Siblings – Friends, Not Rivals

By Marjorie Foerster Eddington

My brother and I are best friends. We always have been. My parents made sure of that. My mom always told us, "If you can't be friends with each other and play with each other, you can't be friends with others or play with others." It was pretty simple. Our parents expected us to love each other, and we do. We laughed, played, skied, swam, sled, read, learned, sang, acted, worked, explored, and prayed together -- and we still do.

Our parents wouldn't tolerate unloving behavior towards each other -- and they really didn't have to. Growing up we didn't argue; we didn't bicker; we didn't fight (and we still don't). We are each other's champions, friends, support-systems. We have genuinely loved each other from the beginning.

So why is sibling rivalry accepted as normal? Why are fighting and arguing accepted as an okay way for siblings to grow up together?

Sibling rivalry might be the status quo, but it's not okay. And it really isn't normal -- especially if we define normal with respect to how God has created us: "God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Gen 1:27 KJV).

Here's the truth:

  • We are made in God's image.
  • "God is love" (I John 4:8).
  • Therefore, we are the image of love.

As images of love,

  • love is normal to us;
  • love is innate in our being;
  • love is what we naturally express.

An image of love cannot argue or fight. An image of love loves -- loves even his or her brother or sister. We read in Hebrews, "Let brotherly love continue" (13:1).

But so many people are not best friends with their siblings. Indeed, many people have a very difficult time finding anything to love about their brothers or sisters.

  • But why would anyone want to pull down or denigrate someone who will be in his or her life forever?
  • Wouldn't we rather build and maintain healthy and loving relationships? Of course!
  • Who would say, "I would rather grow up hating my brother/sister, I'm blessed by all the arguments and fights we have; I'm a better person because of the tension and jealousy"?

Having loving relationships with siblings is both possible and infinitely more rewarding than enduring a contrary, tug-of-war non-relationship. Indeed, loving our brothers and sisters is absolutely necessary. We read in the Bible:

Anyone who claims to live in God's light and hates a brother or sister is still in the dark. It's the person who loves brother and sister who dwells in God's light and doesn't block the light from others. But whoever hates is still in the dark, stumbling around in the dark, doesn't know which end is up, blinded by the darkness. (The Message, I John 2:9-11)

We certainly don't want to live in the dark or block God's light from anyone -- from our siblings or from ourselves. So let's think about how we can bring light and love to our relationships rather than darkness and hate. Let's obey Jesus' command: "Let your light so shine" (Matt 5:16 KJV)! That light is comprised of love.

How do we shine the light of love on our relationship with our siblings and end sibling rivalry? Here are some ideas:

  1. Refuse to accept sibling rivalry as normal, justifiable, or acceptable.
  2. Expect a healthy, tender, loving relationship with your sister(s) and/or brother(s).
  3. See yourself as able to love your brother(s) and/or sister(s).
  4. See your sibling(s) as worthy of love.
  5. Don't wait for your sibling(s) to love you.
  6. Actively love your sibling(s) and keep loving, even if he/she doesn't respond with love right away. Loving can only bless.

Once we change our thought about sibling rivalry and have a positive view about our siblings, the healing process has started. As a result, we'll find it's easier to change destructive behaviors and replace them with constructive behaviors that bless. For instance:

  • Rather than reacting to what siblings say, you might find it easier to hold your tongue, breathe, pause before you speak, and then respond with love.
  • Rather than trying to get a reaction out of your siblings by pushing their buttons, you may try to avoid hot buttons on purpose.
  • Rather than pointing out their flaws, you may want to overlook them, find their strengths, and compliment them.
  • Rather than blaming them for something they did or didn't do, you might not care who's at fault, or take responsibility for your part in the problem.
  • Rather than waiting for siblings to apologize, you may apologize first, even if you're not at fault.
  • Rather than being jealous for how well your siblings are doing or how much praise they get, you may rejoice in their victories and successes and be happy for them.
  • Rather than trying to prove you're right, you might let them be right. You might even realize that it's more important to be loving than it is to be right.

We can love our siblings because God made us able to love them, because we are the image of love. And as we love our brothers and sisters, we will discover blessings and rewards we didn't know were there for us … in the light of love.

If we ever think it's hard to love our siblings, we can always turn to the Bible to find inspiration, which is what Caroline Korthals, Brian Ritter, and Sara Harned have done to help them with their relationships with their siblings.

