On August 1st, 1975, my chances of being the baby of the family ended abruptly. In a rather dramatic and quite rapid birth, my sister made an appearance as, not only the baby of the family, but as the only girl among three boys — the proverbial “rose amongst the thorns.” Thus I was relegated to cheerful third born, and not spoiled last sibling.
While my sister may disagree that she was spoiled (the opinions of her three older brothers would stand in stark contrast to her own!), she was a blessed addition to our family. Yes, she may have been tortured by her older siblings. Yes, we may have shared a few laughs at her expense. Ok, ok, ok, I wasn’t always the kindest to my sister, but that too, was part of God’s work in my life.
In high school, Naomi and I couldn’t share the single bathroom in my parents house. (We disagreed strongly over usage times, and to this day, even after 17 years of being married to a woman, I still can’t figure out what takes girls so long in the bathroom!) The bathroom was just the battlefield where our disagreements emerged. I know I would antagonize her, and I think there was a time or two she might admit she was just arguing for the sake of a fight, too. My relationship to her was not pretty through the high school years.
It was during college, however, that I started to realize the problem wasn’t my sister — the problem was me. As much as I wanted to blame her for taking up too much morning time in the bathroom, or be mad at her different perspective on promptness, the reality was that I was impatient, often unfair and frequently unkind. My sarcasm was sharp and hurtful. I still remember the day I sat down at my roommates word processor (any one remember those?) and wrote an apology letter to my sister. While I certainly hadn’t showed it, I actually longed to have a better relationship with her.
At the time, I was attending school in Iowa and when I got home for the summer, my sister and I did something we hadn’t done in years: we hung out together. We drove the hour drive from Salem to Portland and visited the zoo. We had a great time. I found out that my sister was absolutely hilarious and afterward, I met her boyfriend (future husband) for the first time. I’m thankful my sister was so gracious.
To this day, I’ve never forgotten what I learned from the frustration I used to feel toward my sister. Up until I wrote that letter in college, I always blamed her for the angst I felt; I never once thought that the source of the problem could rest with me.
Yet, that’s how most of us live. When conflict comes, we tend to blame those we’re in conflict with and rarely look to our own involvement. When we do look inward, it’s usually followed with a big “but” (I know I was mean, but….) I’m glad my sister and I were able to begin working on our brother/sister relationship. We still don’t always see eye-to-eye, but I love her and her family, and am so thankful that we enjoy spending time together and having our kids hang out together. She is an amazing mom and wife, and she is an awesome sister.
From the first day God put humans on the planet He did something amazing — He connected them to each other. Adam wasn’t supposed to live alone, and even after Eve came on the seen, the two of them weren’t left alone for very long, either! We were created to be in relationships, first with God and then with one another.
And the reality of those relationships is this: they will experience hardship and brokenness because we live in a fallen world. None of us are perfect, and we bring our imperfections into every relationship we have. And when two imperfect people get connected (husbands/wives, brothers/sisters, neighbors) the possibility for struggle rises exponentially. So when I run into conflict with another human being, I have to remember that my imperfections are part of the problem, too, not just theirs!
I’m confident that’s why in the New Testament there are at least 32 different “One another” commands. Those “One Another” commands remind us to look through the imperfections of others, to try and acknowledge and work on our own, and to put the love and grace of God into practice. Here are a few of those commands, any of them resonate with you?
Love one another
Forgive one another
Be kind to one another
Build one another up [with your words]
Encourage one another
Pray for each other
Spur one another on to love and good deeds
Be compassionate with one another
Submit to one another
Bear each others burdens
Family is a great place to practice living out the one another commands of Scripture. I’m sorry it took me so long to learn that with my sister, but I’m thankful the last 20 years has been much better than the first 20 that I knew her. If you want to live an Overboard Life, you’ll have to come to the same realization I did — relationship problems are a two-way street, and if you’re on the street, you’re part of the problem. We can’t fix others, (No, this isn’t an excuse to let others be cruel or unkind, and it’s not an excuse to be some one else’s doormat!) but we can resolve to live how Jesus wants us to, regardless of the response of others. As we say to our own children all the time, “Your response, is your responsibility.”
Is there a relationship you can work on today? Is there someone that you’ve cut off because you weren’t willing to see your part in the problem? What “one another” command could you put into practice today? We were made for relationships, so let’s work to make them the best they can be!
4 down, 36 to go.
Go ahead and take the plunge, relationships are always better on the water!