Me and My Real Family - Part 3 (06.03.18)
Pastor Saul this week spoke about the causes of sibling rivalry and how to overcome them as a family
Avoiding the Death Traps of Sibling Rivalry
Through the pages of the sacred writings we find a thread that makes up the tapestry and theme of the devastating effects of RIVALRY Among Brothers and Sister! The demoralizing and devastating of the truth about Sibling Rivalry is that it tends to leave no prisoners. Everybody can be both perpetrator and victim; victim that will continue to hurt future family members…Creating an endless cycle.
Newton's third law states that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” In other words, the Law of Cause and Effect establishes that for each hit that is received, a proportional counter-punch is issued. This law leads us to consider and conclude that what is not conquered will conquer us. What is not fixed, heals and/or resolves ... will lead us to react and proportionally hurt others to the same degree that we’ve been hurt. The same blows, wounds, anger, insults, bitterness, feelings, and pain that devastated us in the past will be forwarded by us unwittingly and perhaps unwillingly. The saying that children pay for the sins of the father will become a very painful and regretful reality.
In Genesis 4 we find the sad and tragic scene where the first family in history is shocked to find that there is a murderer in the home! What should or could have been an ideal or exemplary family, was non other than a dysfunctional family! The fallen nature, and the mistakes and sins of the parents, proved to be too much for the children to cope with and overcome! Cain suffers from the after effects of sin…and sin leads to all forms of insecurities, feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, envy and jealously. They tend to form a toxic brew of sorts that, when left unaddressed, will lead to a deadly form of sibling rivalry! He invites his brother Abel out for a walk and the rest is history. The first sibling rivalry is birth by pangs of death. Cain drew first blood! Blood feuds have been the order of the day for untold families ever since.
Genesis 37 contains one of the saddest stories ever. Jacob had a favorite son, Joseph. Joseph received a special coat and special dreams, all of which angered his brothers. Eventually, in their anger, they sold him as a slave. While I know this sad event paved the way for Israel’s perpetuation, I can’t help but notice the sibling rivalry.
Sibling rivalry is found throughout the Bible: Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-16), Isaac and Ishmael (Genesis 21:9), Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25, 27), Rachel and Leah (Genesis 29:31-30:23), Hannah and Pennina (1 Sam 1) David and Eliab (I Samuel 17:28-30), Moses and Aaron and Miriam (Numbers 12:1-16). And it is often found in families today.
While we can look at numerous examples of sibling rivalry, I think a great place to actually examine this is the Parable of the Prodigal in Luke 15:11-32. We see that especially in Luke 15:25- 32 as we witness the older brother’s reaction to the return of the prodigal.
How does sibling rivalry manifest itself?
A. Resentment—The first manifestation of the sibling rivalry is the older brother’s anger in Luke 15:28. Siblings can be annoying and frustrating. And if we are not careful, we can carry this frustration with us and have this underlying resentment whenever we are around the sibling who bothers us. This can often cause us to overreact when irritants come up causing scenes and blowing up. This can also be seen in holding grudges. Yes, they apologized or we worked through it, but we still live in resentment. This is sibling rivalry.
B. Stubbornness—In Luke 15:28, we also see stubbornness. The older brother refused to go in, but waited until his father came out. Then he argued instead of listening. When sibling rivalry has its hold, rather than taking the first step to deal with it, siblings stubbornly wait for everyone else to do something about it. The parents need to take care of it. The rival needs to come ask for forgiveness. Someone else needs to take care of this. Not me.
C. Comparison—In Luke 15:29-30, the older brother wanted the father to compare the brothers. He always did what was commanded. He was the standard. Sibling rivalry often manifests itself in the protestations of how responsible, submissive, and perfect we are in comparison to our rivals. There are two sides: the “I’m so good” side and the “They’re so bad” side. In sibling rivalry, you may hear, “I know I have my issues, but at least I’m not like my sibling who does such and such.” Or “I’m not perfect, but it bugs me when my sibling does this or that.”
D. Demands—The comparison often leads to demands, usually surrounding fairness. Isn’t that the older brother’s plea? “It’s not fair. I want fairness.” It would be fair if this younger brother was punished. It would be fair if he at least had to grovel for forgiveness and be held at arm’s length until he proved himself. It would be fair if he had to live merely as a servant until he proved that he could be as good as the older brother. Sibling rivalry often manifests itself with statements like, “Sure, I’ll be happy to be siblings as long as they meet this demand and that demand of mine.” Why does this happen? Because then we’ll be satisfied that it has been fair.
E. Punishment—Notice what the older brother complains about in Luke 15:29-30. The younger brother wasted his inheritance on sinful living, but he returns home and gets a celebration. What does the older brother want? He wants punishment. One of the biggest issues in sibling rivalry is the desire for the sibling who messed up to be punished. The older brother was so afraid that the younger brother was going to get away with something. That just shouldn’t happen. If no one else will punish the brother or sister who messed up, we’ll do our best to get it done. That may come through the way we treat them or it may come through talking to others about them so that others will know how bad the brother or sister really is and therefore won’t like them either.
