Siblings. Samuel L Jackson. And the Importance of Forgiveness.

Inviting my kids to contribute to this series was risky. Smile. You’re about to read why. Let the mocking begin — Sheree.

This post is written by Jake, a first-year law student at the University of Florida and number six of my seven J’s. His smile has brightened our lives for 23 years.

When Mom asked my siblings and me if we wanted to contribute to her blog series, my initial thought was “Of course.”  What young parent wouldn’t want to learn from my experience and wisdom?  As I thought about it, however, I was at a loss.  Like many families, we are very close and love each other.  I also recognize that the desire to have children who love each other is common, and the potential that they won’t have close relationships growing up is real.  So what did my parents do when we were young to foster good relationships? The problem is, most of what they did was for the purpose of fostering good relationships among their kids; and when everything you do is at least partly motivated by a single goal it’s hard to point out specific, tangible things.  What I settled on, though, was the importance of forgiveness and repentance.

Let me explain why.  My theory is that brothers and sisters, all things being equal, will naturally be close.  A quick survey of pop culture, history and society shows that even non-Christians agree that siblings should have close relationships.  (See movies like Brothers, Lawless or Boondock Saints, or songs like Murder in the City by The Avett Brothers.) Not that they always will; but if they don’t, it’s usually because something went wrong.  In other words, how often, either among people you know, real situations among people you don’t know, or in movies, do you hear the attitude, “Oh yeah, my siblings are alright I guess.  I like them well enough, just not enough to really ever want to take time to see them or talk to them or care about their lives.  They’re cool though.”  Usually, either they’re close or something particular happened that broke the relationship.

This, I think, is supported by the fact that the Bible has relatively little to say specifically about the fostering of sibling relationships, yet the Bible also says “there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.”  It seems, then, that despite having relatively little to say about the subject, there is an assumption that brothers (and, I would think, siblings generally) will be very close.  After all, that statement only means something if brothers are close.  It doesn’t mean very much if that verse simply meant “there is a friend that will pass a very average bar and will be moderately important to you.”  If I tell you “there is a person in the world that is cooler than Josh Phillips”, that doesn’t mean much.  You’d probably say “Yeah, no kidding, Sherlock.” But if I say, “there is a person in the world that is cooler than Sam Jackson” that actually means something.  You’d probably find that very hard to believe.  If “closer than a brother” is analogous to the coolness of Josh Phillips that verse means nothing.  In that scenario there are probably LOTS of friends closer than a brother.  But if it’s analogous to the coolness of Samuel L. Jackson, a.k.a. the coolest human ever, then that verse means something.  It would be incredible for a friend to be closer than a brother.

It seems as if the assumption that siblings will be close is a biblical assumption.  Therefore, for siblings to not be close, in most situations, means something has to go wrong.  Unfortunately, we live in a world wrecked by sin, which means that something will often go wrong.  Siblings will sin against each other, eventually become disillusioned, bitter or cold, and relationships will either quickly or gradually become unimportant or farcical.

How do we avoid this? Since this is my shot, this post isn’t even half done. I hope your patience will be rewarded….

I’m sure there are many ways to keep kids close.  But I believe the main way our parents helped my siblings and me avoid drifting apart is by stressing forgiveness and repentance above all else.  See, we can’t stop something wrong from happening in our relationships; we can, however, make sure that those “wrong” things don’t negatively influence our relationships.

My siblings and I have sinned against each other more times than I care to remember.  When I was 7, Joey would get SO angry at me just because I would crush him at Madden ’95.  When I was 8, Janelle would lie and say “her knee hurt” every time we played basketball, just so she could go inside and read Anne of Green Gables.  When I was 17, Josh would get angrier at me than at any of my teammates when he was my coach.  See what I mean? See what I had to go through growing up? If Mom and Dad hadn’t shown me the importance of forgiveness, I probably wouldn’t even talk to them anymore.

