Siblinghood is Not Optional
It was a dreary Friday afternoon, and I was doing a poor job of concealing my dejection as I murmured against Providence. David slid his elbow forward across the library table, leaning in toward me and piercing me with his pale eyes from over the rim of his glasses. “Isn’t that self-hating attitude the same type of sin you point out whenever I say things like that?” He smiled, his tone of voice brightening. “Sounds like hypocrisy to me.”
None of my other friends had the gonads to confront me on my un-God-glorifying attitude. Possibly because they didn’t have the right gonads.
According to When Harry Met Sally, men and women can’t be friends. Naturally enough, the church tends to agree. Cross-sex friendships are impossible, they purport; sexual feelings are bound to develop if men and women care about each other. Some churches adhere so strongly to our culture’s jaded view that they discourage “mixed” Bible studies and times of confession, and press pastors to scrupulously avoid conversing with the women of their flock in the spirit of avoiding the appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22).
I suppose it is true that Christian men and women can’t stay “just friends”. But it’s because God expects us to be siblings, not because romance is inevitable (1 Timothy 5:1-2; 1 John 3:16).
Years ago, I classed myself as a woman too sensitive to bother with men. I never even gave dating a handshake hello. While other teen girls were fearlessly interacting with their boyfriends, I was busy marinating in fellowship with women twice and thrice my age. And if I was painfully awkward interacting with female peers, I could be considered an abysmal failure when it came to interacting with males.
I genuinely feel bad for the Christian boys I grew (and am growing) up with. I could (and can) never quite strike the perfect balance between icy, shy mumbling and the familiar, perky warmth I’m used to expressing with my sisters. (I was recently told men take compliments on their new haircuts as flirting – little by little, I’m learning.) But I still wish these godly men were willing to own me as their sister, anyway.
During my teenage years, my consistent failure to relate in a pleasing way developed into mild androphobia. I adored the company of women, found my passion in women’s ministry and working with children, and naturally sunk into a state of being completely at ease with never serving half of my church beyond a terse “hi” on Sunday morning.
However, ruminating on God’s expressed design for the church pulled me, against my inclinations, out of my selfishly comfortable “girls-only” club.
Both scripture and history attest to the beauty and goodness of siblinghood in Christ. The Queen of Sheba enjoyed her intense, intellectual conversations with King Solomon (1 Kings 10:1-13). Paul built up Lydia as she served him (Acts 16:11-15), and he enjoyed chaste siblinghood with a whole host of church ladies (Romans 16; Philippians 4:2-3; Colossians 4:15; 2 Timothy 4:21; Philemon 2); additionally, he was happy to third-wheel it with Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:1-3).
A bright Reformation-era example of cross-sex spiritual siblinghood would be the long-suffering friendship of John Calvin and Renee of Ferrara. Far from being a threat to their holiness, their bond mutually spurred them on toward Him; John continued to write Renee on his deathbed, lovingly exhorting her to persevere in her severe trials.
In Christ, I’m knitted together with my brothers as tightly as two vital limbs are. Should the fingers of Christ neglect tending to His toes, simply because they’re different than them or afraid of getting messy? (1 Corinthians 12:12-26)
It’s vital for us brothers and sisters check ourselves for improper desires that can potentially be stoked by loving and dutiful interactions, just like how same-sex attracted Christians need to check themselves in their sibling-relationships. However, obedience, as we conquer our unfamilial detachment from one other, is even worth the possibility of striking sparks in the wrong context.
Consider: what balm could be more healing for a lesbian looking to be faithful to her Lord than a stalwart sister-bond? Likewise, I’ve learned that the care of a brother to a sister, and vice-versa, is indispensable for a full understanding of who God is and what the church is supposed to be like for all time (Galatians 3:28; Hebrews 13:1).
A married man (or woman), for the protection of his heart, may need to decide not to dine alongside a female without his wife present; however, he should be sure to never let his wise boundaries become an excuse to shirk cultivating siblinghood with his sisters. I know I hid behind my own boundaries and failures in the past, but I’ve resolved to not fool myself into thinking the neglect of my brothers is simply motivated by caution. I need to ask myself: am I truly devoted to doing the hard work of the church? (Galatians 6:10; James 4:17)
I’m now thankful for the older men who nurture me like one of their daughters, and I’m even daring to treat young males of a marriageable age as part of the same body I am a part of (Romans 12:4-5). Certainly, every sibling relationship has the ability to produce idols and shake sin to the surface. But since we’re in this together for eternity, we should stay wide awake to the dangers and fight hard for what’s good.
I don’t have all the answers, and if you asked me for quick tips, they’d be disappointing and fail to apply to more than a couple types of situations. I’m still far from being the sister all my brothers feel comfy with, but I notice I’m receiving blessings out of the messiness I had been too scared to engage in for years.
I wouldn’t have survived a recent season of caring for my ailing grandmother without a Calvin-like brother frequently emailing me with compassionate, Christ-centered comforts and rebukes. Knowing well and praying for the husbands of my girlfriends is helping me love them still more. I’m letting my pastors get close enough to me to know what’s going on in my life and how to accurately speak into it. Last week, I told a young man at church I’d be praying for his current work and upcoming college departure, and he seemed touched.
I have a long way to go, but I want to obediently, happily, and fully participate in the household of faith. I need my brothers for my sanctification, and surprisingly, they also need me.