Extinguishing Sibling Rivalry
I’d come to the end of myself only a few days before. And now this. This gentlest reminder.
This moment of simplest understanding.
Then the internal conversation accompanying this re-revelation. Isn’t this such a basic concept? How could I forget?
And how much has it cost me? Better yet, how much has it cost them?
How many times will I forget what I once knew? Why haven’t I come back to this sooner?
How many times have I heard the sibling bickering begin and felt the panicked tremor of my last, exhausted nerve? And how many times have I felt that depleted little nerve give way to the rush of all that is ugly in me?
Something about them intentionally taunting one another makes me so. absolutely. crazy. But we all have a button, right?
Something about sibling rivalry just does me in. The first few times they argue with one another, I really do give it my best shot - the motherly touch, the nurturing voice, the gentle spirit. But after the third of fourth round in a five minute span, well I. just. lose. it.
I basically throw out every ounce of Jesus in me and become this obnoxious, horned beast, intent on stomping out any flames of ugliness that are left smoldering between the two of them, never mind what is smoldering in me. Fight fire with fire, I guess.
But does it really make any sense? My job is to model for them the right way to go about handling a problem, solving the equations of life, but instead I explode.
How will they ever learn how to work through issues civilly?
But perhaps I should give up on civility because I always, inevitably become this ferocious, hair-on-end wild woman in an attempt to tame these little people of mine. It doesn’t make any sense to a sane person - go crazy to stop the crazy - but typically, by this point, I have tossed aside all rational thinking and just need them to cease fire. So I fire repeatedly until all other firing stops. Totally practical, yes?
I sigh, momentarily releasing the memories of the madness as I reread this line in this instruction manual. As I sit here in the lamplight, this phrase triggers the replay of the scene from a few days ago, when we all three ended up in a leaky eyed heap on the floor.
I’d known this before, I’d done this, lived it out back in the beginning of my journey. But as all journey-goers do, I’d strayed from the trail. Not realizing I’d wandered, but wondering often why things felt so off course.
And I see it now.
Right here in this book of Hebrews. Right here in my hand I quite literally hold the answer to the biggest question during this season in my life. And it is so simple that a child could understand. (In fact, I know mine do because I have seen them flesh it out.)
Thank God for the simplicity of this. Because if it was any more complicated I’d surely miss it completely. Or give up before trying at all.
I look again at the page here in my hands, turning this little nugget over in my mind, wanting to look at it from every angle, to make sure I am reading it correctly, to be certain I am seeing it right. It is written here in plain English and I shake my head, in a small state of denial that I could have forgotten this in the first place.
Perhaps I ought to be more patient with them when they are forgetful, as I am. “How many times have I told you to _______?” I say to them. And yet, I forget my instruction from my Father just as quickly as they. His reminders come gently though. Shouldn’t theirs be gentle too?
But this, this is golden - worth it’s weight. And yet I had forgotten. I think I must be experiencing what Ann refers to as that “chronic soul amnesia”? (1)
So I read it aloud as this hunger to understand needs satiating.
“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:14)
So then, maturity of the spirit largely includes discernment?
And that discernment is trained by constant (daily) practice of distinguishing good from evil?
I read the entire verse again.
“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
And I think, of how I want to see them living on more than spiritual milk. I want them to grow to maturity, to see them digest meaty portions of scripture and speak with the wisdom of the Lord. I want to see them grow to the fullest spiritual maturity. But I hadn’t realized that it was quite this simple.
I am seeing it now though, here on the page, and my heart is registering this realization - that it’s less about extinguishing their bad behavior in the moment and more about helping them exercise discernment, helping them distinguish.
It’s less about extinguishing any flames birthed from their sin nature and more about helping them “constantly” learn how to distinguish good from evil.
Because their battle isn’t against one another anyway and my battle isn’t against them. That I have learned also from that verse in Ephesians, but I still need repeated reminders, “constant practice”.
Our struggles have always been between the good and the evil - not the children, not the husband, not the coworker, not the mother-in-law, not the neighbor. (2)
And my job as their mother is to help them learn to identify the good and the evil. Not whether they are good or evil, a good girl or a bad boy, but specifically what choices come from the good or the evil. What actions show love and grace instead of selfishness and shame.
Helping them learn this discernment will take a life time though, I can tell. Because I still have to seek wise council and spend much time in prayer in my own quest to use discernment.
I think of how this, this growing up of these littles into strong believers who love the Lord, has been my ultimate goal in motherhood from the beginning. And I am grateful for the reminder that in order to do this, I must come alongside of them as they are learning to identify what is lovely from what is unlovely.
And I am offered so many opportunities to help them practice this discernment each day. But sometimes I miss it in the everydayness of every day.
