In our church, children are baptized as babies. Then, when they are ready, they make a public profession of faith and are welcomed to take communion as full members. When my oldest children were younger, I really struggled with the issue of how to know when they were ready to join the church.
I'd look at these children of mine who I knew on an up-close and personal level and whose struggles and weaknesses I saw in vivid relief every single day. I wondered if I was looking for some miraculous leap in holiness as a sign that they were changed or different or saved.
The daily sibling conflict gave me pause.
When I watched the children fighting, I wondered if this behavior could be consistent with a Christian profession of faith. Sibling conflict turned out to be a major opportunity to witness my children's growth in godliness, but it wasn't in the ways I expected.
I want to share with you some great questions you can ask your children when they are fighting. And then I'll share how this approach actually helped me to answer the dilemma about church membership readiness.
We do want to draw out information about the actual events of the conflict. But even more so, we want to draw out insight about their hearts and motives. At each step, we want to encourage our children to look at the conflict from both perspectives. Their own first (because that's on their mind and easier to draw out) and then the perspective of the sibling with whom they are in conflict.
What did he/she do that hurt or upset you?
When children are bickering, they are often arguing about a theoretical idea or character concept. "He is so annoying." "She doesn't keep the rules of the game." "He's always messing up our stuff."
You can't move forward based on general character assignation. You need to begin by getting down to the specifics of this one incident so you can talk through it. What actually happened?
Related Question: Do you think you did anything that hurt or upset him/her?
What do you wish he/she had done?
Help them to consider (and seek to understand) what was upsetting or hurtful about the sibling's words or behavior by asking them to contrast it with what actually happened. Sometimes we assume we know why a behavior was upsetting, but finding out how they wish a problem had been handled can sometimes reveal a slightly different angle.
Related Question: How do you think he/she wishes you would have responded?
Did you show him/her how you would like to be treated?
We're all familiar with the "Golden Rule". Jesus said in Matthew 7:12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." Ask your child if he'd be comfortable with his behavior in this situation being used as a template for how he'd like others to treat him.
Related Question: Do you think the way he/she treated you is the way he/she would want to be treated by others?
What were you afraid would happen if you did that?
Now we get to the crux of the matter. Your child knows how he'd like to be treated, but he didn't behave that way in this situation. Why not? What fear prevented him from ... speaking gently, asking for permission, considering someone else's needs, etc. Acknowledging and addressing these fears can help to lower the threat-level of working through the problem because they know that you are aware and can address those concerns.
Related Question: What do you think he/she was afraid would happen in this situation?
Do you love your brother/sister?
Maybe you're already predicting that the immediate answer to this question will be an unhelpful and conversation-ending, "No!" That might be the case. But this is a great time to discuss or remind your children what "love" is. Love isn't about warm, fuzzy feelings. It's about doing what is in the best interest of another. We do it because that's what God has called us to do and, most importantly, because that's what He has done for us.
"But love your enemies, and do good ... Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful."
Luke 6:35a, 36
Remind your children that we often behave inconsistently with how we really feel deep down. Yes, we can hurt people we really love.
Related Question: Do you think he/she really loves you?
What can you do to heal the hurt in your relationship?
If your children know how they'd like to be treated and can see how that different from how they behaved in this situation, lead them in a conversation about what steps can be done to repent and reconcile, or to be willing to offer forgiveness. (Teach them to apologize backwards.)
Related Question: What do you wish he/she would do to heal the hurt in your relationship?
Sibling Conflict and Church Membership
Here's the thing. Communion is a "means of grace". It's one way that the Lord delivers grace to his people. Those who are struggling have a deep need of grace. So if we keep our children (or anyone) back from the Lord's Supper simply because they have ongoing struggles, we're also cutting them off from a means of grace to battle those struggles.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:28, "Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup." Our children's lives, like our own, will be a gradual journey of progressive sanctification.
The mark of a Christian is not that he doesn't sin, but that he's able to examine himself and reflect upon his own behavior and reactions. We all stumble and fall. Daily. But what do we do in reaction to those failures?
The beauty of working through sibling conflict with my children is that it gives me opportunity to see their ability and willingness to take a close and honest look at their own hearts and motives. These questions help us to lead in our children in genuine self-examination and repentance.
This post is the second part in a three-part series about managing sibling bickering and fighting.
You can find the first part here.