When Church Hurts

I know most of my readers are church folks.  And anyone who’s been a part of a church for very long knows that eventually hurtful things happen in a place that is assumed safe and caring.  Why?  Because everyone in the church is flawed, broken and in need of the same transformation as you and me.

As a pastor’s wife of 40 years I have experienced what one man calls both “the beauty and the brokenness of the church.”  Sometimes the brokenness comes for the unexpected reason that we Christians too often and too quickly think we get things “right.”

You can read more of my story here.

It’s an honest story.  A sad story.  But a story where I hope you’ll see redemption and hope.

Because my story, like yours, includes God.

I would love to hear your feedback on this one.

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Why June Cleaver Isn’t the Model for Godly Womanhood

Over at Redeemer Church we’re doing a series on Compassionate Complementarianism.  My first post in the series (that defines what that long word means for those who aren’t familiar) is below.  Today Jake talks about a couple of myths and misconceptions about this issue, including the truth that June Cleaver isn’t my role model.  Whew.

If you don’t know who June is that means you’re way younger than me. But suffice to say, she was a perky mom who always dressed nice (including pearls even when she cleaned and cooked) and had perfect hair, a perfect house and cooked perfect meals.  Oh, and really obedient sons.

You can read more about her – and other misconceptions about God’s call on men and women –  here.

Compassionate Complementarianism: Or Who Should Take out the Trash?

Male female graphicAs Christians, we want to embrace biblical truth and make it “look right” in our homes, friendship and workplaces.  But what happens when gender roles become the focus rather than compassionate, humble love?

Over at Redeemer Church we’re starting a new blog series today that talks about stuff like this.  You can read my first post here.

Enjoy your day!

Sheree

I’m Finally Popular!

Relationships have always been important to me.  Sometimes too important.  Honestly, there have been times in my life that people have been far more important to me than God.  Can you relate?

Visit me over at Redeemer Church to hear more of my story.

They Prayed for Me

It started like any other Sunday morning. Well, except for having three Little People to get ready to get out the door, but that’s for another post.

During worship this week there was an opportunity for those who were feeling a special need for prayer to raise our hands so those around us could gather to pray. As I lifted my hand in response, I felt my pre-teen granddaughter’s arm slide around my waist. Then one by one little ones started gathering: Bekah, Lydia, Jimmy, Wyatt, JJ, Elsie, Annie, Brianna, Joey.

I love them.

A friend captured this pic.  I’m grateful.

The tears that had been brimming during the current song we were singing spilled over into stream after stream down my face. As one tear after another fell onto little Elsie’s hair I heard a couple of sniffles. The tears of some of Redeemer Church’s youngest reminded me that I was loved by 6 and 8 and 11-year-olds who felt compassion for Granma/Mrs Phillips because she needed prayer. I felt understood. Hopeful. Humbled. Snuggled. Noticed. Whether they actually prayed for me or just wanted to hug me, God’s love for me was on display in a way I hope to never forget.

I’ve learned to gently ask myself, “Why am I crying?” because the answer isn’t usually what I think. I thought I needed prayer because I’ve been feeling weary — but God knew I needed something else; something I didn’t even know would be so helpful.

I needed to know that the brokenness and struggles through which I have walked have a purpose beyond myself. Since before I had children I’ve longed to be one of those who would “tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Ps 78:4). Aging is teaching me that telling younger generations “the glorious deeds of the LORD” isn’t just recounting the story of how God healed me from infertility; rehearsing the miracle of His provision to our former church that Sunday morning in the 80’s when a one-time offering of nearly $400K from a group of singles and young families found old and young dancing and singing for joy; or sharing about a high school revival that saw dozens of tail-end-of-the-hippie movement teens saved in a matter of months, including their now Dad, Papa, friend and/or pastor.

Recounting God’s faithfulness and power also means seeing this old lady raise her hand on Sunday to ask for prayer because she’s been going through some tough times and has learned that God is faithful to help, comfort and bring hope to the struggling day after sometimes dark, exhausting day.

