By Sharon Gartland

Being a Good Brother: Protecting Your Sister

I consider myself somewhat of an expert on brothers. I was blessed with three of them in my family of origin and now have three sons, whom I regularly encourage to be good brothers to their older sister. Brothers are a gift. A girl with brothers has an opportunity to be in close relationship with the opposite sex without the complications found in so many other kinds of male/female relationships.

Besides learning the secrets of the male world, one of the best benefits of having brothers is the sense of being protected. I secretly loved the fact that anyone who dated me had to earn the approval of my brothers. I still cherish the outraged phone calls and offers to go to bat for me when the family grapevine spreads the news of some recent mistreatment or unfair experience in my life. Their words of encouragement and care often restore my self-esteem and enable me to press on with what I was called to do. I pray my sons become that kind of brother to their sister.

In the same way, brothers in Christ are called to look out for their sisters. I find that men tend to initially resonate with a call to protect their female friends and colleagues and then move quickly to worrying if that reflects a caveman mentality. It is actually a Christ-mentality. It is Jesus in John 8:3-11 drawing in the sand, calming the angry, stone-clenching mob until one by one they turn away. He protected the adulterous woman from harm and harsh judgment. It is Jesus saying to the woman, “go and sin no more.” He protects her from devaluing herself, from staying stuck in patterns of sin.

Men can protect the females in their life in a variety of ways. Here are a few ideas:

  • Stand up for injustice against women in the work place, in the church, in the university.

For a man in a work setting to ask the question “Why aren’t there any women being considered for this position?” protects the women at the table from being labeled troublemakers, whiners, or worse. Nothing warms my heart more than seeing a Christian man challenging the church to fully embrace the gifts of its women. If you have a voice or power or position, don’t feel guilty! Use it to pave the way for all to flourish and thrive.

  • Protect them from the constant assault on their body image in our culture.

Don’t allow crude comments about women’s bodies from the men around you. Look for ways to value and name a woman’s character traits and abilities rather than her appearance.

  • Recognize the increased vulnerability to rape or attack.

In the attempt to not offend, men no longer offer to walk a woman to her car in the parking lot after a late meeting. The truth is, women are more at risk in these situations. Matter-of–factly offer to accompany her, or at the very least, talk on the cell phone with her until she makes it to her car. We put up a brave front, but we’d actually like the company most of the time, as long as we aren’t being hit on.

  • Protect them from settling for less.

Many women struggle with self-doubt and put a low value on themselves. A woman might not consider herself capable of leadership or of exercising other God-given abilities. She might be dating someone who treats her poorly because she thinks she deserves him. Speak up. Challenge your sisters to aim high and expect God’s best for them.

Protection goes both ways of course. I was a vigilant screener of the women given access to my brothers’ fragile hearts and I am a fierce defender when I think one of my brothers is being mistreated. I have that same protective response with my brothers in Christ. The protective instinct finds its root in the cross, the ultimate act of protection. We emulate the good shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep John 10:11 when we offer protection to one another.

Women in the Academy & Professions exists to encourage and strengthen graduate and faculty women, called to serve God in the university setting and beyond. Brothers, you can partner with us in that task as you look for creative ways to live out Christ’s protective response towards his sisters and all of humanity. We promise to return the favor.

About the Author

Sharon Gartland, OTD, OTR, is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Occupational Therapy Program at UW-Madison where her specialty is in developmental disabilities.  She enjoys the combination of teaching, administrative and clinical responsibilities that makes up her job. She is the former national director of Women in the Academy & Professions and continues to participate in the ministry as a volunteer and frequent contributor. She is married to Craig Gartland, a local church pastor and former long-term InterVarsity staff and leader. Together they have four children who are gradually getting launched into the world as functional adults but continue to store a lot of their stuff in the basement. She believes strong prayer practices and a supportive faith community are key to flourishing in career and family life. 

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