The term “sisterhood” conjures up images of sororities, family gatherings, or that classic song from the movie White Christmas (“…there were never such devoted sisters”). Throughout a woman’s life she meets other females like her, women who are “in the same boat” at the time and can relate to what she’s going through in life. This blog is a prime example of a place where sisterhood is fostered and common experiences shared. Our readers feel a connection with one another and a sense of belonging.
This is a good thing, of course, but it’s important to realize the pitfalls of exclusive sisterhood. Katie Schuermann’s newest book, Pew Sisters, is a wake-up call to all of us who may be tempted to think only of the crosses that we bear and forget the battles that other women around us may be waging. Pew Sisters, which is arranged as a small group women’s Bible study, dives into the lives of twelve real women who experienced emotional, physical and spiritual trials in their pasts and were guided through these valleys by the loving hand of their Savior. This book is a reminder not only to open our eyes to those around us, but most importantly to fix our eyes “on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2).
Pew Sisters exposes the secrets of the women you see each week in your own congregation. What often lies behind the practiced smiles and the “Oh, I’m fine” responses to your flippant “How are you?” are hardships. Katie so delicately reveals these hardships from the lives of women she has personally known at different times in her life. These women, who have so courageously allowed their stories to be told, do not hold back their faults or cover over poor decisions they may have made. Because of their honesty, Pew Sisters does not shy away from showing both saint and sinner. This realistic perspective helps the reader better identify with the woman who is highlighted in each session by bringing to the surface those sins and struggles that are common to so many of us—worry, regret, weariness, guilt, anger, doubt, despair—and documenting those specific ways in which the woman was comforted, found peace, or was encouraged. Sometimes the help came through her spouse, friend, or pastor, but it always came from the mercy and grace of Christ Jesus, revealed to her from His Holy Word.
This help comes to us, too, as we follow along with the study questions at the end of each story and eagerly turn to the study guide in the back to find out how Katie’s own pastors answered each question. The reader is not left to wonder if she is interpreting God’s Word correctly; she is coached by the professionals, those who have been trained and called to teach her what they have learned from years of study. This is an amazing addition to the Bible study: to be able to hear how two different theologians reflect upon those really tough questions about suffering and pain, forgiveness and hope.
What Pew Sisters will do for you, as a barren woman, is engage you in the very healthy practice of getting outside yourself and identifying with the sorrows of others. Maybe you’ve never been through a divorce, like Marianne, or dealt with the serious illness of a child, like Anna, or been diagnosed with cancer, like Christine. But you know some of the emotions they’ve experienced, and as a fellow member of the Body of Christ you have a connection with them—a sisterhood, if you will— that qualifies you to reach out in love. Katie even includes suggestions for how you can show this love to them in the “Moment in the Pew” sections that go along with each story.
It’s true that sharing in the suffering of another inevitably brings you both closer together. But Pew Sisters‘ intent is not to show the bond that exists between women who suffer in various ways. Rather it highlights the familial bond formed between us by our Baptisms and adoptions as daughters of our heavenly Father. This unity should motivate us to treasure each of those sisters in Christ who sit in front of, behind, or next to us on Sunday mornings. It should drive us to our knees in repentance for not caring for or about them, and in thanksgiving for those whom our Lord has sent to care for and about us.