Focus On the Family – My Siblings & I
Sibling rivalries have been there for centuries including Biblical times. We find great stories of sibling rivalries of brothers and sisters who did not get along well. In Gen 37 we have the story of Joseph who irritated his brothers with his dreams and they decided they could do with “one less brother”. He had a habit of reporting them to their father Vs 2 “He brought a bad report about them”. They decided to harm him and sold him to Egypt.
The scripture stories:
25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.
26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood?27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.
28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels[a] of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.
Jacob and Esau were wrestling with one another even before they were born.
19 This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac.
Abraham became the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram[a] and sister of Laban the Aramean.
21 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.
23 The Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”
24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau.[b]26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.[c] Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.
In 2 Sam 13 we see the rivalry that existed between the sons of Jacob ending with Absalom killing his brother Ammon for raping his sister Tamar.
A few weekends ago, while we were at my parents’ home, my oldest child asked me if I had a sister. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer her. Yes, I do have a sister, and I’ve had her for 33 years. But no, we don’t see each other, and we don’t speak to each other. This post is hard to write, for a few reasons. It forces me to admit that not all is perfect in our family, that I’m not perfect at relationships and that something is broken that can or may never be fixed. I guess we were close when we were younger. We are all two or three years apart, and there were four of us in an average-sized house. I know we fought, argued and sometimes irritated each other. But we were siblings. I also know that we helped each other and stood up for each other when needed.
The first relationship strain was between my youngest brother and me. When I was pregnant with my first child, he was separating from his wife. I’m sure that the strain of both situations played a part, and we haven’t spoken in more than seven years. He has never met my children, nor have I ever met his son, who is four days younger than my own.
I have never been exceptionally close with my other brother. Not that there’s anything wrong there, yet he’s not one to make an effort. He’s not a fan of social media, so it’s not a viable means of keeping in touch. He’s not one to return a phone call or initiate one. There comes a point when you can no longer put in the effort if it’s not reciprocated. And then there’s my sister. Almost eight years younger than me, she and I weren’t exceptionally close growing up, but became closer in adulthood. A strained argument over the phone over something (I consider) to be of no consequence later, and we haven’t spoken in two years. She lives out of the country and I rarely saw her before our separation. Despite texts and phone calls, there was no communication from her. At some point, you need to let go.
I watch my kids together, the way they play, fight and argue. And yet I know that above all else, they love each other. I’ve seen the way my oldest will defend her younger sister on the playground when she thinks she’s being wronged. And I see the way that my son worries when one of the girls isn’t with us.
I cry to think of a day when they will care so little about each other that they don’t talk, refuse to speak or even see each other. By the time they reach adulthood they will have shared so many memories and will have a shared history. I want them to want to gather with my husband and I, as well as with their own families. I want them to love and support one another, and although they may not get along all the time, look forward to our shared times together. When I was upset recently over finding out that my siblings had all gotten together last Christmas, a friend told me that at some point you may just have to let go of the things you can’t change. And I guess this is my way of letting go. There are some things that you can’t change, and nearing 40 with another baby on the way, I only have time to focus my energies on so much. I desperately hope my children never have to do the same.
Is that you?
Are you struggling with sibling relationship for one reason or another? Do you get along well with your brothers and sisters, your cousins and half-brothers and sisters?
One of the clearest lessons in the Bible for siblings today comes from the story of Martha and Mary, two adult sisters living in the same house with their brother Lazarus.
From conflict to resolution, Martha and Mary give us a wonderful look at how God intends for us to thrive in the midst of our differences.
Mary and Martha had different ideas of what should happen when Jesus came to visit them.
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Two sisters, different priorities:
- Martha saw an opportunity to host the Lord and His disciples by cooking a good meal. After all, how many people had the opportunity of hosting the Lord?
- Mary saw a wonderful moment to listen to what the Lord had to say at the comfort of their home. She probably had earlier tried to get close to him and this was her opportunity and she was not going to miss a moment of it.
Martha was fuming that her sister did not seem to care, she probably was upset with Jesus too for giving attention to her sister while she was left to cook.
What could they have done? Maybe it would have been good if the two sisters had planned together how to host. They could have agreed on a solution comfortable for the family.
- Outside catering
- Sharing the chores (Martha make the Ugali, Mary make the stew, Lazarus could have laid the table)
- They could have asked Jesus to do a miracle from the left-overs after all Jesus could feed the five thousand.
Had they prepared better, they both would have had the opportunity to listen to the teachings of Jesus.
Some of the conflicts with our siblings are not necessary and can be avoided. Unfortunately, they are a carryover from our childhood unsettled disputes and grudges.
When a healthy conversation didn’t happen, the seeds for family conflict were planted. When Martha felt the stress of preparing for so many by herself, the plants of conflict were watered, fertilized, and cultivated. With every glance toward her idle sister, Martha’s anger was increased.
But Martha did not address her anger or her concern to Mary! She was angry at her sister, but she didn’t communicate that anger. The avoidance of confrontation not only didn’t solve the problem, it actually made the problem far worse. Eventually, Martha’s refusal to confront Mary resulted in a far more unpleasant situation.
In addition, Martha’s effort to punish her sister actually backfired. When Jesus spoke, he corrected Martha!
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Because she avoided direct, confrontational conversation with her sister, everyone in the family suffered.
Confrontation seems frightening to many people.
Here’s a key to remember: Confrontation is no more than a conversation about differences. And confrontation is a lot more pleasant than conflict!
