Sewing Strength into Your Sibling Relationships
by SARAH GUTHRIE
Let brotherly love continue.
The September sun was generous that day — warm and syrupy, casting an autumnal glow on a row of marmalade colored maples — an idyllic landscape for our little outing. We were four sisters on a quest to get lost in the literary world of Concord, Massachusetts and “meet” another set of sisters endeared to many as Little Women.
We had come of age with the classic in our hands. Little Women was the backdrop of our childhood and the score of our girlhood days. The heartwarming themes of kinship, sisterhood, and strong moral courage were equally prized in the Guthrie and March homes. And that gloriously crisp day we got to glimpse Orchard House for ourselves!
In an age where feminism means independence from everything moral and male, a homespun story that prizes marriage and domesticity is an anomaly. And yet, I think it quite beautiful that in the far-reaching corners of the female heart lies the longing to simply be a woman. And being a woman means that we have the opportunity to round out the roles that are significant to us alone — sister, daughter, mother, wife, aunt, grandmother. Titles that are drawn with cords of love to another, indicating that there is a tie that binds our hearts and homes together.
Christ — The True Tie That Binds
The excursion was deeply insightful as I studied the warp and weft of what drew these sisters close. I looked from the March sisters to my sisters: the little women of my own life story, and noticed a common thread. Our Creator had laced diversity unique to each of us, yet twined together with our various personalities, quirks, and passions was the golden thread of Gospel grace that gloriously bound us together in Christian love. I realized it was this thread — that of belonging to the family of God — that sewed enduring strength to our biological family.
Where biology is concerned I actually don’t have a full-blooded sister. My three sisters (and our two brothers) are step-siblings and half-siblings. And yet, I think our not being directly related has served us well as we have had to continuously work on strengthening “the tie that binds.”
The tie that binds — it was a familiar phrase from my childhood. On Sundays after taking communion, our little congregation would circle up, join hands, and sing,
Blessed be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
Originally, this was written as a farewell hymn to remind parishioners of the deep community believers share in Christ. And it is one that deserves a comeback to our gatherings. God’s Word points out that it is good and pleasant when brothers dwell together in harmony. (See Psalm 133:1.) But is deep unity between family members, or members of the family of God, possible when nations rage, homes divide, political parties rival, and civil war looms on the horizon?
I think we would agree that after weathering the storms unique to last year (does the word “quarantine” ring a bell?) our relationships have taken a direct hit. With the inability to travel or reconnect face-to-face, the rise of trials that flowed from shut-downs and shortages, and the affected celebrations of major holidays, we aren’t feeling as connected as we once did.
I have felt the strain on my own sibling relationships. Whereas we used to be housed under one roof, we are now spread across three states and have to work hard to see each other a couple times a year. Without realizing it, distance crept in, driving a wedge of disconnect between us.
Drifting relationships cause an erosion that is far more subtle than outright disagreement, and subsequently it can be tricky to navigate and challenging to successfully reconnect. What do we do when distance has invited a drift in relationship with our siblings? And how do we strengthen the threads that comprise our family?
Reinforcing Family Threads
Whether you are still living at home and have ample opportunity to be involved in your siblings’ lives, or you are in the throes of motherhood and wonder when you can reconnect with the souls you shared childhood with, my prayer is that the encouragement to follow will inspire you in knowing how to close any distance you may sense with your siblings.
Bridging Physical Distance:
Send Threads of Intentionality Across the Miles
Social media is a handy tool to keep apprised in our loved ones’ lives, but it can hollow a relationship over the course of the long term. Cultivating personal touches are a helpful way to deepen an existing relationship. Hand-written notes of appreciation sent across the miles or speeding a cheery Marco Polo message to bring someone into the surroundings of our lives are creative and connecting.
Giving place to nostalgia and reminding each other of childhood joys are a way to rekindle the bond you share. Sometimes I’ll give a nod to a memory or shared experience to remind a sibling that I remember the fun times we have shared in the past, while expressing that I desire to see that continue in future.
It’s also important to get involved in their “now.” Find out what season your brother or sister is in and seek to bless and equip them unto that end. Is she a new mom? Is he on the threshold of graduating high school or college? Taking fresh inventory will aid you as you sew threads of intentionality across the miles, and you’ll see that your bond is strengthened with time and Christlike love.
Spanning Emotional Distance:
Cherish Threads that are Different than Yours
News Flash: Your siblings are different from you! Sometimes when a sibling is wired differently than us in personality, it can be challenging to meet in the middle. I have found it helpful to cherish our differences and see personality quirks as beneficial to the Body of Christ as a whole.
Discover who God has created your sibling to be, climb inside their box and learn how to effectively say, “I love you. I’m here for you. I am excited to be a part of how God is shaping your life!” Unhurried observation will show you if that is through actions, words, or quality time.
Lastly, search your heart and see if any apologies need to be made for past misunderstandings or hurts. Taking a posture of humility can restore deep relational rifts. It may also be needful to discern if there is a hindrance that needs to be addressed in your sibling’s life that is affecting your relationship. Prayer will aid you in the right course of action for your specific situation. Above all seek to, “make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (Col. 3:13 NLT).
Closing Spiritual Distance:
Seek to Fasten Loose Ends to Christ Through Prayer
When we have differing convictions and/or belief systems, grief runs deep and can affect basic interaction. Spiritual distance is painful and difficult. Still, even here, Christ can be shown to the brother or sister who has yet to bow their knee to Jesus Christ as Lord. Don’t give up hope, but rise up in faith to see God redeem this soul.
My encouragement to you is to pray. Pray! You can lift their soul up to our heavenly Father as only a sibling can! Seek the Father’s heart and perspective as it can be easy to grow frustrated or unfeeling towards those who remain stubborn towards following Christ. Ask God for a freshly broken heart over their sin and distance from God. He can use you mightily as an intercessor and a catalyst for soul-change in their life as you remain patient and kind in your interactions. (See 1 Corinthians 13:4.) God can clear an avenue through which you can encourage, exhort, or testify of God’s leading in your life. You never know how God may use you to draw this wandering soul into the fold of His love!
Joined in Heart, Near or Far
When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.
The last verse of this hymn tugs my heartstrings as I recall the goodbyes I have expressed many times over to kindred family. But the sweet truth is that because we are joined in heart and our family ties are fashioned in Christ, distance can serve rather than sever. One day tearful goodbyes will cease and distance in relationships will be a shadow of our past as we worship the Lord in the land that is fairer than day in perfect harmony. Until then, may we endeavor to proclaim with our lips and our lives that there is a tie that beautifully binds a family together. His name is Jesus.