Sunday morning reminded me that help doesn’t always come in expected ways. Help came not from the articulate prayers of seasoned saints or a comforting word of encouragement from someone operating in the gift of prophecy. Rather, I was helped by the caring hands of children who noticed a lady they love silently saying, “I need help.” With childlike faith they came and with outstretched hands they touched and comforted me. Their compassion was a demonstration of the love of God and evidence that the next generation is also reaching to Him; the One whose might and power is gloriously made known to a crying lady on a Sunday morning in a little church meeting in a middle school in Orlando.

Actually, that day was like any other Sunday morning. God showed up and met with His people — including little ones who will someday take their place as pillars in His church here or elsewhere. Oh, I hope to be there to cry through worship they lead and take notes during messages they preach and snuggle with babies they’ve birthed…and likely have them surround a more wrinkled, littler old lady they look down to who raises her hand for prayer again. But if I’m not here I will be among the cloud of witnesses cheering them on and worshiping at the feet of the Savior they now serve.

Lord, please give me the strength to tell them about Your power and glory and might — both with testimonies of miraculous things You’ve done in the past and by showing them that I get scared and weary and need help just like them.

Redeemer Church was planted to bring hope. This pastor’s wife and grandmother and teacher of some awesome kids in children’s ministry sure is hopeful for a generation who is willing to put down their stuffed animals or stop whispering to their buddy to come and pray for a needy grandmother.

Thank you, Lord, for loving me through the least of these.

Loving the Light

Aside

Last night a group of ladies gathered at my home for a second book study meeting. I love preparing my heart and home for most any reason that involves a crowd — but knowing they were coming made my prep especially enjoyable. Our first meeting was characterized by rich fellowship, even though a few of us were meeting one another for the first time. I was anticipating another sweet time together.

I wasn’t disappointed.

As the room filled my heart warmed at the diversity in the group. There was a college aged cutie; several single adults; married women without kids; a first-time expectant mom about to deliver any day; two moms with little ones in their laps; a middle-aged wife with no children; and a couple of Granma’s like me. In a culture where segregating people by age or season of life is common and often preferred, I’m grateful that having a new little church means everything we do is necessarily…together.

My friend, Ariel, took this pic at our meeting last night. I love these women!

My friend, Ariel, took this pic at our meeting last night. I love these women!

After our first meeting two weeks ago one of the gals contacted me to ask if she could share her testimony at the next meeting. The warmth and safety she experienced at the first meeting as she listened to ladies open up about their struggles, coupled with beginning to read the book we are studying together, was opening her heart to some painful things in her life. The Lord stirred her to write down her thoughts and she felt compelled to share her musings with the group.

I was deeply affected by this desire. Why would a young woman who had met most of those in the room at our meeting for the first time want to open up painful, tender things about her life? God was clearly at work in ways I couldn’t and didn’t need to understand.

I opened the meeting last night with the plan: we would share how we were being affected by the book, pray for one another, and then hear a testimony of one of the ladies in the group. After I finished, my new friend sheepishly said, “Sheree, I’m not sure if I can do this. I just don’t know….I want to. But I don’t know if I can.”

I assured her she didn’t have to share and that just knowing she was willing to was a wonderful demonstration of God’s grace in her life. If she decided not to open up such tender parts of her life, that was completely fine.

However, as the meeting winded down she said, “No. I want to do this. I need to do this.”

The rest of our meeting was filled with holy moments. The vulnerability and humility we all witnessed was compelling. As she read her words through tears, many of us cried along with her. The pain, shame and suffering she described touched areas in our own hearts. All of us could relate to her story in some way. We all know what it’s like to fail and to be hurt by others. She was in the company of fellow broken, weak and flawed women.

And when she was done something wonderful happened. Woman after woman thanked and commended her. The risk she took to share her life with us was met with compassion and care. The gospel was on display and we were all honored to have been entrusted with such a precious gift: the gift of disclosure that wasn’t treated as exposure. (A wonderful distinction I’ve learned from friends at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation.)

Her testimony ended with a recognition that the painful things through which she has walked, even those that were the consequences of sinful choices she made along the way, have all been used by a faithful God for good in her life. She even said that she isn’t afraid of future hardships and suffering because of all God has done through the dark times in her life.

Yes, we were on holy ground.

