Warren Weirsbe tells of a converted Indian’s story that illustrates the battle between our sinful nature and the Spirit of God in our souls. I couldn’t help but think of the sinful nature rearing its ugly head in sibling rivalry.
“I have two dogs living in me – a mean dog and a good dog. They are always fighting. The mean dog wants me to do bad things, and the good dog wants me to do good things. Do you want to know which dog wins? The one I feed the most!”
Children fight with each other. It is common and even expected. But it should never be accepted! Their little sinful natures are at work and they want to serve self, but they must learn to serve others. Sibling rivalry can continue when a parent takes sides with one child instead of giving both children opportunities to love each another. In this instance and only speaking to the sinful nature of a child, a parent can often feed the mean dog and not feed the good one. We must remember as parents, our role is not to take sides; our job is to unite sides to a healthy godly solution where both children learn to do what Christ’s prayed for, “…be brought to complete unity” (John 17:23). If a parent takes sides and pits one child against the other, they have aborted the very plan Jesus prayed concerning His followers. And it just gets uglier when their children become adults!
When my children were young I had a conversation with my children on unity. I said to them, “I want all of you to be very close. I want you to love each other, support each other, and never forget one another. One day when you are grown, you may move miles apart, but never forget the bond you have in this family and the union you have in Christ.”
Thankfully, God has blessed Dan and me with children who deeply love one another, but this did not happen with ease and never without intention.
We taught our children to …
- Love each other in prayer. When one was hurting or in need, we had them lay hands on the one and pray for God to provide. When one did well, they learned to praise God for His provision for each other.
- Love each other by talking with each other. When differences arose, they were to talk it out and come up with resolutions that served the other not just themselves. I remember one time when two of my children were at total odds with each other and there seemed to be no resolving it. I put them in a room together and told them if they did not figure a way to calmly work this out and come to me with how, they would stay in that room until they did – no playing and no dinner; they only way out was resolution. This happened one time and one time only!
- Love each other in participation. Our children were required to attend each other’s extra-curricular activities: piano recitals, ball games, dance recitals, etc. They were there to cheer not complain; complaining was corrected and cheering was rewarded. This taught them to think outside their own life and look out to another’s.
- Love each other with God’s word. They were taught to use God’s word to correct, rebuke and encourage each other with patience and careful instruction. The word of God was their course of counsel. When one sinned, they learned to confront the one in love not condemnation.
- Love each other in play and sharing. They learned to enjoy each other’s company as they played together in activities they shared: the sandbox, the playground, biking, swimming, building Legos, coloring, drawing, and their all-time favorite – playing with flour and water creating a grand mess! Sharing and respecting what each other owned was a must.
Our children have grown from being siblings to becoming friends to now being life-time partners in the gospel. They show the love of Christ instead of the discord of siblings.
Did my children fight when they were young? Oh yes, indeed they did! Did they always agree? Absolutely not! In these, we took the time to insist on resolution between arguments and a quick remedy to their little conflicts.
Patience did not come easy to some. Two in particular had constant battles, but we never gave up on helping them resolve them. These two are now very close and have discovered that their differences are actually blessings to each other’s weaknesses. My oldest son is the introverted factual deep thinker; he gives strength and self-control to my second son who is the extroverted, spirited and relevant one. The younger provides enthusiasm, feeling and application to the older one’s depth. They partner together teaching a small group of believers. Watching them use their differences that at one point would have killed each other to now furthering the gospel of Christ is dear to this mom’s heart! The goal for parents is not to prevent sibling rivalry, but instead to turn it into sibling teamwork!
It all boils down to feeding the good dog not the mean one. However, many a time parents don’t take the time to feed the good dog. And siblings grow up hating one another for their differences instead of seeing the gift each has to offer to their friendship.
John gives us an introspective challenge, whether we are dealing with sibling rivalry or just conflict among our brothers and sisters in Christ. He focuses us to look in, and check our place when it comes to which dog we are feeding:
“Here’s how you tell the difference between God’s children and the Devil’s children: The one who won’t practice righteous ways isn’t from God, nor is the one who won’t love brother or sister. A simple test” (1 John 3:10 MSG). Ouch! Let it sting, but only so it will rectify.
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