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Truce for Sibling Wars: reflections on spiritual warfare
Thursday, May 19, 2022 by Becky Cerling Powers

First let me tell you the end of the story

 By the time our three children were all teenagers, they got along great. They liked doing things together, they immersed themselves in lengthy, late-night discussions – sometimes hilarious, sometimes sober – and they could even back off in the middle of an argument and mutually resolve a disagreement. In short, they were good friends.

The beginning of the story was less pleasant.

Our children were each born 2 ½ years apart. Our first-born son resented his baby sister’s competition for Mom and Dad’s attention, and she, in turn, felt squeezed out when a younger brother joined the family.

Sibling Rivalry and Middle Child Syndrome produced a wicked mix. The boys joined forces to compete against their sister, and she salved her hurt feelings by snatching every opportunity fate offered for revenge. They retaliated in turn.

The children’s relationship grew increasingly bitter until, by the time they were 13, 10, and 8, they were turning their lives into a guerrilla war. We were beginning to home school our two youngest children at the time, and they were making the experience miserable.

But then a miracle began, and the middle of the story unfolded.

The name of the miracle was forgiveness. And because forgiveness is a process rather than an overnight achievement, the middle of the story lasted about a year and a half.

In his wise little book Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve, Lewis B. Smedes says forgiveness starts with a critical decision: “Do I want to be healed or do I prefer to go on suffering from the unfair hurt lodged in my memory?”  

Once our children decided they wanted healing, Smedes’ book helped us by clarifying what forgiveness is and what it is not.

Forgiveness is not smothering conflict, nor is it covering over pain and pretending it doesn’t exist. Forgiveness does not mean making excuses for people who hurt us, nor does it mean tolerating continued abuse.

True forgiveness is impossible until we face up to our pain from the past. Only when we face the pain and feel it can we grieve what we lost and truly forgive someone for the harm we suffered.

Helping our children through the process of forgiveness meant that we listened to them recount their painful memories, acknowledged their hurts, and encouraged them to let go of their claims against each other, even though it was hard. We also encouraged them to figure out and practice new ways of acting around each other.

Our Christian faith helped us.

We taught our children to go to God for the resources necessary to do the work of forgiving. For forgiveness is essentially a spiritual issue – but then, so is hatred or revenge.

Reconciliation is the most satisfying way to complete forgiveness, although it is possible to heal without that final step. It takes one to forgive. It takes two to reconcile. If only one child had been willing to forgive, he would have healed while the others remained wounded and bitter.       

Fortunately, our children reconciled as they forgave. By the time the two oldest were in college, all three of them were so close that their friends were amazed to find out that they had ever been anything but good friends.

Parents cannot nag their children into forgiveness. They can only practice it themselves, then present it as a solution to their youngsters’ pain and guide them through the process.

© Becky Cerling Powers 1991

Reprint with attribution only www.beckypowers.com

Becky Cerling Powers is the author of Laura’s Children: the hidden story of a Chinese orphanage as well as Sticky Fingers, Sticky Minds: quick reads for helping kids thrive. She blogs at www.beckypowers.com “Truce for Sibling Wars” is part of a collection of stories describing and explaining the use of the spiritual weapons that the apostle Paul listed in Ephesians 6:10-20. This story describes “feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” To find other stories in the series enter “reflections on spiritual warfare” into the Search Bar.

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