Oh, Brother

BY LILA CARPENTER

Time Magazine published an article claiming that siblings have more influence in shaping you than anyone else. The idea makes sense; siblings are with you long before you meet your life partner and long after your parents pass. They are there when you move, change schools, and go home for Christmas. Although I am by no means an expert on relational or family psychology, I do have 20 years’ experience of siblinghood. Speaking as someone with two brothers, I can testify to the fact that brothers play a significant role in developing their sisters. Men underestimate the degree to which they shape their sisters.

God did not create families by pulling numbers from a hat. Before we were born, he assigned us to a specially selected group of people for reasons beyond our knowledge. So, too, is it with our family in Christ. We did not haphazardly end up in random communities of fellowship. God intentionally placed us among specially selected people: your immediate Christ family. So this role of “brother” is by no means limited to biological families. Jesus did not even recognize a distinction or hierarchy between the family to whom he was born and his family in Christ (Mark 3:31–33). So, men, just because your parents did not also produce someone without a Y chromosome, don’t think that you are off the hook. Your responsibility to, and influence on, your sisters in Christ is equally important. You do influence them, probably a lot more than you think.

I am blessed with two incredible men of God as brothers, and I love them both dearly, but our relationships have not always been strong. Growing up, I thought that the lack of relationship was a reflection on myself, that I was somehow unworthy of love. Quite honestly, I sometimes still struggle with the remnants of these feelings. At one point, I felt God calling me to take a risk in my relationship. I am in recovery for an eating disorder, and God called me to share this with my older brother. So, obediently but nervously, I made myself vulnerable, told him what I was struggling with, and braced myself. I prepared myself to hear that I was an incompetent failure because I could not eat correctly despite every other living creature’s ability to do so instinctually. I expected this comment not because it is in his character to say it but because I thought it of myself and consequently expected everyone to think similarly.

But the hurtful comment never came. Instead he said this: “That makes sense.”

In three small words, my brother validated me. He let me know that I was not crazy or a failure, and that my reactions were an understandable – although obviously not healthy – response to my circumstances. He could not have reacted better. I was similarly blessed when I told my other brother and later my co-ed Bible study about my struggle. Instead of getting freaked out or comparing me to the tabloids, they all reacted with compassion, love, and understanding.

Now, I don’t want this article to be about my eating disorder. That is far beside the point. The point is that when I opened up about a wounded part of my life, my brothers in Christ embraced me. I am sure they are largely unaware of the power that they each held in the moment. In my moment of vulnerability, they unknowingly had the power to reinforce God’s idea of grace and unconditional love or my idea that I was an incompetent nut job. Luckily for me, they chose the former.

But brothers’ influences extend far beyond the realms of Bible studies and private conversations. Their influences are present in every interaction. Take dating, for example. People often feel uncomfortable about “dating our brothers and sisters in Christ,” and understandably so. I, too, generally tend to avoid implied incest. So, men, instead of treating the girl you are dating like your sister, I encourage you to treat her the way you would want your little sister to be treated by her boyfriend. Keep in mind that God has placed us together within His family, and the resulting familial responsibility to be loving applies both during the budding of a new relationship and in the midst of a breakup. Also, please know that your choices in dating affect more than whom you are actually dating. I highly respect both of my brothers, and I put great weight in their opinions. My brothers have made it clear they are attracted to girls whose internal beauty matches their external beauty. I often subconsciously draw the conclusion that in order to attract a guy, I need to imitate the girls who are pursued by men I respect. Even if we are not romantically interested in a guy, we often notice what types of girls he is interested in. Men, I do not want to put pressure on you or make you feel like you are living your life under a spotlight. I just want to alert you to the fact that girls do notice your choices, and your choices have an influence. Being a brother is a big responsibility.

Solomon recognized the responsibility and noted it in Proverbs: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (17:17). Although this is talking about biological brothers, I think it transfers into our Christ family as well. It is not saying, as many jokingly claim, that brothers are for fighting with and making your life miserable: I know that during adolescence, this may seem like the case, but it is not Solomon’s point. He is saying that our brothers are whom we go to when our world is falling apart. Our friends will always love us, which is great, but it is our brothers who were born – were created – for the great difficulties in our lives. Brothers are there for the big, tough stuff.

So, men, I encourage you to recognize the role you play in the lives of your sisters. Remember that God placed you specifically with them just as intentionally as he constructed your biological family. We may never know the reasons for his choices, but luckily that part is not our responsibility. All you need to do is notice that actions, words, and choices influence your sisters in a major way.

And, women, a quick reminder about bro­thers: they are human. If you make even half or a third of the number of mistakes I make on a daily basis, then you well know the imperfections that accompany being human. I will often say something I wish I hadn’t or not say something I wish I had, and I am guessing that I am not alone in these blunders. Women, please remember that men, too, are imperfect. To expect them to be anything other than human sets ourselves up for disappointment. Our brothers in Christ play a large role in shaping us into who we are; that is a beautiful part of God’s design. But, ladies, I encourage you to be careful not to let men control your self worth. They will make just as many mistakes as we do, and in my case that is quite a lot. So please do not put something as delicate and valuable as your self-worth into human hands, as loving, kind, and well-intentioned as they might be. Place your worth into the hands of God, who, thankfully, is not human. I strongly encourage you to walk alongside your brothers in Christ, and allow them to influence you, help you, and be the family member God created them to be, but do not forget God’s role in your life. When you are broken and your faithful brother welcomes you with open arms, do not forget to turn, too, to God with your brokenness. And thank Him for your wonderful brother.

Men, you as men and brothers, hold great influence. Probably more than you realize. So be conscious of your sisters in Christ. Be intentional about building them up. You have a lot of power, and, in the wise – and possibly overused – words of Spider-Man, “with great power comes great responsibility.” •

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