While we are called to live peaceably with all as far as it concerns us, there are degrees of relationship. The closer the relationship, the more energy we are called to invest in it to keep it healthy and safe. Each of us has a different capacity for relationship; we are not called to be equally intimate, to invest equally deeply in everyone we know. Some relationships are to be given priority by means of proximity (loving your “neighbor” – see Luke 10:29ff) and sibling relationships are certainly some of those “neighbor” relationships.
Romans 12:10 says that Christians are to “love one another with brotherly affection” [emphasis mine]. Even the use of the word “brotherly” as an adjective suggests that there is a naturally assumed closeness and affinity between siblings. So, what does “brotherly affection” look like? There are four main topics addressed in the verses which follow:
- Live peaceably with all.
- Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
- Outdo one another in showing honor.
- Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Romans 12:15-16a
Part of what it means to love brothers and sisters is to “harmonize” with them, both in their joy and in their sorrow, to tune our chords to the major and minor keys of their melody. This sounds commonsensical, but it isn’t always easy. We are naturally self-focused and concerned mostly with our own experience and emotions. It takes a great deal of purpose and intentionality to observe what is happening in the lives of those around us and to engage with them in the rejoicing or weeping it produces.
When several children are playing outside and one falls and is hurt, others need to stop and see how they can help. It is “discordant” for everyone else to laugh and play happily while a sibling cries nearby. On the other hand, when one child receives a special treat or privilege, it is important for siblings to learn how to be happy for that child and rejoice with them rather than robbing them of a part of their joy by spite or negative comments.
Mama, when one of your little ones comes to you excited about a drawing or a nature find, do you enjoy it with them? When a child is upset about something that seems to you like a minor problem, do you belittle their concern, or relate to their hurt? This sharing in the moments of life – even when they arise at inconvenient times – builds emotional capital in the relationship bank. This proactive, self-sacrificing, other-focused attitude is a huge part of the daily seeking of peace.
This isn’t a “quick tip”. Your children will struggle to do this. You will struggle to do this. It goes against the grain and takes a great deal of self-knowledge and self-control to engage with another in their joys and sorrows, especially when those emotions happen to be contrary to what we ourselves are currently feeling. Imagine how difficult it can be to rejoice with someone’s new home purchase when you are experiencing financial struggles, or how difficult it can be to tuck away enthusiasm over a new baby in order to weep with a friend who has just experienced a miscarriage.
Sometimes, as a mother, you will have to counsel in both directions at once. The child who gets to spend a weekend with the grandparents needs to keep from gloating over his privilege and to identify with how sad his siblings will be to miss him and to miss the fun with grandparents. On the other hand, the siblings need to rejoice with him in his special treat and not try to make him feel guilty for having this priveledge.
What is the balance? Who gives more? What emotions are appropriate to share, when and to what degree? This is not the stuff of rules, checklists and flow-charts. This is the stuff of living side by side and walking through the experiences of life with your children in a wisdom-building, grace-instilling way. This is enough work to fill up a lifetime. But it is good work. And it is work with eternal value. Dig deep, mama. Lean in. Not a moment is wasted, not a tear or a prayer goes unnoticed.