How to Be A Sister

by Nicole Austin
As an only child, I never wished for a sibling. I watched my friends wrestle with their brothers and sisters, passionately fighting over shared space and belongings, and I counted myself lucky. As I grew older, I adopted my own quasi-siblings, gravitating toward those who felt familial and known. Sarie and I were nearly sisters, with birthdays just a day apart, and Josh and I lived on the same floor of the same apartment building. In college, I found another handful of siblings, most notably in a group of strangers who became roommates who became friends who became sisters. Then I met Jesus, and my mind and heart were blown wide open as I learned about a new kind of family, based not on biology or even preference, but by a shared invitation as brothers and sisters, co-heirs together with Christ.

Shortly after I moved to New York as a new believer, I started attending church and became a part of my first fellowship group. Jen, Joanne, Ethan, Michael, Alice, and Jesica… these were some of the first people I came to know as Christian brothers and sisters. Together we experienced our early 20s in NYC, figuring out how to live as young professionals, citizens of that magnificent city with all its delights and challenges. We navigated our circumstances, relationships, and various callings together. We met weekly in a friend’s apartment to study the Bible, to pray and to worship. But we also grabbed brunch after service on Sunday, met for dinner or a drink during the week, and talked late into the night about faith, love, and life. We inhabited the spirit of the early church, “devoting [ourselves] to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). These were my brothers and sisters in a whole new way, bound together by our shared faith and the way it bled into all areas of our lives. I learned new ways to be a sister, to love sacrificially, to share not just my resources but my heart with the men and women God had brought into my life. We challenged one another often, iron sharpening iron, and our collective faith grew as God used us as instruments of change in one another’s lives.

Years passed, and many of us left the city, got married, and started having children. I took on new roles, as a wife, and then a mother. As I continued to develop in my faith, I began to take on mentoring roles in the church as well—leading Bible studies, encouraging new moms struggling to adjust to their new reality, hosting a community group. I juggled career and family, church and secular friendships, and the demands of managing a household that eventually included three kids. But somewhere along the line, I lost the thread of what it meant to truly fellowship with my brothers and sisters. Gatherings became noisier and more chaotic, with children to manage and conversations increasingly becoming surface-level. Nowadays, when I think about Christian community, it often involves the logistics of childcare and food as much as, if not more than, the minds and hearts of those around me, to the detriment of us all.

My brothers, especially, have seemed to become less accessible to me the more time I’ve spent in Christian circles. From talking to friends outside a Christian context, I know this happens there as well: the women meeting for coffee or a drink, the men gathering for a movie or whiskey night, the genders neatly dividing at a barbeque like middle school kids in the cafeteria. When church ministries create gender-specific opportunities, there is so much to be gained. But if these events happen exclusively, or men and women feel a subtle pressure to maintain the divide, there is something lost, something crucial and vital and life-giving. And I want it back. In the last session of the Manhood/Womanhood conference last month, Scott said something that stopped me dead in my tracks. He posited, “What if you grew up in a family with multiple sons and multiple daughters, but the sons and daughters didn’t really interact? They kept separate. It would be so weird in your house. And I think it should be equally weird in the church.”

Being a part of the family of God means being sisters and brothers, not just mothers and fathers. Both Christian and secular culture have ways of making us wary of the opposite sex, for different reasons and in different ways. But Jesus treated women as sisters throughout his ministry. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus give us an example of both biological and spiritual siblings, as they served God together. The early church has numerous examples of women who were deeply woven into the fabric of the community, serving and discipling alongside men. Do we think that Lydia offered up her home and resources to Paul and Silas, only to relegate herself to a back room when they showed up? We know that both Priscilla and Aquila traveled with Paul, and that together they discipled Apollos. Aquila didn’t say to his wife, “Listen, Priscilla. Apollos and I are going to have some guy time to discuss the Gospel. You’re not needed.” That’s not how it happened, and the reality sets a beautiful example for us of the ways in which men and women can and should engage together, deeply and about things that really matter.

All of that said, I’m still figuring out what this means for me. I can’t just erase two decades of life, turning back the clock to a time before husband or children when I had more time and space in my life to fellowship more freely. And I don’t want to. There are tremendous blessings to be had within the context of my traditional nuclear family, and my calling as a Christian now includes them as well. But I also want to find ways to deepen and broaden the relationships across my larger spiritual family, especially with my brothers. For me, this means intentionally creating space for conversation at times where I’m not in mom mode. It means setting up a coffee date with a dear Christian brother who I barely see since he and his wife moved to a different neighborhood; it means crossing the backyard during that barbeque to chat with the guys. It means being intentional about being a sister, stepping out of the regular rhythms and comforts of life and pursuing all the members of my family, not just some of them. Ultimately, this kind of shift is not a solo effort. It requires the entire church, recognizing the need to draw closer across all categories, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, individual members knit together as one body.

I said earlier that, as an only child, I never wanted a sibling, and it’s true. But when I met my husband and saw the bond he had with his sisters, I began to appreciate that there might be something more to this sibling thing than I’d previously understood. Now that I have my own children, I have a whole new appreciation for the complicated, messy beauty that comes with being a brother or a sister. It isn’t easy. It’s full of conflict, misunderstandings, and having to bear with one another. But it’s also precious. And it’s what God wants for us as brothers and sisters in Christ, a fundamental and crucial piece of being a part of the family of God. In many ways, we’ve lost the thread, and it is long past time to take it back. Only then can we truly be an active part in weaving the tapestry we were intended to create together.
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