Whatsoever Magazine

Nagging Sisters

Posted on: October 10, 2006

At least, I hope I am. Sometimes it’s hard to know because Gentle Suggestions of Advice Which Must Be Heeded seem to come naturally to big sisters, especially firstborns. It could be because they were all once the only children in houses otherwise occupied by grown-ups. That makes sense. You tend to think that you’re like those you hang around with, right? So perhaps we firstborns get off on the wrong foot by thinking that we’re grown-ups, too. Then when the next small person comes along, it’s “us”—meaning me and my parents—and the baby. But pity the baby. Especially if it’s a boy.

I don’t know about you, but with me the instinct to bossiness comes out fearfully strong when I’m relating to boys. Just ask my younger brother, Nick. For twelve years, he was the smallest Carey, and he used to moan, deploring, that he “had four mothers.” We let him say it. Why else would God have given him big sisters if not to keep him on the straight and narrow way? We—being older and wiser—have known more than him at every stage of life, because before he got there, we got there first. So it made perfect sense that we should be the ones to enlighten him on all points pertaining to righteousness and honourable living.

Except we forgot one thing. We forgot that the verse which says, It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman and in a wide house [1] (and the NIV renders it “nagging” woman), doesn’t just apply to wives. It can apply just as easily to sisters. Why? Because feeling like you’d rather live on a corner of the roof is not a sentiment experienced exclusively by husbands. You don’t have to be married to want to get away from a nagging woman.

The funniest thing is, that when I was younger, I never made the connection. I knew—even when I was small—that for a wife to boss her husband around was just plain wrong. What’s more, for a husband to let his wife boss him around, well, that was even worse. I saw men that were henpecked, and I pitied them. But I didn’t much respect them, nor their wives.

I failed to see, however, that by constantly nagging my brother, I was training myself to be a Pecker, and training him to be The Henpecked. Or, to put it more bluntly, I was practising to be The Brawling Woman and turning him into the Rooftop Dweller. A sad state of affairs, to be sure.

The honest words of some friends—speaking the truth in love—and the good example of some others slowly brought me round to some semblance of sense. But it was a kicking against the goads for a while. For some reason, I had it in my head that the words were “respect your elders”, not “obey your parents.” And I figured that if I knew something right that my brother didn’t, it was my responsibility to tell him.

But all things must be considered. If my brother was about to stick his hand down a snake hole, and I knew there was a snake in there, sure I could remind him of the stupidity of that. But if he—being now a young man and capable of seeing just as well as I am—chose to stick his hand down the hole anyway, that can be his choice. We must let our brothers make those choices sometimes. Surprise! Boys’ moral wellbeing and their sense of right and wrong is not entirely formed by their big sisters. They have their parents, they have the Lord, and they have this nifty little inbuilt thing called a conscience. Certainly, at times it seems as though that little conscience should maybe yell louder, but we don’t have to.

The Scriptures say that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins [2]. Which, at first glance, seems like an out and out exhortation to pursue bossiness. But read the verse carefully, and then compare it to the methods we big sisters commonly practice. It’s not ‘error-of-way’ type stuff that we generally nag about. It’s all those little things that could be better left unsaid. Things like: “Tuck your shirt in!”, “Did you remember to wash your hands?”, and “Would you please not leave pencil shavings all over the desk?”. In matters of life and death—whether physical or spiritual danger—some Gentle Suggestions of Advice Which Must be Heeded won’t go astray. And I dare say, in calmer moments, our brothers may thank us for them. But if our brothers roll the toothpaste tube the wrong way, or if they persist in making disgusting noises, or if they embarrass us when we have visitors, guess what? They don’t instantly lose their salvation and they don’t endanger their lives. So we needn’t instantly lose our cool.

Peter’s advice for the elders of the early church also rings true for the elders of families: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly… neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. [3] If we concentrated more on the example bit, perhaps we wouldn’t do so badly at the nagging part.

Sometimes it seems to be the customary thing to add a clichéd disclaimer to the end of such articles as this, reminding the reader that the author hasn’t fully arrived. That’s what I’m doing here—not because it’s customary but because I need to let you know that I haven’t arrived at the non-nag stage at all. Nick can vouch for that! I have wondered whether—with my track record—I should share with you something I’m still very much learning myself. But since I know so many big sisters struggle with the whole nagging issue, the idea persisted.

So, regardless of the flaws you see in my life, regardless of my failings in this area, please, sisters, love your brothers and don’t nag them to distraction. We want brothers who will grow up to be strong men with firm convictions and a love of family, not boys who will turn into henpecked husbands and submissive spouses. Please build up their faith, not whine in their ears.

And I’ll stop nagging you all now.

Danielle Carey

reprinted from Whatsoever Magazine, Volume 8, #2
Notes: [1] Prov. 21:9; [2] James 5:20; [3] 1 Peter 5:2-3
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