Love Your Sister

It’s been said before: God must derive a considerable amount of amusement in the outworking of some of his providences. That I have three daughters has to be near the top of the list. 

I grew up with three brothers—lovely chaps. I can put a worm on a hook with finesse, low-crawl through a field with a 3-foot long stick strapped to my back, and sustain mocking and teasing (“we’re just building character in her, mom”) without shedding a single tear because showing weakness was like tossing red meat to caged and hungry lions. But I didn’t try make up until my senior portraits were taken. I didn’t learn how to braid hair until I was twenty. And sibling moments were usually punctuated with jokes about flatulence. 

My education in sisterhood was pretty limited. I assumed these female offspring were just extensions of me, an assumption that was only occasionally challenged by my oldest daughter because, even though she didn’t like seafood and she couldn’t imagine being a journalist, most of our preferences and reactions and habits are pretty similar. But these two younger girls . . . they are not very much like me, and more baffling than that, they are not like each other at all!

When Joy and Hope were little—toddlers and up through preschool days—often I would hover just out of sight and listen to their play time in the front room among their Polly Pockets or tiny animals or piles of dress up clothes, alternatively whispering, giggling and squealing. I’d stop whatever it was that I was doing and just listen. I was growing accustomed to this strange new sound—sisters being sisters together—and I never tired of the joy it brought me. Because I know how quickly little sinners can manifest their natures, I would try to gauge the tenor of the voices and move quickly to intervene if it sounded like the mood was about to turn or go downhill, hurrying into the room to suggest other activities. I’d whisper urgently, “You girls don’t know how blessed you are to have each other. I never had a sister, someone closer than anyone else, someone who will know you longer than anyone else, who could be your best friend for the rest of your lives. Don’t mess this up. Love your sister.”

Sometimes we’d turn the squabbles into teaching moments. One year for the church’s annual Reformation party, we dressed them as Euodia and Syntyche and pinned Paul’s Philippians 4:2 exhortation to their costumes: “Agree in the Lord.” 

For the most part, however, they couldn’t be parted. For a while they shared a full sized bed, but even after we moved them into their own bunks, we’d still find them in the morning in the same bed, all the stuffed animals in the room lined up as a makeshift wall down the middle. Together but separate. Sleepovers had to include both of them, not just to keep the peace about favoritism, but because the one left at home would weep pitifully at the absence of the other. You can be sure we have wondered what would happen the day we send the older one off to college.

Well, we’re less than a year from that day of departure, Lord willing, and I’d like to say the younger wlll woefully mourn and wail, but I’m afraid I would be less than truthful. Together is more forced these days; separate is more often the rule. Each would probably still consider the other her best friend — I know they tell secrets to each other that they don’t share with others, or even me (and, yes, they know to break the silence in situations that are unsafe). But there are many days of arguments and annoyances. Just yesterday morning I went into my son’s presumably vacant bedroom and found one of the girls asleep in there. “Why are you sleeping in your brother’s room?” “Because we needed a little space,” she said. I was sad, but this is reality. Still, I wish they could see what I remember and be smitten with the sweetness and bonding that happened then. Love your sister. Love is patient and kind. Love bears all things.

The mystery of this relationship has been woven into stories and legends and poems and songs. So often it’s simply implied, never explained, which leaves me still floundering in the dark.

That’s the best thing about little sisters: They spend so much time wishing they were elder sisters that in the end they’re far wiser than the elder ones could ever be. ―Gemma Burgess

My sisters were the color and noise in my black-and-white boy world — how I pitied my friends who had brothers. ―Rob Sheffield

There were once two sisters
who were not afraid of the dark
because the dark was full of the other’s voice
across the room,
because even when the night was thick
and starless
they walked home together from the river
seeing who could last the longest
without turning on her flashlight,
not afraid
because sometimes in the pitch of night
they’d lie on their backs
in the middle of the path
and look up until the stars came back
and when they did,
they’d reach their arms up to touch them
and did.
―Jandy Nelson

What are sisters for if not to point out the things the rest of the world is too polite to mention. ―Claire Cook

She wouldn’t climb out of the bed for her sister, but she had climbed into a crater. She wouldn’t cross a room, but she had crossed a continent. ―Anthony Marra

“I’m not going anywhere,” she told me that night. But until we are old ladies—a cypress age, a Sawtooth age—I will continue to link arms with her, in public, in private, in a panic of love. ―Karen Russell

Back in time it seemed that having a sister were a tragedy. Instead it is one of the best presents my parents could have ever given me. ―Sara Anzellotti

“Come on Grace, I’m not going to tell on you. I’m your sister.” And that’s all she has to say. ―Robin Epstein