Do you have someone with whom you can share your story? We are all like my friend who opened her heart last night: people who have sinned, been sinned against (sometimes in vile ways) and who live in a fallen world with the resulting consequences of pain, shame, disappointment and discouragement. When we keep our “secrets” in the dark, they grow and often haunt us. When we, however, find a safe person or people to whom we can disclosure things hidden or tucked away, the light dispels the darkness and we see with new eyes.

Choosing the “right” person or people is really important. At times I have unwisely opened my heart and life to people because it felt like the right thing to do and ended up regretting my decision when their responses made me realize I spoke prematurely. Gratefully, though, God has put a few people in my life to whom I can pour out the good, bad and ugly of my past and present struggles.

The light can be a little blinding at times. We all know the feeling of needing to allow our eyes to adjust when we leave a dark room. But the warmth and clarity that only the light can bring are needed and welcomed when God provides a safe and caring place to be honest.

I’m glad my new friend found that place. And I’m glad I was there on a front row seat watching God’s amazing work in her life.

I love the light.

When Friends Become Enemies

Rich and Seth were best friends growing up. They did all the normal stuff together: sports, youth group and girlfriend switching. No one was surprised when they decided to attend the same out-of-state college.

Nearly twenty years later, however, Seth and Rich rarely see each other.  They talk a few times a year by phone and send each other Christmas gifts with a family photo. As 40-somethings, they’re busy with kids and careers…and they have the perfunctory “we gotta do that hunting trip” exchange at least once a year. But they both know that trip is unlikely to happen….

What do you think of their relationship? Did they, like most childhood friends, just drift apart? Does it seem superficial and perhaps dutiful? Or would you define it as healthy and warm, especially for guys who haven’t lived near each other in years?

However you perceive this friendship, what you don’t know is that a few years back something painful happened between them. The details aren’t that important. Some would think their conflict wasn’t all that serious, while others might see the issues as irreparable. Those outside such situations are often quick to judge…until hurt feelings and tension come into our own lives. What is important is that for nearly two years Rich and Seth couldn’t have a amiable conversation so they gave up.

The tension and anger between these two men could have destroyed them. The advice of the few people who knew about their conflict varied widely: everything from “it’s not that big of a deal, move on” to “you’re crazy if you don’t walk away.” These guys and their wives strongly disagreed on some weighty and longstanding issues between them that produced their heated interactions. Yet they agreed on the most important thing; they didn’t want to walk away from a decades-long friendship.

The truth is Rich and Seth’s relationship is healthy. Why? Because they decided to do what Else and JJ did. They humbled themselves and asked forgiveness. It wasn’t easy. Rich was afraid he had disappointed his life long buddy far too deeply. Seth’s resentment tempted him to wonder if he even wanted to try to repair the relationship. One thing we do to each other that isn’t helpful is try to impose our personal preferences on what friendship or care or loyalty should look like rather than allowing the Bible to define that for us.

I am going through a season where I’m battling relational temptations, too. Today I was contacted by a facebook friend who asked me if I ever felt troubled because “Jesus just isn’t enough.” She expressed her discouragement that her emotions and the circumstances of life were crowding in on her, and her relationship with the Lord was being pushed out. I empathized and told her I would pray for her…if she would pray for me.

When circumstances press in, and especially when relational challenges threaten our joy, we have to remember something: Jesus is enough. He was enough for Rich and Seth. Because they value biblical principles more than they prize relief from conflict, they chose to forgive. Their contact isn’t as frequent as some would say is “biblical” and they still work through temptations to be anger and bitter. But they are not allowing others’ “you should be’s” rule. Rather, they understand that the difficulties that took years to develop will likely take years to fully resolve. Forgiveness is the first step to God-gloriying fruit. As author Jerry Bridges says, the process of Christian growth (sanctification) requires “personal, vigorous effort anchored in the grace of God.” Rich and Seth are both learning how to patiently persevere through the Spirit-empowered, vigorous effort that change demands.

These men may never vacation together or invite each other into town for Christmas. The fact that they care about and aren’t bitter toward one another is cause for gratefulness. Being reconciled to someone when sin (yours, theirs or both) has caused a breach in your relationship doesn’t necessarily mean that things have to be “the same” as prior to when things went south.

