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.