What is at the heart of sibling rivalry?
Answer: Pride, Prejudice & Pure Selfishness
Look again at Luke 15:29-30. What was the older brother really crying out for? Listen to what he says. “I’ve always served you and you haven’t noticed me. I always obeyed and you haven’t thrown a party for me. But this guy treats you like dirt and you throw a party for him.” Do you see what the real plea here is? “Father, notice me. Reward me. Approve of me. Accept me. Love me. Not him.”
This is the heart of all sibling rivalry. It is the battle among brothers and sisters to win the love, acceptance, and approval of their parents. All of those manifestations are merely symptoms of this heart struggle, trying to prove we ought to be loved, accepted, and approved. Sadly, we tend to think there is room for only one to be really loved, accepted, and approved. Therefore, we have to prove ourselves as more worthy of love, and rivalry is born.
How do we respond to sibling rivalry?
1. Shower each child with love, respect, approval, and unconditional acceptance—If sibling rivalry is the battle among brothers and sisters to win the love, acceptance, and approval of their parents, then the best way to overcome it in the home is for parents to show each child with love, approval, and acceptance. No doubt, since the father in Luke 15 represents God, the older brother’s misunderstandings about love are his own misperceptions and not the father’s problem.
2. Deplore favoritism—Do you see what the older son’s claim is to the father? He is essentially saying, “You’re showing favorites to my sibling who has been a louse of a son.” Again, we know in this story the father represents God and has shown no favorites. But if even the notion of favoritism causes this rivalry how much more when parents show actual favoritism.
Consider the favoritism of Isaac and Rebekah with their sons Esau and Isaac respectively (Genesis 25:28). It prompted dishonesty and hatred and even threatened murder. Or Jacob’s favoritism with Joseph (Genesis 37:3). That prompted deception and selling a brother into slavery. Understand that this doesn’t necessarily mean treating each child exactly the same way.
3. Refuse Comparison—One point we definitely see demonstrated by the father in Luke 15 is a refusal to get in the comparison game. When the younger brother asked for his part of the inheritance, the father didn’t rebuke him for not being like the older brother. When the younger brother came back, the father didn’t hold over his head that he hadn’t stayed like the older brother. When the older brother was surly, the father didn’t compare him to the younger brother. Far too often, we parents can blow this rule. Especially if we have a favorite among the children.
4. Reaffirm love after discipline—As we said earlier, discipline has to take place. However, in those moments, our children may not be quite mature enough to recognize how proper discipline is actually an expression of love (see Hebrews 12:5-11). When the discipline has been administered and explained clearly, we need to follow similar advice to what Paul gave the Corinthians in II Corinthians 2:6-8.
1. Start with yourself—Notice the older brother’s self-deception in Luke 15:29. “I never disobeyed your command” (ESV). Is that true? Of course not. No one obeys perfectly. Everyone messes up. But because of this older brother’s rivalry, he had a big log in his eye. There was no way he could be helpful to the younger brother because he couldn’t see clearly (Matthew 7:3-5). The problem is sibling rivals rarely know they can’t see clearly. They think they are the only ones who do. That is why this is so important. Before declaring everyone else’s involvement in the problem, start looking at your own.
2. Recognize your Heavenly Father loves you unconditionally! And if you are fortunate, you earthly parents love you as well as they can —I think the saddest part of this whole story is Luke 15:31. The father said, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (ESV). He didn’t say “All that is mine will be yours.” He’s not talking about a future inheritance. The father never gave him a young goat because the young goats all belonged to the son already. If the son had wanted to celebrate with his friends, he could have. The older brother didn’t recognize what sonship meant. He didn’t know his father loved him. He was too busy trying to earn that love by being better than the younger brother.
3. Celebrate with your brothers and sisters—The older brother could not celebrate that the father loved the younger brother too. He saw this party as some kind of evidence that the father didn’t love him, the older brother, properly. Parental love is not a zero sum game. Celebrate your siblings…as well as their special achievements, milestones and efforts.
4. Wisely look for opportunities to affirm and fellowship —In Luke 15:28, the older brother believed he had reason to be angry. But instead of going to his brother or father, he sat outside pouting. There are times when our siblings have done wrong. There is time when we need to talk to them. The older brother should have gone in instead of waiting around for someone to come to him.
Sibling rivalry will always rear its head among our families. We’re flawed people, growing in the Lord. We are going to make mistakes, hurting and slighting each other. That is not permission to go about recklessly; it is simply recognition that it will happen. But when it does happen, let’s respond appropriately and get back to sibling unity. That is what God wants.