What does need to remain is the awareness that God is in control even when hopelessness crowds out faith.

If you are either Rich or Seth, I invite you to join me in trusting in gospel-saturated hope that things will get better. “Better” may not mean the person or people with whom you are struggling will change. Believe me, if there was a way to reach in and change a person’s heart I would have figured that out by now! Not only can we not change another’s heart and perspective, we can’t even change our own.

But Someone can. Think about ways in which you are different than you were a year ago…two years ago…ten years ago. You and I aren’t different because we got older or decided to change. We’re different because God promised to complete the work He began at our conversion. He’s doing the changing of us!

I need fresh faith to focus on the needed changes and corresponding promise of grace in my own heart. Because God accepted the atoning death of Jesus Christ as payment for my sin and promises to change me (ever so slowly, it seems) I don’t have to worry about Him changing others. Like Rich and Seth, I can forgive and then let God define what change should look like in those with whom I’m struggling…and provide joy in the struggle.

Over time, friends can become enemies. Husbands and wives may drift apart. Siblings can lose contact. Parents and adult children will offend and hurt each other. Coworkers ask to be transferred to a different department. Sometimes it happens so slowly that it takes a shouting match or bitter tears to expose what’s been hiding in wounded or sinful hearts.

But the good news is there is hope. Even if the other person remains hard-hearted, we can choose grace. The baby in a manger grew up to die so you and I could be forgiven sinners. And then turn and forgive those who sin against us.

God and sinners reconciled. Sinners reconciled with each other. Glory to the newborn King that made this possible.

The Mean Picture Lesson

I happend to catch this candid shot of JJ and Elsie in my backyard last week having a sibling “moment”….

Last week my 5-year-old granddaughter, Elsie, got mad at her brother, JJ. Really mad. No one knows why. But she was so mad she drew a picture of herself and him. Only she drew a diagonal line through him…like those signs you see that warn people not to walk in the grass or cross the street in a certain spot.

Her 7-year-old brother saw his sister’s obvious anger and aloofness, but he hadn’t seen the picture she drew. He just knew she wouldn’t play with him and was snippy when he spoke to her. This had certainly happened numerous times before so he knew what to do. JJ found his mom and told her Elsie was angry and wouldn’t play with him.

That day was like every other one for Rachel — just another sibling skirmish to referee like she had hundreds before. Perhaps the thought came: “How many times am I gonna have to do this?” But what she didn’t know is that this tiff would be different…

In recent months I’ve heard of numerous relational conflicts between people. Folks have gotten really mad at others for varying reasons, some serious and others petty.  Living in a fallen world means promises get broken, feelings get hurt and people get angry. For some reason holiday stress — coupled with the common disappointment when our Christmas season doesn’t closely resemble Hallmark cards and movies — brings relational conflicts to the surface.

As I said on Monday, the holidays can be laced (or it some cases, doused) with disappointment, and one of the big reasons is tension between people who have been or want to be close, but aren’t.

I learned something from JJ and Elsie last week. And their mom. The gospel can shine brightest when people sin.

When Rachel brought her children together to talk through their conflict, she expected things to go as usual. Elsie would complain about something her brother had done. JJ would try to explain or defend himself, and perhaps point out something Elsie did that warranted his reaction. Rachel would try to help them see the importance of getting along and ask them to play nicely. Or maybe, depending on whether or not 3-year-old Eleanor was writing on walls with markers or getting into Mommy’s makeup, Rach would take the time to lovingly remind them that Jesus can help them love each other and then pray with them for His help.

But God had other plans.

They really do love each other.

Before Rachel had time to address Elsie’s anger toward her brother she was bringing over her picture to show Mommy. She was crying, not because she was mad at JJ but because she had drawn a mean picture that demonstrated her angry attitude.  Rachel explained that she understood how easy it is to get angry at people, saying she has drawn that same picture over and over in her own heart. Then JJ cozied up to his sister and put his arm around her.

“It’s okay, Elsie. I understand. I get angry, too,” he said.

