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Brothers and Sisters

Brothers and Sisters

“And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?” Genesis 4:8-11

The relationship between brothers and sisters dominates the pages of both the scriptures and of secular literature. The protocols for this relationship lie deeply imbedded in the holy writings, in culture, in legal documents, in social customs, in family traditions and in the actual give-and-take of life situations. Love, hatred, loyalty, betrayal, treachery, devotion, fighting, tenderness—all these elements and many more characterize filial bonds. Even more, the concept of brotherhood and sisterhood transcends genetic ties and holds a general meaning for associations between people who share in the same cause or class. Yet, for all this, the dynamics of the sibling linkage remains largely mysterious. We would all add great richness to our lives if we developed a more complete understanding of what it means to be a brother or a sister.

Famous Brothers and Sisters of the Bible.

Cain and Abel
Jacob and his twelve brothers
Ishmael and Isaac
Jacob and Esau
Rachael and Leah
Moses and Aaron
Moses, Aaron and Miriam
Hophni and Phineas
Absolom, Amnon and Tamar
Peter and Andrew
Martha, Mary and Lazarus
And my personal favorites, Huz and Buz (Genesis 22:21 )

The Bible has certain protocols by which we are to treat brothers or family members.

Deuteronomy 15:1-3 At the end of every seven years thou shalt make a release. 2 And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that lendeth ought unto his neighbour shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbour, or of his brother; because it is called the LORD's release. 3 Of a foreigner thou mayest exact it again: but that which is thine with thy brother thine hand shall release;

Deuteronomy 15:11 For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.

Deuteronomy 24:10 When thou dost lend thy brother any thing, thou shalt not go into his house to fetch his pledge.

Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry basically stems from competition for limited or scarce resources among brother and sisters. In the natural habitat, siblings usually compete for food and will fight with each other until one of them manages to kill or drive the other out. The triumphant individual wins the exclusive use of the food resources available in that area.

In nature there are some extreme cases of sibling rivalry. For example, as baby sharks develop within the mother shark's womb, the biggest baby shark devours all of his brothers and sisters, ensuring for himself all of the available food resources. In another example, eagles make their nests at great heights, in mountains or trees. The first baby eaglet that is born kills all his sibling eaglets by pushing them out from the nest as they come out of their eggs. That way all the food that the mother eagle brings will be only for him.

A similar competition exists between siblings in human families. However, here the scarce resources are the TIME, ATTENTION, LOVE and APPROVAL that the parents can give to each of their children. Looking at this situation in very simple terms, if the parents have only a certain limited amount of exclusive (one-on-one) time to give to ALL their children, it is easy to see that if there is only ONE child in that family, ALL of the parents' available time will be for that only child; if there are TWO children in the family, then each child can have HALF of the parents' time; if there are THREE children, then each child gets a THIRD; if there are FOUR, then each one gets a FOURTH of their time; and so on.

That this is indeed the case can be seen by simply looking at most families' photo albums. Looking through these albums, one can see that there are usually many pictures of the birth and first year of their first-born child. For the second child, there are fewer pictures. And, from the third child on, one may have a hard time finding pictures of them in the album - it's as if they didn't even exist!

Life with Brothers and Sisters

Even though they share a room, Jennifer, 15, hasn't spoken to her sister, Nicole, in more than a week. "Nicole is always taking my clothes and wearing them without asking," Jennifer complains. "Last week was the last straw. I found my new sweater tossed in the laundry room, and it had a big stain on it. When I asked Nicole about it, she acted like she had no idea what I was talking about."

Ryan, 16, says he's tired of his younger brother, Sean, 13, hanging around when his friends are over. "He's such a pest," Ryan says. "Every time my friends come over, Sean turns into my shadow and wants to do whatever my friends and I are doing. I wish Sean would find some friends of his own and leave me alone."

Treasuring the Relationship

As I have written in the piece named “Carol,” my eldest sister died suddenly on March 26, 2007 . I did not know it at the time, but I have been deeply affected by her loss. I had many things that I wanted to and should have shared with her, but I just didn’t. I can blame it on the distance or my busyness, but the fact is that I wasted all the opportunities. I filled up my time with things that were way down on the priority list. Someone once said, “Urgency is the tyranny of the important.” Now that Carol’s death has taken her from this life, denying the enjoyment of a living relationship with her, the lost treasure of her life seems infinitely more pronounced to me.

