. We all need friends. We need brothers and sisters. We need the body of Christ.
So dear sisters, when you find yourself struggling to engage in community with others, when you find yourself spiritually weak, when you feel disconnected and all alone, turn back to the Lord. Abide in Him. Fellowship with Him through His word. And then seek encouragement from the sisterhood of faith. (61)