What distinguishes a sisterhood from a friendship?
A mentor of mine once said that loving another person means joyfully witnessing and participating in another’s sanctification. He was talking about love in the context of marriage, and his words made a deep impression on me. As I thought about what he said, I realized that his definition of love was true not only for marriage but also for certain friendships. It was a definition that captured a truth I knew experientially through my friendship with Molly and Leah- namely that real, agape love is meant for holiness.
In my mind, the difference between sisterhood and friendship is this: a sisterhood is a friendship founded on this kind of love, love that delights in witnessing and participating in another’s sanctification.
So sisterly love is bound up in sanctification… but what exactly does that mean? Sanctification is the process in which the Holy Spirit works to make us more like Christ. It is a believer’s journey towards Christ-like holiness, beginning at the moment of salvation and ending in the Lord’s presence after death. Paul describes sanctification in Philippians:
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. […] And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:6, 9-11, ESV)
When we receive the Holy Spirit upon salvation, God begins “a good work” in us and promises that this work will be finished. The Holy Spirit is powerful to work through many aspects of life, and relationship is one of them. God uses others to give us deep experiential and emotional knowledge of the gospel, and our relationships with fellow sisters in Christ can be especially powerful in teaching us to love sacrificially and to live in grace. Truly, this is what sisterhood is— it is a friendship that exists for the purpose of pursuing Christlikeness.
It is important to recognize that growth— whether it be another’s or our own— does not come from our own efforts. Sanctification is brought about only by the Holy Spirit, and from Him alone comes the power to better understand truth and grace. In relationships, we merely offer ourselves as agents of change.
Thus, sisterhood involves a commitment— a choice to avail ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit, that He might use us powerfully in the lives of other women. It is founded on and fueled by a sacrificial love which delights in the growth of others. On the day to day, this manifests as a commitment to simply walk with our sisters through the many ups and downs of life.
It means being present when your sister is crying over the phone because she is struggling with mental health.
It means sharing your victories and praising God when your sisters share theirs.
It means forgiving and being forgiven when you and your sisters inevitably hurt one another; no relationship, however Christ-centered, is free from sin.
Whenever two or more individuals commit to giving and receiving truth and grace daily, the Holy Spirit is powerful to grow all those involved.
The beauty of sisterhood is that this commitment transcends all differences. Whether differences in time zone or differences in background, differences in life goals or differences in personality, the delight of witnessing and participating in another’s sanctification is unchanging. Molly, Leah, and I all go to very different colleges and are studying incredibly different things. We were raised in three different states and have three different families. Despite all of this, we are committed to loving one another by participating in one another’s growth towards holiness.
It is this commitment that makes our sisterhood different from just another friendship. And yet we also know that none of this would have happened if not for the providential work of God to bring us together for two short years at a tiny Christian school in Pennsylvania. We know that it would not be sustained while we are at college, thousands of miles apart, if not for the continual work of the Holy Spirit.
At the end of the day, sisterhood is possible because God makes it happen. He is the one who brings individuals together and who works to make relationships fruitful. He is the cause, the sustainer, and the ultimate end of all sisterhoods.
Dear sisters, let us rejoice in the beauty of sisterhood. Let us praise God for His grace, that He thought it good to provide us with strong women who can help us grow to be more like Him. I hope that Common Ground can be a taste of sisterhood for you, no matter where you are or what you are going through.