In four years I had never visited my younger sister Jane at the university she attended. She had often driven the 120 miles to our hometown, where I lived. But the thought of carving time out of my busy schedule to go to her college campus just didn’t appeal to me.
As she prepared to graduate, though, I decided that I really should visit once. Jane graciously agreed, and we set a date. I felt pretty lukewarm about the trip—until the day before, when I called to discuss plans for the weekend.
Jane suggested we have lunch with her boyfriend, Caleb. They had met through a Christian campus outreach and had been friends for years; now they were dating, she told me. They shared the same birthday, a love of the outdoors, and an affinity for pranks. This relationship sounds serious, I thought to myself. I couldn’t help feeling left out. Unlike some of my other family members, I had never even met Caleb.
The feeling intensified as Jane chatted about her other friends (whose faces I couldn’t remember) and her house (which I had never seen). When the phone call ended, my tears came pouring out. Do I even know my sister anymore?
Show Me How to Love Her. How do you measure the quality of a family relationship? Jane and I didn’t fight. We both loved God and cared about each other. But life had taken us to different friendship groups, schools, and even countries. Physical distance, however, was nothing compared to the emotional distance I now felt. Jane was family, but our relationship didn’t feel familiar, let alone close.
Preparing for the two-hour drive to the college, I again found myself in tears. It wasn’t just anxiety—I felt remorse. I’m Jane’s older sister. I should have been there for her all this time. I treat casual friends better than I’ve treated her.
Scripture says that anyone who does not love his brother or sister is not of God (1 John 3:10). As I sobbed, I began to see that my lack of communication and interest in Jane’s life was a form of self-centeredness. I realized that my selfishness had eroded our relationship.
From that moment forward, I decided, I would support Jane as a beloved friend. Lord, I prayed, show me how to love my sister. I knew it could start small—calling her more often, praying for her, and asking about her needs. I would have to change some of my habits. Right away, God was giving me the tools to rebuild a relationship that I had not even realized was in a state of disrepair.
Driving Darkness Away. Exhausted from my emotions, I sped down the highway to Jane’s campus. My thoughts were racing, too. How many opportunities to love my sister had I missed? How had I given so much attention to my roommates, my grandparents, and even the homeless people near my work, without giving a thought to the needs, sorrows, and joys of my sister?
Then my thoughts changed direction. I had gone through rough times while Jane was enjoying her college years. Plus, I knew that she had gone out of her way to spend quality time with other family members—but not me. Perhaps it was my sister who had abandoned me, and not the reverse. A flood of familiar accusations began to swell inside me.
But then it occurred to me that the devil, who is also called “the accuser,” had been driving a wedge of hurt and misunderstanding between us. My sensitive and kind sister would never turn her back on me!
I spent the better part of the remaining drive rejecting the lies of the devil. Passing motorists must have thought I was crazy. I was so furious that I had let myself become deceived and self-absorbed that I actually spoke out loud, passionately, as I imagine Jesus’ disciples did in the Acts of the Apostles. In the name of Jesus, I commit my relationship with Jane to the Father. The Holy Spirit has shone his light onto our relationship, and you have no power, Satan!
As I approached the university, I thought about all the demands and complaints I had been planning to dump on my sister when I arrived. Thanks to the Spirit’s gentle voice, this would be a much more peaceful visit.
No More Lies. Jane, of course, had no idea what turmoil and transformation I had undergone since our phone call. That night, we stayed up late, reminiscing about family stories. We sang praises to God side-by-side at church the next morning. Jane seemed at ease around me, and I could have left it at that. But I knew I had to apologize.
We were walking through a crowded campus street when I blurted out my remorse. I said I wanted our relationship to be as strong as my closest friendships. I told her how sorry I was for not reaching out to spend time with her.
Jane’s eyes brimmed with tears. Then she told me that several years earlier, I had accused her of not supporting me during a personal trial of my own. I had completely forgotten the conversation, but my accusation had been seared into her mind as if it had happened only yesterday. It had burdened her with the idea that I was still bitter. From then on, Jane had felt guilty and unable to share her life with me; she had feared I would only continue to resent her.
She was delighted to learn the truth: that I wanted to be close friends with her just as she wanted to be with me!
We had been standing by a bus stop but decided to return to Jane’s room to pray. First, we renounced any division, selfishness, or despair that had persisted in our relationship. While I had prayed this way with friends, I had never interceded like this with my sister. As I heard her ask the Lord for unity and love between us, it was my turn to be moved that we shared the same desire for a close friendship.
The Light Shines In. It was the beginning of a remarkable change. After graduation, Jane moved halfway across the country. And yet, because we have remained in close contact, the distance has practically disappeared.
My sister is now both a confidante and an encouragement to me. We are treating our relationship like the treasure from God that it is. We are so close now that Jane is even coming to live with me, as she prepares for marriage to Caleb.
Our sisterhood was growing dim until the Holy Spirit flipped the light on, showing me the need for reconciliation and repair. “The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now” (1 John 2:9). Until now.
Kathryn Elliott writes from Washington, DC.