The role of a sibling is much more than most of us make it. Several important factors make this obvious. A finite number people in the entire world share the same parents. Blood relationship binds brothers and sisters together beyond any bond they have with others. While marriage changes the dynamics of that relationship in many important ways, marriage doesn’t destroy genetics, loyalty to parents and shared experiences of childhood. These precious elements of closeness will never be duplicated and must not be lost.

As they grow older, many siblings do not communicate very well with each other, beyond superficialities. “Opening up to each other” means exposure, vulnerability and revealing hidden thoughts. That can be dangerous. Siblings can be too guarded, too sensitive and too obstinate with each other. Perhaps it’s because they continue to play out the petty conflicts they had growing up. In many cases, they still compete with each other, only instead of racing or wrestling, they compete with cars, homes, possessions, bank accounts, education, etc. Some still rival each other for the attention and favor of their parents. Old jealousies, spats and attempts to irritate each other stay alive. Adults siblings should accept that those days are over and they are no longer rivals.

Past events tend to mold and shape present relationships. Interpersonal dynamics can be shaped by many things (e.g. words, acts, attitudes). Present behavior follows templates established long ago. Siblings may instinctively put up their guard around each other for these reasons. Instead of sharing their thoughts, they suppress them because of fear, rejection or ridicule. Tragically, suppressed feelings create unnecessary pain and forfeit potential fulfillment that ought to be experienced in the familial relationship.

Brothers and sisters who fail to express love or approval for each other cause great emotional damage. This is actually a cruel form of manipulation. Here’s how it happens: Subconsciously, one of them acts in a way that says, “You must earn my love or approval. Giving it to you, however, may make you stop doing what I want you to do. Therefore, I will never give it to you.” Withholding love and approval force a sibling to keep working for it. Withholding love and approval may lead siblings to believe they are unloved and unworthy. This can develop painful emotions and creates baggage for life. How bad can it get? Heinous crimes or suicides often result from a sense of being unloved or unworthy.

Many brothers and sisters use physical distance between their places of residence to bury unpleasant feelings and live a relatively stress-free life. It may insulate them against further hurt, but it is just managing or coping, not resolving. We shrink our souls into small boxes that leave out much of the beauty of life. These defense mechanisms really short-change our happiness and impoverish our lives. If siblings treat each other in such a way that they can’t be open and honest with each other, or if they are superficial or silent with each other, then they have cost themselves the benefit and beauty of having a brother or a sister.

Joseph serves as the model for sibling relationships. A more beautiful story, whether in the Bible or out, cannot be found that surpasses Joseph’s encounter with his traitorous brothers. Read it again just to renew the full impact of Joseph’s decision. Genesis 45:1-5. “Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren. And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard. And Joseph said unto his brethren, I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence. And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt . Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.” Pragmatically speaking, his brothers meant nothing to Joseph. According to anyone’s standards, they deserved to be severely punished for their monstrous crime of selling him into slavery. Moreover, Joseph had all the necessary power to enforce their just penalty. What prevented him from carrying it out? I am convinced that his profound respect for his blood relationship to them, plus his undying love for his father, outweighed any sense of retribution he may have received by executing them. His actions stand as a powerful testimony to the value of the family.


When is the last time you told your brothers or sisters that you love them?
Do you send birthday cards, Christmas cards, or other greetings to them?
Do you go see them or call them regularly?
Do you still hold a grudge against them for a wrong they committed?
When a brother or sister compliments you, how do you feel?
If they never have, how would you feel if they did? (After smelling salts were administered!)
Do you still look up to a brother or sister? (Have you told him or her?)
Do you still think of a younger brother or sister as a pest or refuse to take them seriously?
Do you still seek approval or love from a brother or sister?

The slightest amount of work on your relationship with a brother or sister promises to yield wonderful and immediate results. You will tap into a source of joy and strength that you never dreamed existed. There’s the phone. Get started.

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