Conflicts in a family are hardly the fault of one member of the family.
- Martha’s mistake was avoiding confrontation.
- Mary’s mistake was for placing her desires in front of those of her sister’s.
Both were correct in their analysis of the situation. Mary was right is going to listen to Jesus and Martha was right that their guests needed food. Had Mary thought about Martha’s practical character, she would have helped in the kitchen, Lazarus could have helped the girls so that the family could have had the opportunity to listen to Jesus. The Lord has called us to serve one another. We have different giftings and different priorities, but they can all complement each other.
Knowing Jesus is the key to any family’s success
We meet this family again in John 12:1-3, Jesus was in their life and He had resurrected Lazarus four days after his burial. They have an opportunity to say thank you and they threw a dinner in honor of Jesus at Bethany.
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint[a] of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
What was different from the first encounter?
They not only had been with Jesus and experienced a first-hand miracle, they were ardent followers of Jesus.
- Lazarus had the distinct understanding of what it was like to be dead, and yet alive, because of Jesus.
- Martha had made a bold profession of faith before Jesus had raised her brother. (John 11:27)
- Mary worshipped Jesus with an expensive boldness, bathing his feet with pure nard.
Nothing will promote the best characteristics of your family like putting Jesus at the center of your family. When each member of the family professes Jesus as Martha did, every sibling is on the same team. Brothers serve, sisters speak lovingly of one another, and family members recognize the strengths of other personalities inside the family circle.
Reasons to be happy that you have a sibling:
- You will always have an ally-You can always count on your sibling to have your back covered
- They make you more successful-There success may spill over instead of arguing who is more successful.
- You can share responsibility-You can take turns to go see mum and dad or hosting the larger family etc
- You can make great companions-You know each other over long periods, you can make good pals that travel and eat together. Families gel more easily.
- You will always have a second home-If your sibling is staying in a different city you can always visit and know you have a get-away home.
- You always had a playmate when growing up-You can share memories, jokes that no one else understands, they can be your playmate today.
- They teach you patience-Sharing your toys and having to wait your turn when you’re little might seem like the end of the world, but when you’re older you’ll be grateful you learned how to play nice at an early age.
- They are there for you in times of need– Loss of jobs; break-up in relationship, sickness
- They are your guinea pigs– You remember when you wanted to ask your dad or mum something and you were not sure of their answer? You sent your younger brother or sister.
- They can actually make good business partners-They were brought up the same way you were. You may have a good understanding on each other especially the way you look at money.
- They will be your oldest friend– Friends come and go and change as you grow, you never change siblings.
What will strengthen my relationship with my siblings?
- Bless them: Your brother or your sister will always do something that will offend you. Mostly we are more upset because of our expectation since they are family. But if you ask God to help you bless them, you will have a better family relationship.
- Spend quality time together: When you are deliberate to look for each other and share the five-love language, your relationship can only become better. (1) encouraging words, (2) gift giving, (3) physical touch and closeness, (4) serving each other, and (5) quality time.
- Take opportunity to serve: Be grateful when they ask you to serve them in one way or the other. When your sister or brother asks you to do something for them, instead of getting frustrated about them always telling you what to do, choose to treat the opportunity as an act of worship to the Lord. In your heart you can tell the Lord, “Lord, I will joyfully serve my siblings because I love You, and I love them.”
- Be patient: When you are tempted to get irritated, remember I Corinthians 13:5: “Love . . . is not easily provoked.” Quote this verse to yourself over and over again until the Word does its work in your heart and you find yourself at peace again.
- Understand Spiritual Gifts: Your relationship with your siblings will improve tremendously if you take interest in their giftings. It proves to them that you care enough to invest your time in their lives. We sacrifice good relations with our siblings when we let outside relations gain too much prominence in our lives at the expense of our siblings.
- Use Creative means to demonstrate love to each other: You know each other so well-surprise your sibling, take them to a dinner and appreciate them or treat them to a show or something they like- don’t ask for favors in return.
- Be a good example- Especially if you’re the elder one. Even if you are younger, you can be the one to initiate acts of love-everyone wants to be loved.
- Understand love language- We love our siblings but at times we lack the wisdom of outward manifestation of demonstrating that love. Love your siblings in the way they desire to be loved. (Some like hugs, gifts, time spent together) Learn to show them love in ways they appreciate to be loved.
- Work on projects together: They don’t need to be partners in your project, but siblings love to be consulted or informed. It makes them feel valued and are likely to give very good advice.
- Practice forgiveness and Repentance: Sibling harmony is created by genuinely identifying conflict areas and taking the initiative to seek forgiveness. When we do this, our siblings feel loved especially where you did not require them to also say sorry and they will respond by loving you back and reciprocating. Don’t forget to pray for them.
Luke provides a wonderful word picture for us in Luke 10. Mary’s gift of perfume apparently nearly overwhelmed the people in the house. The smell “saturated” the house, Luke says. The house was “filled with the fragrance”. No one could escape it. If you had been allergic to perfume, you’d have had to leave. It was so strong, the smell surely stayed in the house long after Jesus left. For days after, the scent was a constant reminder that Jesus had been in their home, and that he’d made a profound difference in the way siblings related to one another. When Jesus becomes the focus of your family, the difference will saturate your home, too. It’ll fill every corner and affect every relationship.
Will you be your sibling’s fragrance?
Rev. Julius Wainaina