In all seriousness, we did and do sin against each other…often.  That’s the “something went wrong” I was talking about earlier — the types of things that inhibit what would otherwise be a naturally close relationship.  Since our earliest years Mom and Dad, as well as Nanny, Bobi, (Mom’s older sister) and many others both articulated and exemplified the importance of forgiveness.  When we were younger it was as simple making us apologize to each other every time they heard angry words or selfish attitude, even over simple things that didn’t seem like that big a deal.  Even though our apology was sometimes forced (and I’m sure they knew that), the important thing was us getting into the habit of recognizing the importance of repenting and then receiving forgiveness.  As we got older, it became less about the routine of repentance and forgiveness and more about learning how a lack of forgiveness leads to bitterness, anger, disillusionment and a whole manner of ugly things that affect you more negatively than it does any of the siblings that you are angry at or bitter towards.  Of course, it’s important to realize that it hurts them, too.  But it’s more important to realize that it’s destroying your own soul.

There is more that could be said about the importance of forgiveness.  Perhaps it can be expounded upon by one of my siblings who basically sit around all day doing nothing (Jaime), or maybe one of my siblings who basically do nothing but take vacations all the time (Josh), or sit on their recliners getting more Gramps-like by the day (Joey), or have nothing better to do besides watching Walking Dead or some creepy make-up show (Julia), or listening to Glenn Beck (Jesse), or laughing really loudly and annoyingly (Janelle.)  Any of them would probably do a better job than me.

All joking aside, I can make fun of my siblings (instead of actually holding those things or actual serious things) against them because forgiveness has been fostered in our relationships from a young age.  My siblings have shown me forgiveness my whole life and, by God’s grace, I’ve been able to forgive them or overlook their sins against me.  My love for and loyalty to my siblings is possible predominantly because of God’s undeserved grace, of course, but also because it’s not colored or inhibited by a ledger of sins I’ve kept against them.  I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant or superior.  I love my siblings and would do anything for them; I know this is only possible because of a spirit of forgiveness.  I don’t think it’s arrogant or superior because I don’t think that I’m necessarily unique; lots and lots of people have extremely close relationships with their family because that spirit of forgiveness is only possible because we serve a forgiving God.

The only things I want to stress is that a) I genuinely believe your children will have close relationships unless something goes wrong, and b) the best way you can help them is to stress the importance of forgiveness.  (It is not the scope of this post to talk about trusting God and all that jazz, even though that’s obviously exceedingly more important.)  Your children will sin against each other, sometimes in ugly, heartbreaking ways.  And although I’m sure this is discouraging for you as parents, remember that your children have the perfect example of how to extend forgiveness.  When their siblings sin against them, point them toward that example.  Dealing with the sin itself is important, but much, much, much more important is helping both the sibling doing the sinning and the sibling being sinned against recognize they have a Savior that provided the opportunity for all their sins to be forgiven; then He offered a way for them to maintain a close and beautiful relationship in the midst of a sin-wrecked world and their sin-wrecked hearts.

And, with any luck, you may even find them to be cooler than Sam Jackson.

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8 thoughts on “Siblings. Samuel L Jackson. And the Importance of Forgiveness.

  1. Very well done.

    And I will be posting later, even though apparently I laugh too loud and annoyingly to have to time to write something.

  2. Very good, Jake! I am so very glad I taught my kids the importance of repentance and forgiveness at an early age! My one son had a girlfriend once who could have separated him and his brother had not they have realized this…(plus I intervened to remind them..:-) Thank God he married a precious lady who loves all of us and would never allow that to happen. I know a family whose two adult brothers are now living in an unforgiving relationship and it even causes the entire family to avoid whole family gatherings! So sad. Anyway, Thank you God for helping me know how important the issue of repentance and forgiveness are and helping me and my husband to pass this on to our kids!!

  3. 🙂 I love the Phillips family. Great job, Jake.

    I would just want to include this: “What is your definition of ‘close’ or ‘something gone wrong?'” I’ve found that many singles especially {and I was one of them…slash…you don’t have to be a single to still feel this way} have wrestled through the “culture” of close sibling relationships within various church settings, etc. The perspective can be communicated that “closer is godlier”, etc.

    When you live far away from family…sometimes…you’re just not close. Sometimes friends {or the families you live with 🙂 } legitimately feel more like siblings than your own. Doesn’t mean there’s any sin or an “event” that made you “not as close”…there is still deep love and affection. Family vacations are priority and you hug each one and get excited to spend a couple days with them. But your lives are very separate.

    The majority of my siblings don’t know about the most difficult trials I’ve faced– and I probably don’t know theirs. We’re just not “in” each other’s lives like some families. And I don’t think that’s 1.wrong or 2. a result of sin.

