Sometimes without even broadcasting its presence, sibling rivalry sneaks up on our household and sucks the life and peace out of our home and family. There have been seasons where it has gotten so out of control that I have seriously wondered if I would ever see the fruit of Messiah in my children.
The first step for me whenever I see the fruit of the flesh in my children is to look at myself. Have I recently gone out of my way to be a blessing to others, or am I pretty much self-absorbed and only concerned with my own pursuits? Have I let little things fester until they boil over in rage and selfishness? If so, I’ll often see peace restored to the whole home as soon as I deal with my own heart attitudes.
There are still times, however, when children simply need to be given opportunities to practice selflessness and it is not directly related to Pete and me. Rather, it is just one more part of the children growing up God’s way. Being like Yeshua truly does not come naturally, especially to young ones whose narcissistic little tendencies are still being kneaded out of them by the very fact that they exist in a family where they are not the center of everything.
To the world, in the seemingly backwards economy of the Kingdom it doesn’t really make sense to bless those who persecute you and be last so that you can be first. Forgive seventy times seven? What? Even when my two year old sister gets into my dresser drawers for the hundredth time today and messes up my Lego set? I know plenty of adults who act like seventh graders, let alone my own babies whose brains aren’t even fully developed yet.
And we have SEVEN of these blessed little ones in our home. Seven. That makes for lots of working out one anothers, and usually at full volume. Even on good days we are well above the 60 decibels of normal conversation.
Jesus didn’t promise us His way would be easy, only that He would give us all we needed to walk it. A friend recently turned me on to a teaching specifically about sibling relationships. The thing with disciplining for constant fighting is that it focuses on the negative. “Don’t stab your sister in the arm with your pencil.” “Don’t nag your sister about how she washes dishes.” “Don’t trip the toddler on purpose.” Don’t, don’t, don’t. But what about switching the focus to the positive? What if we laid out specific requirements for how siblings should relate to one another rather than ways they shouldn’t?
The teaching we heard can be found here. I highly encourage listening to it.
I’m going to lay out exactly how we’ve been implementing the strategies suggested in Christianna’s talk. First, we had to come up with some basic Scripture verses to create the foundation for encouraging positive action rather than always focusing on stopping negative action. We kept some of the verses given in the teaching and came up with a couple of other ones ourselves.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He GAVE His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
- Monday is GIVE DAY. Each of the children picks one other person to give something to. It can be anything, no matter how small – a pretty rock from the yard, a drawing, a hair accessory. Giving shows that we are thinking about another person and not about ourselves. The children LOVE giving to each other. Give Day has probably been the easiest day to embrace around here.
Matthew 23:11 But the greatest among you shall be your SERVANT.
- Tuesday is SERVE DAY. Each of the children picks one other person to serve in some way during the day. They might help another child with a chore, or even do a chore for someone. They have to keep their eyes open, looking for ways to help. Serving someone helps us live out the example of washing feet that Yeshua gave us. What better way to practice how we should all behave in the body of Christ than serving? He came to serve us, and I have been very encouraged by seeing the children put service into practice.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore, encourage one another and BUILD UP one another, just as you also are doing.
- Wednesday is Edify Day or BUILD UP DAY. This is a time to pray about how to be an encouragement. Each of the children selects a sibling who they might build up rather than criticize. An additional rule on Wednesdays is that criticism and nagging are absolutely not tolerated. We only use positive words that build and edify. This part is very much still a work in progress! This has been a challenging one to put into practice, particularly for the kiddos who like to be Holy Spirit to one another and point out all the sins and mistakes of their siblings. Building up is a difficult habit to create, but what an excellent one!
Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give PREFERENCE to one another in honor.
- Thursday is PREFER DAY. In a family of so many children, it can be a tremendous sacrifice to prefer someone by giving up a privilege, especially something really special like sitting in the front of the van next to Tirzah or having the oatmeal with the most chocolate chips. But Thursdays are specifically for preferring someone else rather than yourself. Again, each child picks one person who they can let go first in something, no matter how big or small. I have seen the most fruit on this day as it cannot be successful without sacrificial love. It’s human nature to want to be first, so this practice is working deep in the kids.
Ephesians 6:18 With all prayer and petition PRAY at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.
- Friday is MINISTRY DAY. It is a time where each child picks another child in the family to intercede for. The exciting thing about this day is that we are encouraging the children to get words, Scriptures, and blessings for each other through prayer, which not only blesses the ones being ministered to but deepens each of the kids’ own relationships with Christ. Sometimes, one of the children will do a piece of prophetic art for another child, having prayed about something the Lord would speak to that child. It requires first praying, then listening to what God would say. We are encouraging the children to pray the Scriptures over one another, particularly if they know of an area of struggle in a sibling they can bring in petition to the Father. Oh, that we all would pray first for a problem rather than blab about it or carry it around anxiously in our hearts. Though Ministry Day is probably the most abstract practice of the week, I think it is probably one of the most significant habits we could help the children develop for their future lives.
I should mention that we don’t anticipate having to do these specific days indefinitely. My prayer is to continue doing it until I start to see some real fruit of peace in the children’s interactions with one another. We’ve been doing it for a few weeks now with some amazing results, but we have some ground to take back from the enemy as it relates to strife that has been allowed to take root. The main point of this is to practice, practice, practice until giving, serving, building up, preferring, and ministry come so naturally that we do not need to assign the virtues to a day of the week. The end goal is that these Christlike qualities would flow naturally.
I have taken a step farther in encouraging the children to specifically think of one child they are struggling with – and give to, serve, edify, prefer, or pray for that child each day. It’s easy to love on Tirzah because she hasn’t done anything irritating to anyone. But how much harder it is to show love to someone who has been bothering you lately! Pete and I sit down each night at the dinner table and ask the kids to share what they did and what they learned that day, and we’ve heard about some amazing experiences. The kids can testify with sincerity that when they make a conscious decision to love a person who has recently aggravated them, their heart attitude is changed toward that person. It becomes a little bit easier to love and let an offense slide when we proactively choose to “bless those who persecute” us. I can’t wait to see the strength these practices will bring to our family.