Rachel then told them that because they are sinners, Jesus provided a way for them to be forgiven. All Elsie needed to do to stop crying and feeling bad about her mean picture and angry attitude toward her brother was to ask Jesus and JJ to forgive her. Once she did that, it was all over and she didn’t have to feel badly anymore. So Elsie asked forgiveness of God and her brother, then began happily playing.

When Rachel told me the story several days later, she wasn’t boasting about what good parents she and Josh are to raise such humble kids. She was genuinely amazed at God’s work in both her children. She knew that Elsie’s sincere sorrow over drawing such a mean picture of her brother, and JJ’s eagerness to empathize with her, were first and foremost evidences of God’s grace in their lives.

And what’s thrilling is this same grace is available to you and me.

Is there someone you’re not looking forward to spending time with this Christmas, or someone you’re glad you won’t be seeing? Over the past year (or more?) have you noticed growing anger or bitterness building in your heart toward anyone? Have you drawn a mental picture of someone and then essentially crossed him or her out of your life?

Perhaps you can prayerfully consider humbling yourself and sharing your “picture” with them. God will show you what this should look like. He might lead you to take the first step of simple (but not easy!) initiative in the form of a quick email to say hello; or maybe prompt you to plunge right into deeper waters by asking forgiveness for your anger or bitterness.

The reality is they may not respond the way JJ did — and things could actually get even more muddy. But God will be watching. He knows all about the costs of bridging the gap between those in conflict. The cross demonstrates to us that if God could reconcile sinful man to His holy self, there is no relationship beyond repair.

P.S.  Repairing relationships doesn’t always mean things have to be like they once were or that wrong patterns of relating will change right away. Relationships typically take a long time to break down…and equally long to repair. Healthy interactions don’t mean you have to have Christmas dinner together. More on that tomorrow.

Those Who Stayed With Me

You can barely see Jaime in this pic…how could she not love a cute little girl like this? 🙂

Today’s post is from Janelle, our fifth, who is married to Eric and is an orthopedic nurse.

So far, you have heard from my younger brother, Jake, on the importance of forgiveness and repentance in sibling relationships.  Even though he dissed me and said my laugh is loud and annoying (ok… maybe it is) I wholeheartedly agree with him.  You also heard from my older sister, Jaime. I felt good when I read her post because I don’t ever remember us biting or pulling each other’s hair like her girls do – so there is definitely hope for Annie and Danae.

This post has less about what you can do to foster close sibling relationships in your own kids and more about how God uses bad circumstances to do good things between siblings. The pictures on this page are a testimony to God’s faithfulness…more on that later.

Let’s face it, when we are going through a great season where everything is going our way, everyone is being nice to us, the Lord is blessing, and our kids are being kind to each other (or in my case, my husband is being kind to me) it’s easy to cruise along and be happy.

But when I think back to the seasons of my life I felt closest to my siblings I remember the aftermath of difficulties and trials.  As a kid I was less aware of this than I am now.  However, after reaching adulthood, some of my sweetest memories with my siblings were during times of intense heartache.  Two of these memories stand out more than any others.

Oldest brother Josh. The tears started with him.

I was eleven when my eighteen-year-old sister Jaime got married. I didn’t think much about it. All I knew was that PJ was nice to me and that I liked him, and that Jaime and I weren’t close because she didn’t like me.  (Of course, it had nothing to do with me be an annoying little sister!) As time when on, however, I began to better understand what happened. You see, Jaime and PJ were keeping their relationship secret from our family because they knew Dad and Mom wouldn’t approve. This was the hardest thing our family had walked through. The months that followed were difficult as my parents, sister and new brother-in-law carefully walked through the repercussions of this decision. I remember Mom crying a lot and Dad being unusually quiet. I was fearful and anxious about the future. Our normally happy, loud house was sad and quiet.

Soon after the marriage Jaime wanted to take me to the mall.  I was surprised since she had never done this before. We laughed and hung out. I had the time of my life with a sister I secretly adored but had never been close to.  As we were walking she suddenly stopped, looked at me intently and said, “Missy, you have to promise me something.”  I had no idea what to expect.  “You have to promise that when you like a boy, even just a little bit, you will tell Mom and Dad and trust them.”  She was so serious and passionate I had no choice but to agree.

