A few weeks ago, I spent a number of hours curled up on my favorite couch cushion pondering an unusual topic for me—plural marriage. I was busy ignoring the dishes in the sink and the clothes on the bathroom floor, engrossed in a novel called True Sisters. The book, based on true events, is set in the 1850s, when Mormon converts from European countries crossed the Atlantic and traveled by train to Iowa City. They then carried on by foot, pushing handcarts filled with bare necessities the remaining 1,300 miles to Salt Lake City, Utah. True Sisters specifically recalls, through the eyes of four very different women, the disastrous events that befell the Martin Handcart Company on the journey to their promised land and how they relied on each other as nearly a third of their co-pilgrims succumbed to freezing temperatures, starvation, injuries, and sheer exhaustion.
As I read, I couldn’t help but place myself into the story, wondering how I would have handled not only the incredibly difficult journey but also the life that lay ahead of me at the end of it.
Imagine with me for a moment:
Your husband has dragged you on a never-ending pilgrimage to a place you know nothing about. Freezing and hungrier than you’ve ever been, you send up a silent prayer that you won’t have to birth your baby in the snow like so many of the women around you, then reach around your pregnant belly to push a poorly made handcart with frostbitten fingers. Your dear husband smiles at you and casually observes that you will be so happy upon arrival to Zion, where there will be sister wives to help with the daily chores of life.
(Cue screeching record player sound.)
Did he just say sister wives?
How do you respond?
In case you’re not sure, I’ve got lots of ideas here. You could put your hands on your gingham-covered hips and give him The Look. You could give him words of “wisdom.” You could give him the Z. Shaped. Snap. (Interested in suggestions for the sweet, submissive wife? Sorry, you’ve got the wrong girl.)
When I think about how I would handle having sister wives, my mental boxing gloves immediately go up. I think of limited time, limited resources, maybe even limited love, and I think about making sure I get my fair share. If my husband moved another wife into my crib, I’d go 80 shades of crazy and rightfully so. Some things aren’t meant to be shared.
But even today, without the threat of having to share our home and husband with other wives, we as women often approach our relationships with each other the same way. Whether in the realm of relationships, dreams, careers, or talents, it’s easy to fall into the snare of competition, believing there’s only room for a certain number of women to get the goods and that the rest will be left on the sidelines.
It happened to me (again) just the other day, when I learned that someone I went to college with had signed a multi-book deal with a major publishing house. Instead of simply being happy for the person or even being grateful for this new connection within the publishing world, my initial reaction was honestly a little bit panicked. Was I being left behind? Would there still be a place for me and my ideas, and who would I have to fight to get there? Ugh. Just when I think I’ve gotten rid of those gloves, they pop back up.
For me, the cure for this insecurity is found in revisiting what God says about his plans for me. Jeremiah 29:10-11 says, “I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised…I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.”
When I’m securely rooted in this truth, I have nothing to fear in others’ accomplishments, nothing to fear in taking hands and walking with the women around me.
The women of the Martin Handcart Company weren’t much different, but what they found when they began to tear down the walls built by their competitive comments and actions (which were really little more than thinly veiled insecurities), they were able to connect with and support each other in a way that literally kept them alive.
There are very few things more powerful than the words and actions of one woman to another, very few things that creep into our souls and linger, echoing long after they’ve been spoken. And engaging in true relationship, whether we’re pushing handcarts in long skirts or texting a word of encouragement to a friend, is both holy and necessary work.
Galatians 6:2-3 lays it out pretty clearly: “Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.”
Playing off our insecurities, encouraging competition, and discouraging authentic relationships are a few of Satan’s favorite tactics to use among women, but here’s the truth:
While we may not be sister wives, we do have sister LIVES. We share space, time, resources, and relationships. We are sister workers, sister dreamers, sister friends. We are sister survivors and God’s daughters. We really do belong to each other. It gets complicated, I know. There are a lot of us, with a lot of baggage and struggles and dreams and plans.
But God’s plan has a place for all of us that cannot be diminished by the accomplishments of others. In his kingdom, where earthly rules are regularly turned on their heads, we find that when we reflect rather than deflect the unique beauty and brilliance of those around us, we are not extinguished after all. Instead, we may just find our journey to the promised land more clearly illuminated than ever.
Where do you keep your mental boxing gloves? How can you approach interactions with other women as holy sister-life opportunities rather than competition?