I do not mourn the loss of my sister because she will always be with me, in my heart,” she says. “I am, however, rather annoyed that my Tara has left me to suffer you lot alone. I do not see as well without her. I do not hear as well without her. I do not feel as well without her. I would be better off without a hand or a leg than without my sister. Then at least she would be here to mock my appearance and claim to be the pretty one for a change. We have all lost our Tara, but I have lost a part of myself as well. ―Erin Morgenstern

My sister is the one person who truly knows me, as I know her. The last thing May says to me is “When our hair is white, we’ll still have our sister love.” ―Lisa See

For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather; 
To cheer one on the tedious way, 
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down, 
To strengthen whilst one stands.
―Christina Rossetti

The March girls sacrificed for one another. The real life Brontes provided their sisters a listening ear and literary critique in an early version of a writer’s workshop. Jane Austen honored her love for her own sister Cassandra in two of her novels:  Elizabeth regarded Jane Bennet as the more noble of the two in Pride and Prejudice, and in my favorite sisterly duo, Elinor Dashwood suppressed her own happiness for the sake of the younger Marianne. Love your sister. Love does not insist on its own way.

However, look at the pictures we’re given in Scripture: Leah and Rachel who married the same man—now there’s a formula for trouble, and trouble indeed coursed through the lives of these women. There is no biblical evidence at all of their having words of kindness or love for one another. And we read of Martha tattling on Mary in the gospel accounts, which the Lord instead turned into a rebuke and an exhortation about different roles and different callings—about grace. Love your sister. Love is not irritable or resentful. Love does not envy or boast.

I’ve thought about how my deficiency in sisters could possibly have factored into a rocky relationship with biblical womanhood. Have I lived vicariously through the relationships of sisters I observe, considering that to be enough while I critique the community of Christian women safely from a distance?  Rather than committing myself to loving them with the love of Christ, imparting to them his grace and causing them to grow in him, do I shrug it off as just not being very girly, as “not fitting in”? Would a true examination of the heart reveal it’s more self-preservation than self-denial?  Love your sister. Love is not arrogant or rude.

A lack of experience is no excuse for disregarding Christ’s law, which is undeniably in favor of love among the brethren, requires those who love God to care for the lowly, oppressed and poor, and is very specific about how we women obey that command among ourselves.

Love disregards self and focuses on the other. 1 Cor. 13:4,7Gal. 5:13-15
Love increases as faith abounds. 2 Thess. 1:3
Love does not consider others more highly than ourselves. 1 Cor. 13:4-5, Ja. 2:1-7
Love stirs another up to love and to serve others. Hebrews 10:24-25
Love causes his love to be perfected in us, and he abides in us. 1 John 4:12
Love knows that Christian affection illumines God’s truth. 1 Cor. 13:6
Love is the insignia we bear as a body of believers. John 13:35
Love that abounds in knowledge and discernment produces righteousness. Phil. 1:9-11
Love is showing others how to view life through a biblical perspective. Titus 2:3-4
Love is possible because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19
Love grows out of unity with Christ as fruit of his Spirit. Gal. 5:22
Love displayed gives the believer a foretaste of eternity. 1 Cor. 13:8
Love deals with sin and provides our sisters an opportunity to repent. 1 Peter 4:8
Love produces thankfulness to God. 2 Thess. 1:3
Love to God is impossible if we are in disunity with the brethren. 1 John 4:20
Love produces joy when we overlook inconveniences for the sake of unity. Ps. 133:1
Love can be taught — and learned. Titus 2:4
Love multiplied reconciles relationships rent asunder and heals broken lives and broken communities. Jude 1:2

Being sisterless in childhood should make my sisterhood in Christ even more precious. Okay, so maybe I don’t sit around giggling and whispering with these ladies who sit next to me in Bible studies (well, not usually) or work with me on committees or tag me on Facebook posts that extol the glories of God. But there’s still joy and enjoyment! Comraderie and delight bubbled over in my girls when they played on the living room floor many years ago. (Would you believe it happened again one night last week when they couldn’t stop laughing after lights out though they were supposed to be up early for classes the next morning?) It’s the sound of sisters being sisters, and it’s not just for my girls. It’s for me, too. I hear it when my sisters in the Lord inconvenience themselves for my sake, step in to rebuke my sins or challenge my motivations, embrace when words can’t express, speak the truth in love, encourage repentance, give thanks for my life, or lead before me in service to others. 

The sound of sisters being sisters. And I hear his whispered exhortation, “Love your sister.”

January 2020, Roan Mountain, TN

Main photo credit: Josi Opo

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