It happens when the toddler sister, who is almost as big as her kindergarten brother, isn’t as cute as she used to be when she knocks his block tower down on purpose. His patience with her has waned as she has grown from a drooling crawler into somewhat of a rivalrous equal.
Though they are still young and tender, they need morsels of solid food from me, they need spiritual food to chew on and digest and grow from. They need more guidance than to see me fight fire with fire when they start shooting flaming arrows at one another.
So next time the big brother’s block tower gets knocked down by the toddler sister and patience runs thin and tempers flare - I’ll get the blessing of fleshing this out.
Instead of extinguishing the flame of curiosity in the toddler, I’ll get to explain it to the brother, so that he too can value her love of learning - and the stage of learning she’s in. Because what toddler learns about gravity without seeing things fall? I can’t even count how many times they would throw down the sippy cup and watch Mama pick it back up.
Not to worry, this “constant practice” will come without fail. At least twenty times a day I’ll get to be creative with my solutions and ways of showing them the wonder in the world. Maybe I’ll provide her with blocks of her own or ask him to build a special tower just for her, so she can knock it down. Or what if I explain to him that she is learning too, like him, and that toddlers love to learn about their world by experiencing it? And what if I told him that big brothers can help little sisters learn about science and architecture just by building a block tower?
And what if I taught little sister to appreciate big brother’s God given desire to create, to build, to design? What if I taught her to clap for his tower? What if we both clapped for him and admired his work?
What if instead of extinguishing the flaming tempers, I helped them to distinguish the good in one another?
Because she isn’t really trying to be bad or mean when she makes the tower fall. She is just doing the natural thing that toddlers do. She is learning by doing. She is exploring and experimenting with her world. And the precious girl is absolutely clueless that big brother may not always want her to knock down his tower.
Honestly, she assumes he will delight in it as much as she does.
And he did once upon a time. In fact, when he was still toddling, his daddy built him towers for the singular purpose of knocking them down. And we cheered and clapped and delighted in his ability and his bravery as the towers fell day after day. And as we celebrated day after day, a little warrior was formed. Now he spends much of his time slaying imaginary dragons and bad guys of gargantuan proportions.
And sure, I’ll mess up now and again, but how will they ever learn to appreciate adversity, to know of His love through suffering, to see the good in the trial if someone doesn’t show them?
How will they learn that we must love what is lovely, even through the ugly, if someone doesn’t accept the blessing of teaching them?
You see, there really is good in everything, if only we slow down and search it out.
Like when, heaven forbid, the coffee gets cold. There’s good in that.
Because while the coffee sits, temperature falling rapidly by the minute, we are learning to cherish what is good in one another.
While the supper sits burning, we are learning that knocking down block towers isn’t “bad behavior”, as it’s often labeled.
While the laundry lies neglected, we are recognizing that God Himself created curiosity, and that we can always work it out so that everyone’s desire to learn and discover is appreciated.
And while the floors go on getting still stickier, and I still don’t know where the mop went, we are learning that big brother may one day be an architect, like his Maker.
Perhaps we are far to quick to extinguish the behavior of our children that is labeled "bad", when really we should be more concerned with teaching them to distinguish the good.
So mostly this morning, I am grateful for these eyes that finally see.
I see how I have made a habit of sprinting to the fire extinguisher when those feuding flames begin to grow between these little people of mine (and it’s mostly been because my nerves threaten extinction). But the word “distinguish” here on the page in hand makes it clear that the process of raising mature, well fed little souls requires the opposite of extinguishing.
Merriam Webster says it like this:
- extinguish- verb. to bring to an end, to dim the brightness of, to cause to cease burning
- distinguish- verb. to perceive a difference in, to make noteworthy or remarkable, to discern (As in perhaps to discern a light? To perhaps discern His light in others? To discern it and to make note of it? To identify the light in my own children and perhaps to encourage it to shine?)
Lord, forgive me. For I have been snuffing out their little lights instead of recognizing them as special, treasured, and hand-made by You. I have been thoroughly dousing them, soaking the flickers until the very last of them are gone. Help me to see the Light you placed in them and to encourage it to shine.
All is quiet within me as I feel the forgiveness of the Creator wash me clean, the peace Of the Lord gently turning the corners of my mouth upwards.
And though I know this “constant practice” will be challenging - because when is motherhood not challenging? - His assurance surrounds me. Because even more constant than this discernment-practicing that I am now mindfully doing, is the very presence of God within me. (4)
So today, I’ll drink the cold coffee with a grateful heart and I’ll happily eat the burned dinner. Because they both tell a story of blessings, of opportunities that God gave me to help them grow to maturity, learning to distinguish the good from the evil, learning to see God in the everydayness of life, learning to know Him in the very realest of ways, learning to let their light shine.
- Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way
- Ephesians 6:12
- Romans 8:11