Friendship and Sisterhood in Christian Community
I’m a single woman. More than forty-five years ago after much prayer and reflection, I felt that the Lord called me to make a commitment not to marry in order to dedicate my life single-heartedly to him. Some people don’t understand this peculiar call, especially if it’s not something they have had real examples of in their circles, but it’s not that strange, really.
God calls all of us to pour out our lives for others, and although the way we live this out may look different, it is essentially the same call: to give all of our lives to Christ for the rest of our lives. By intentionally remaining single I’m able to freely use my time and energies in a unique way to serve the Lord and the people he puts in my life. Each day I experience the Lord himself as my chief treasure and my “chosen portion” (Psalm 16:5). My singleness is not only a personal blessing but it gives witness to others of God’s personal love for each of his people. It speaks of the real possibility it is for each of us to love him deeply in return – that he is not a cold, distant, impersonal “force” but love itself.
My choice of life makes a statement; it says something to others about what I value and gives me perspective on eternity. Living single for the Lord only makes sense in the context of the promise of eternal life. It’s a sign of the life to come, and a foreshadowing of the final reality of the church as the bride of Christ.
God calls all of us to pour out our lives for others, and although the way we live this out may look different, it is essentially the same call: to give all of our lives to Christ for the rest of our lives.
Although I’m not married and have no children, I rarely feel “lonely” because I’m blessed to belong to a transgenerational Christian community whose members are adolescents, teens, university students, single men and single women, married couples ranging from young newlyweds to those soon to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversaries. They are my spiritual and very real family. God has given me a valuable source of strength and support for my life’s journey in the deep friendships that I have with both men and women of all ages. “We are companions to eternity,” as the medieval German mystic Mechtild of Magdeburg once wrote.
Fostering friendships is a high priority in my life, and over the years I’ve come to realize that friendships don’t always “just happen naturally”: not as a single woman, and I imagine not as a wife or a mom or a grandmother either. Relationship-building takes conscious effort and decision; sometimes it’s just plain hard work. I’ve learned not just to wait for others to take initiative – I’m proactive and take initiative myself to reach out and foster friendships.
I recall joining a sharing group with women in our community who were very different from me not only in age but in their personalities, social and educational backgrounds, and life experiences. But I came to love and value each of these women as I asked the Lord to show me how to reach out to them and open my own life to them. By God’s grace, each of us overcame any reservations and hesitancies we first felt, and we grew to be true friends in Christ.
Rather than focusing on our differences – “She’s married and I’m single” or “She just doesn’t have the same interests as I do” – as barriers or limitations, each of us came to realize that these differences added a great richness to our lives. We also learned to be reasonable and realistic in our expectations about what we could be for one another rather than being unrealistic and demanding.
Relationship building takes conscious effort and decision… Rather than focusing on our differences – “She’s married and I’m single, or “She just doesn’t have the same interests as I do” – as barriers or limitations, each of us came to realize that these differences added a great richness to our lives.
We grew to trust one another so that we could be really honest in sharing not only our joys and victories but also our difficulties and weaknesses. We also looked for concrete ways to care for one another in our needs, rather than being self-oriented or self-concerned.
In reflecting on Luke’s Gospel account (1:39-45, 56) of the “Visitation,” the encounter between Mary and her elderly cousin Elizabeth, I’ve come to see many riches and truths. Taking a look at Mary and Elizabeth’s meeting has helped me better appreciate the women who touch my life and has strengthened my relationships with them.
After giving her fiat, “let it be to me according to your word,” to God’s message brought to her through the angel Gabriel, Mary hurriedly set out to visit Elizabeth (Luke 1:38-39). She was eager to confide her fears and confusion as well as her joy and wonder at the angel’s strange message to her older kinswoman.
In most cultures, including the Jewish one, a young woman would be the one to greet her elder with respect. However, on this occasion, it was Elizabeth who honored Mary. First, in calling Mary “blessed” (Luke 1:42), the older woman recognized that the younger had been chosen by God – Mary wasn’t great by any achievement of her own but rather by God’s choice.
Elizabeth honored Mary because she was to bear a special child, lauding her young cousin because of her faith: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (1:45).
Then, filled with the Spirit, Elizabeth became the first to honor the Lord in his human nature when she called the fruit of Mary’s womb “blessed” (Luke 1:41-42). Perhaps it was also Elizabeth’s awareness of God’s recent graciousness to her and Zechariah – she was now pregnant after so many years of infertility – that increased her sensitivity to God’s action in others. She recognized how privileged she was to encounter God so personally: “Why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (1:43).
Mary and Elizabeth had faith in the promises God had made to them. They buoyed one another up and encouraged one another to look forward to the fulfillment of those promises.
Their relationship with each other was characterized by joy and gratitude to God. God was at the center of it. There was no jealousy or competition between these women; they were truly glad for what God was doing in each of them, different and unique; each was responding to her own call from God, not to someone else’s call!
They were truly glad for what God was doing in each of them, different and unique; each was responding to her own call from God, not to someone else’s call.
Mary spent her pregnancy serving her older cousin who probably needed help. Most likely, Mary did simple things for her in the home, while Elizabeth, on her part, offered Mary security, comfort, understanding, acceptance – a space where she was protected and at rest interiorly while she meditated over what God was doing in her.
These insights and truths I’ve gleaned from reflecting on the Visitation are ones that I continue to bring into my encounters with those whom the Lord brings into my life – older or younger than I am, single like me or married. For I treasure making and having many, many dear friends who’ll be my companions to eternity!
This article © by Jeanne Kun was first published in The Lois Project 2018. Used with permission.
Top photo credit: photo of women on retreat praying together, courtesy of the Louis Project, image © Sword of the Spirit. Used with permission.
Jeanne Kun is a noted author, and a member of Bethany Association, an international, ecumenical association of women living single for the Lord in various communities of The Sword of the Spirit, and a senior woman leader in the Word of Life Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.