    …because as you mentioned…Scripture doesn’t talk about siblings, really. We are clearly called to honour our parents.

    So while I love what you said about repentance and forgiveness, and I especially appreciate the stabs you took at each sibling :), just wanted to throw a word of…”caution” maybe? to either adults, or moms who may be reading who evaluate their own “sibling relationships”, or relationships their adult children have with each other, and don’t see the kind of close-ness described and wonder what “went wrong”.

    Thoughts?

  4. JJ,

    I love you too! Those are very good thoughts. It was beyond the scope of my writing to delineate the differences between close in relationship and close in proximity. The “something went wrong” analogy would apply to a poor or indifferent relationship, not one that affected by logistical or geographical factors. Pointing out your deep love and affection for your siblings in some sense answers your own concerns. For instance, nothing that I said about my relationship with my siblings necessarily means that our relationships are any “closer” than your relationships with your siblings, or even that I live anywhere near my siblings. You happen to know that I do live very close to my siblings, but I think you could have written this post word-for-word (with more exclamation points and biblical references, of course 🙂 )

    Having said all that, what you said was very good. I agree that we absolutely shouldn’t evaluate our relationship with our siblings based on geographical proximity or current knowledge about their struggles and successes.

    • It’s nice talking about something other than Rahab. 😉 Miss you!

      That’s why I asked about your definition of “close.”

      I think for a lot of women {and maybe I’m totally off here}…”close” doesn’t just mean geographic, but relational– and deep. IN each other’s lives. Regular phone calls. Prayer partners. Bridesmaids and Groomsmen in each other’s weddings.

      My thought/concern was about:
      “It seems as if the assumption that siblings will be close is a biblical assumption.”…depending on what you mean by “close.”

      I remember having a sense of false-guilt that my sibling relationships were far more surface-y than the sibling relationships of those I saw around me. Until I realized that Scripture calls us all family and “siblings” in Christ. I then got to celebrate that, for example, you’re literally my brother as far as Christ sees it. And I could reject “pressure” to try and create that same kind of relationship with one of my actual brothers. Whom I absolutely love and get along with. But. It’s very very VERY different. Closeness cannot be forced…I’ve tried 🙂

      Again, genuinely loved what you said. And I love that I know for a fact that you and your siblings actually do live this out.

      I just wanted to kind of throw out the clarification that the closer siblings are does not equal the more God is honoured in their relationship. Which I don’t think you communicated necessarily, just kind of a general “theme” I think that women can have.

      …so with the “I genuinely believe your children will have close relationships unless something goes wrong”…I thought I’d take an opportunity to comment/hear more. In case women wouldn’t describe their children’s relationships with each other as “close” and wonder where they “went wrong.”

      Make sense? What do you think?

      • …oh and to clarify: I was using distance and living far away as one example of a reason siblings might not be close relationally.

        I think they could live near one another and not be very “close” relationally for many reasons without anything necessarily “going wrong.”

      • JJ,

        I totally see your point. I know you would understand that my (or my kids) would not want to elevate our “closeness” as the standard by which others should live. In my dictionary close may be defined very differently than in someone else’s. The question is more, “Are your sibling relationships free from bitterness, resentment and critical judgements that have lingered since you were kids?” If so, than whatever closeness you would each desire to have (which may differ from sibling to sibling) is going to be affected because unresolved sin builds walls.

        Whenever we compare ourselves to others there will always be a temptation toward inferiority or superiority. Neither is good. 🙂 I have been similarly tempted throughout my mothering years (her kids thank her more than mine do; her kids are more affectionate with one another than mine; etc). The comparison trap is never fruitful.

        I agree that Christian brothers and sisters can be closer than biological siblings at times and when this happens in the absence of familial resentment or selfish estrangement there is nothing about which to be concerned. During this season of my own life, for example, I have far more contact with my church family and sisters in Christ than I do with my biological brother and sister who have comparatively little knowledge of what is going on in my personal life than my friends do. However, to my knowledge this is not because I’m bitter toward them or have not resolved past issues with them. Some of it is proximity and not sharing life together due to living states apart, and some of it is due to the fact that we built differently as a family growing up.

        Thank you for weighing in. Your comments and questions are good ones and I hope many of my readers will see them!

        Here’s hoping OUR friendship will continue over the miles….

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