Growing up I had few female friends, and over time I had some really bad examples of female friends. I don’t know what it is, but the idea of competition and people not really having each other’s backs seems to me to be very true. Over time, as an adult, I have built many strong friendships with women, and realised that maybe, after all, there is nothing to compete about. It probably helps that most of these female friends are not like me in many respects, so there isn’t much to compete about. However, one of the biggest lessons of the summer was the importance of sisterhood in the life of Catholic women.
You know that your spouse should take you closer to God, especially if you are a woman. That’s all the Christian singles blogosphere tells you about. Friendships, however, are less talked about. In 2011, Christianity Today run a piece about the crisis in female friendships. And oh my, don’t I agree with the point about the Shiny Happy People! If you’ve read this blog before, you know I just make a badge of honour out of laying out bare the fact life is a mess and I’m the biggest mess of all. However, there is a difference, in my opinion between friendship and sisterhood. In a way, even some of my secular friends are like sisters because of different reasons, and Catholic friends aren’t necessarily sisters, but Christian sisterhood has come to have a different meaning altogether.
This year theme at Walsingham was Inheritance. (Psst I also wrote about Walsingham here). The idea of the church as family is often one that is very hard for me to deal with, but I have met people and in particular one person, whose name happens to be the same as my late grandmothers’ and a certain academic who is a great mentor and in a way a big sister herself, who have taught me what that really means.
She and I are like two beans in one pod, we are basically the same: similar interests, tastes, range of medical illnesses. We have our differences and complementarities, but at the end of the day we are two young women in our 20s trying to find The Catholic Husband or otherwise trying to accept whatever God’s plan is when it’s hard not to get what we want. And since we want the same thing, namely the white dress and screaming babies, we are two obvious candidates for competition. Except we aren’t. We are pulling one another closer to God as we both stumble on our way forward.
It’s hardly about being all holy and perfect, especially not for me. There is a lot of wisdom that comes with having made mistakes before, as well as with the fact that an external perspective usually sees what we are too close to see. And the thing about Christian sisterhood is, we have a personal investment in lifting each other up. It’s not like I don’t have one in my other friends, should I ever be so lucky to get to Heaven I don’t want to be there by myself while all the people I’ve loved in this life are elsewhere…however, Christian sisterhood is different from evangelising your unbelieving friends. It goes on a deeper level. The Catholic Woman ran a series on sisterhood. Jenna Guizar, founder of Blessed is She (about which I rave all the time) wrote it beautifully in her letter: “This must be how the Lord is with us — how we are because of Him. We only know how to love because we have been loved. We only know how to show kindness because we have been shown incredible kindness. We only know how to give grace because time and time again, grace has poured out upon us.” The difference between friendships, even when you are like family, and Christian sisterhood is that the latter knows how it is to be accountable to God.
This is something in between a testimonial and rambling. I guess there is a point to it, and that’s that it is fundamental to have someone who just knows what it’s like. Like my brother knows what it’s like to put up with my parents, so your sister or brother in Christ knows how it is to relate to God in our lives, and in the same way I can tell my brother to stop doing things that he should know annoy your parents and affect the peace of the household, so a sibling in Christ is there to tell you the same. If you ran our day past a Bechdel test you would find it wanting: men feature in a lot of the conversations. However, you would also be missing the point of how they feature: more often than not, we look at someone and tell the other that she deserves better than his behaviour or the kind of relationship we have. It’s never about the person, no person is deemed unworthy, because all are made by God. It’s just a matter of what standard one should expect from the people around them when trying to live a life of increasing holiness. It takes some very good friends to be able to do that when they don’t believe in God and think you are bat-shit crazy (hi, Helen from Scotland), and truth is most of your secular friends may at best keep you stalling and at worst lead you astray. I feel incredibly blessed to have my at times wannabe-Rabbi who can’t keep kosher for 3 days, and some other friends who understand that it’s important to me even if it’s not for them. However, having a Catholic sister goes even further on the road of teaching me lessons on how to be a better daughter of God. The bridal party for the supposed wedding that is never going to happen just got bigger.