Caroline Korthals shares her insights regarding the story of Jacob and Esau:

My older sister and I get along pretty well together, but my little sister and I don't always. There are many stories in the Bible that can help anyone overcome feelings of anger, jealousy, or rivalry towards their brother(s) or sister(s). My favorite Bible story is about Jacob and Esau in the book of Genesis. This story is about two twin brothers who never get along from the day of their birth. As Jacob is being born, he grabs the heel of his brother, Esau, who is the first to arrive. This symbolizes the competition that would exist between them. Isaac, their father, loved Esau, but Rebekah, their mother, loved Jacob.

When Isaac is older, he tells Esau to bring him venison so he can bless him before he (Isaac) passes on. Rebekah overhears this and tells Jacob to disguise himself as Esau and receive the blessing. Being nearly blind, Isaac believes the trick and blesses Jacob. When Esau learns this, he is furious and plans to kill Jacob for stealing his blessing (even though he had traded his blessing earlier for food when he was hungry). Rebekah is afraid for Jacob and sends him off to live with her brother.

Many years later, Jacob is ready to come back home. He sends messengers to talk to Esau. The messengers come back and say that Esau is coming to meet Jacob with four hundred men. Jacob was afraid that Esau was still angry at him. But when they met, "Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept" (Gen 33:4).

Many people might feel that it was a miracle that Esau was able to forgive Jacob. I don't believe it was a miracle. I believe it was the work of Love, God. Esau came to love Jacob so much that he couldn't hate him anymore for taking the father's blessing. He changed his thought about Jacob and was able to forgive him. Esau must have come to understand that his true birthright couldn't be stolen because it came from God. Jacob also had to learn that he had everything that he needed. He didn't need to steal or take anything from his brother through deception.*

Many times I am upset about things one of my sisters has done, yet it is that work of Love that allows me to forgive her. Whether you're the oldest or the youngest in your family, when you learn more about God's love for you, you learn that you have all you need. You won't have to feel jealous towards a brother or sister when one has done something good. Nor will you have to feel angry towards a sibling when he or she has done something wrong.

Brian Ritter also finds the story of Jacob and Esau helpful. He explains:

I had been having a lot of arguments with my younger brother, and although I don't want to kill him as Esau wanted to do to Jacob, I wanted to get my brother back for all the annoying things he had done to me. I was reminded of the story in the Bible where Jacob takes Esau's blessing, and Esau gets angry and threatens to kill Jacob. The Bible shows that this approach doesn't work very well because Jacob and Esau don't see each other for several years. When Esau finally forgives Jacob, the brothers are able to forget the past and love each other again. However, many years of their lives were spent in hatred of each other. This shows how even though fights can be resolved between siblings, it's better to avoid the conflict in the first place and love.*

While we may not be able to avoid conflict at all times, loving our siblings definitely helps. Brian explains why it's so important not to create conflict or hurt our siblings.

Being his father's favorite, Joseph sometimes got arrogant around his brothers and made them angry at him. His brothers get so angry with him that they throw him in a pit, sell him into slavery, and tell their father that he has been killed. Years later, they have to go to Egypt for food so they don't starve. Joseph, who is now Pharaoh's right hand man, hears their request and questions them. His brothers admit to being sorry for selling their brother into slavery. They don't realize the person they're talking to is their long-lost brother. Joseph sees that his brothers are sorry, and he forgives them lovingly.

This story taught me that I should make sure I am never in Joseph's brothers' situation where I have done something wrong to my brother. I should forgive him instead of getting angry and trying to punish him. If I hurt my brother, I will be the one to suffer, just as Joseph's brothers did after they threw him into the pit.

Turning to the Bible helps me solve problems. Even though what I'm going through might not always be easy, I know that the people in the Bible faced situations worse than what I've faced. By learning from their example, I am making my life easier and more harmonious.

*These Bible stories are so encouraging. They truly prove that we can heal sibling rivalry when we replace jealousy, anger, revenge, and other negative feelings and behaviors with love. This may require real commitment, dedication, and prayer. Joseph and Jacob certainly prayed. In fact, after Jacob found out Esau was coming with 400 men, he took time by himself and prayed hard: "Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day" (Gen 32:24). He "wrestled."

This struggle changed his life, his nature, and his name. Jacob's earnest and heartfelt prayer earned him the name of Israel. What he realized about his brother transformed his view of Esau, his view of himself, and their relationship. Jacob told Esau what he had learned when they met: "I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me (Gen 33:10). Esau must have felt Jacob's love!

What a beautiful healing -- a promise for all siblings. If we want to heal our relationship with our sibling(s), then we can pray to see our brother's or sister's face as "the face of God."