Tall brother Jesse. He always makes me smile.

I never forgot that promise to my sister.  I can point back to that moment as the moment we became friends.   In fact, she helped Mom plan my wedding and in May 2010 she was my matron of honor. Few were as supportive and happy as Jaime to see me marry the love of my life. Because she made me promise to trust my parents, Eric was the first serious relationship I had….and Mom and Dad were the first to hear that I had my eye on him.

The other memory finds me at my grandmother’s gravesite.  Nanny’s funeral had been both somber and joyous as we celebrated the fact that she was now in heaven with her Savior, her husband and her son — free from the cancer that had been diagnosed only weeks before. The previous months had been draining on our whole family.  Just two weeks earlier, and within days of Nanny’s diagnosis, we had moved to Orlando from the only home we had known; a home we shared with Nanny. Now one of my favorite people in the world was suddenly gone. After watching her coffin laid to rest, I wanted to escape all of it.  I couldn’t stand it anymore.  I moved away from everyone and broke down crying.  I had been crying all day but these were different tears; tears of despair and anger.  I didn’t notice him walking up but then felt Joey’s arm go around me.  He wasn’t one to show affection easily, especially to me, but he saw me crying and wanted to comfort me.  He didn’t say a word.

Sweet brother Joey. (With Jaime looking on.) I’ll remain forever grateful for his hugs.

What Joey didn’t know was that memory would stick with me through the extremely difficult time of going back to Orlando to no friends and the grief of losing Nanny. Mom and Dad were still trying to process and deal with her death, as well as the circumstances that led to our move in the first place. God used my providential loneliness to force me to the Scriptures for solace and comfort.  I don’t know what would have happened if Joey hadn’t silently comforted me.  Maybe I would have trusted God with my grief, but perhaps I would have turned into a bitter teenager who thought that God was cruel and unloving.  What I do know, however, is that moment brought me closer to a brother who put aside his personality to comfort his little sister.

These memories are only two out of probably hundreds.  Now that we’re all adults, my siblings and I continue to walk through trials and hardships.  I know without a doubt that we all have each other’s backs.  I know they sincerely want what is best for me.  And I know that the prayers of my parents are being answered through the good times, but mostly through trials.

My nearest brother Jake. We fought. We bickered. We became friends. And here we cried.

So please take heart.  God can forge a bond between your own children. He will use your prayers that will tested and tried through the flames of hardship, loss and grief. One my wedding day I experienced the love of my siblings in a profound way. My sisters were my attendants and my brothers surprised me with a reception dance where they each cut in to dance with me one by one. I will never forget their expression of love for me that day.

In Luke 22 we find Jesus reclining at the Last Supper with his disciples.  After breaking bread and drinking wine Jesus tells them one of them will betray him.  What did they do? Say things like, “Oh Jesus, thank you for being willing to die for us!” or “How hard this must be for you, to suffer and die!”  Yeah, no.

“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.”

My newest brother PJ. He always liked me.

It reminds me of when all of my family is together at a birthday party and Mom initiates our normal tradition of honoring me – the birthday kid. But somehow the conversations turns to my brothers arguing about whose basketball career was the most impressive.  They all claim personal rights;  Joey because of his last second three pointer in the playoffs; Josh because he scored 1,000 points by his junior year; Jake because he….just because he’s the best at everything; and Jesse because he dominated the paint.  Okay, not a perfect analogy.

In His moment of greatest need Jesus could have said, “Guys!  I am about do DIE!  I am the greatest, you nimrods! How can you be thinking of yourselves at a time like this?!?”  Rather, He gently reminds them that the greatest would also be the one who serves.  But the most surprising thing to me that he says is right after.

“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials.”

That echoes in my heart.

Mom and Dad, you are those who have exemplified what it means to pray for your children through trials.

Josh, Jaime, Jesse, Joey, Jake, Julia…you are those who have stayed with me in my trials.

P.S. The rest of the story: Jaime and PJ will celebrate their 15th anniversary in March, and Dad and Mom love him. Well…mostly because he helped give them Kayla, Wyatt, Annie and Danae.

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.