18 May 2010

The Most Important Relationships

Since our children were born, we have made it a priority to teach them certain things. This is not unlike most parents. We all have some kind of wisdom which we intend to impart to our offspring. Unfortunately, many parents, having experienced poor relationships with their own siblings, assume that teaching their children to prioritize having a friendship with their own sibling is something that isn't even considered. They don't believe it's even possible to do so, and, at best, they believe that it just won't happen until their children are grown and learn to appreciate the blessing of having a sibling.

I have never been one of those parents, though I do understand why they would feel that way to some extent. It has almost become the American way of doing things. It is considered to be acceptable and even probable that children who reside under one roof will not like each other. And what role models do most of us have in this? Do we have challenging relationships with our own siblings? How about our parents? Do they seek to foster intimate relationships with their siblings? I know that this is not something that is always like this, so please don't assume that I am making blanket statements here. I am simply pointing out that this is often just the way it is. Siblings fight, nitpick, call each other names, yell at each other, etc...and it's all considered par for the course.

Parents too often respond to this by doing the same kinds of things. We shout or nag and pretty much get nowhere with our kids. They already have friends, so when we remind them that their sibling is supposed to be their best friend, well, they simply don't care. We have to fight this problem, but first, we have to recognize that it is a problem. 

In our family, we have been teaching our children about this concept since they were old enough to begin to understand. My children could probably quote many, many of our favorite catch phrases to you, one of which is, "A friend is a friend at least for today, but a sibling is a sibling for life." It is a monumental theme in our household. It is one of the key lessons which we want our children to learn. Friends come and go, another difficult lesson to learn (and one that they do not understand yet), but siblings don't ever go away. They  may grow up and move to another state or even another country, but you are always connected to your siblings in a way that is impossible to capture through any other relationship.
Lest you believe I have developed a perfect formula for teaching this concept, I must admit that, unfortunately, my children have not learned this lesson completely. Oh, Lukas is quick to defend his little sister, and Ava adores her big brother, so we are doing something right. BUT, yes, a very big BUT, they fight, nitpick, call each other names, and even occasionally hit, pinch or kick the other one on a semi-regular basis. Sometimes, if a friend is over, they even disregard the feelings of their sibling all together in favor of their friend. Haven't we all done this? Our siblings have to accept us the way we are. They can't get rid of us, but our friends? They don't have to put up with any of our baggage. If we disregard what they want, they might actually not want to be our friend anymore. This is the way we reason things in our childhood(and in adulthood as well). This is the battle we have chosen to fight in our family.

I don't know very many adults who are great examples of this concept. Most of us let down our guard when we are in our own homes with our immediate family and closest friends. We aren't as careful about what we say or what we expect.  We say things to each other that we wouldn't say to anyone else. We react to each other in ways we wouldn't react to anyone else. We give ourselves excuses and convince ourselves that it is okay to be better for the outside world than to those we love and care for the most. Loose tongues and half-hearted service to those we love the most are not acceptable in the kingdom of God. We, as believers, are called to treat everyone with the same love and respect we wish to be shown ourselves. The Bible does not make an exception for us where our family is concerned. Nowhere does it say, "Love your neighbor as yourself unless you are related." This is another key phrase that our children have heard pop from my mouth time and time again.

This concept can obviously go beyond sibling relationships. Believers often do this to each other, to our sisters and brothers in faith. We put on our perfect smile when we are trying to witness to someone, but we grump and complain when we are with each other. Or, we feel comfortable to say certain things to people within the fold that we wouldn't say to anyone else expecting them to show us an attitude of grace, mercy and forgiveness even when we are showing them our worst side. It's truth. We all know it. We may not like it, but it is the truth. We excuse such behavior by saying that we felt like we "had to be honest with him" about whatever or grievance is knowing that we were just plain hurtful or selfish or rude to the other person. God does not allow for negative behavior in the name of honesty. This is one of my greatest pet-peeves within the church and within households. The book I am reading says it this way, "we have lower expectations of ourselves and higher expectations of them." We do, don't we? I mean, if we're being honest, we do. I know that I am guilty of this, and I know that I am not alone because I have seen it time and again within the church and within relationships that I have in my own life.

And so we battle. We fight against principalities that we cannot see, and we fight against our own negative behaviors, which our children do see all too clearly,  and we fight against the behaviors of those who have influence on our children because we want better things for them. We show them how to react through the way we treat our own siblings, our spouses, our parents, our closest friends. If selfishness and disrespect run rampant in your relationships with your spouse, family or closest friends, expect to see that surface in the sibling relationships between your kids.

I want better things for my kids. I want them to love each other like best friends forever. I believe this is possible. I know that it is the way God intended for things to be. I long for it. If God intended this to be, then it is more than possible! We need to grasp onto that truth and stop believing that is is impossible just because that's what we've been told.

Because of this desire I have to teach truth to my children, I am currently reading a book that addresses this subject. Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends by Sarah, Stephen and Grace Mally. Yep. It's written by three siblings and three best friends. but it is only authored by three people. You get my point. These three siblings, while being very honest about their struggles and shortcomings, have managed to maintain a friendship that is so often disregarded as unimportant in our society.  They were young when they wrote this book, but their thoughts and points are very clearly delivered. I'm not very far into the book yet, and I have already discovered wisdom in their words. My heart resonates with theirs. If Ava was a little bit older, we would probably be reading this during our family devotional time, and we probably will do so in two or three years when she is at an age where she can grasp it. Until then, I'm going to work at teaching my children the godly principles which are laid-out in this simply written book, and I'm going to hope that it influences every important relationship in their lives.

Surprisingly, I have found myself to be convicted by the words of these young authors. I need to work on putting my best foot forward around those I love the most. This Christian life is a process, after all, one that I desire to accomplish with gusto. This is a race I must finish. This is a race that I desire for each of my children to finish, and, because of this desire to be in the center of God's will for our lives, I will continue to seek ways to make our family relationships a priority and work to be an example of Christ even to those to whom I am closest. I want my husband, children, extended family, closest friends and acquaintances to all see Jesus in me. I think this is idea of switching things up by putting higher expectations on ourselves and lower expectations on others is a lesson which would benefit all of us. Wouldn't it be amazing to see what God could do with us if we all chose to make these kinds of considerate attitudes part of our lifestyle dedicated to Him? It would change the church from the inside-out, and, therefore, change the world! I'd like to see that happen.  I'll start where I have the most influence, by teaching my children that their sibling is one of their greatest assets. Where will you start?

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