For almost my entire life, I’ve shared a room with my younger sister. And as anyone who’s in the same plight would know, this pretty much means constant mutual antagonism.
When you’re forced to work, play, and sleep in the same cramped quarters as another human being, something’s bound to happen. Throw in a generous dose of pubescent angst and teenage hormones, and you’ll get two teenage girls scratching and screaming at each another 24/7. (Okay, I may be exaggerating just a little.)
It happens all too often. Something small blows up into a full-blown quarrel; an accidental bop on the elbow erupts into a vengeful brawl; and a careless, stinging word leads to a tearful, hurtful squabble.
By the goodness and grace of God, through the tussles and struggles of obeying His word, and with the maturing of age, however, our fights happen much less frequently now.
Over the years, God has taught me some lessons about sharing a space with my sister, and how to be a better sibling to her.
1. Endure patiently
My sister and I have clashing nocturnal habits: I’m a lark who’s in bed by midnight, while my sister’s an owl who’s still on her phone at 2:00 a.m. I’m a highly sensitive sleeper who can sleep only in total silence and darkness, while my sister could probably sleep through a natural disaster.
At times, after I’ve laid in bed for hours waiting for her to turn off the light, my frustration reaches a climax and I end up shouting at her. Of course, things never end up well—she becomes even more stubborn, and I end up agitating myself to no end. Anger and impatience never helps.
The writer of Proverbs 15:1 advises, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Indeed, whenever I ignore this gentle reminder of the Holy Spirit, and instead erupt in anger and impatience, my sister reacts in kind. But when I commit my attitude and response to the Lord, such as by speaking softly to her and praying for patience, more often than not, the peace is kept.
As I learn to trust in and obey the power and wisdom of His word, I’m learning what it means to endure patiently in the face of confrontation—confrontation which can easily trigger a knee-jerk response leading to sin, or to a peaceful resolution made in love.
Another passage from James 1:19-20 provides wise counsel: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
2. Forgive freely
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13) Forgiveness means letting go of your right to exact revenge, and letting God take care of justice.
In the past, whenever I got into major arguments with my sister or even with my mum, I would seethe and stew in my anger. I would tell myself that I’d never forgive them or forget what they did, and that I would hold this grudge against them until they begged me for forgiveness.
In the end, bearing grudges against my sister didn’t affect her life as much as it affected mine. Though I thought that I could exact my revenge through ignoring her or withholding my forgiveness, I now realize that the only person I was hurting and punishing was myself.
I’ve been reminded and humbled by the knowledge that all of us have sinned thoroughly against our holy and perfect Father. Though we were dead in our sins, He made us alive together with Christ. It is by only God’s grace that we have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-7). In light of the immeasurable sins we have committed against God, how much more should we forgive the little wrongs that our siblings have done towards us!
Jesus tells us, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).
Though it can be hard for me to forgive my sister at times, I will pray and ask for God’s grace to enable me to release my heavy burden of anger, and to forgive freely, just as He has freely forgiven us.
3. Love as Jesus loves
All of us have flaws and faults. And when you put two people in the same place, anger, jealousy, and even hatred can occur. Consider Cain and Abel, the very first pair of siblings to walk this earth. Filled with resentment and bitterness, Cain killed his brother, and unabashedly lied about it to God.
From the very beginning, all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Yet, throughout history, God has reminded His people, time and time again, to love others.
When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied: “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).
Jesus also said in John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”. I realized that if I really wanted to obey Jesus’ commandment to love others—be it a sibling, a neighbour, or an enemy—then loving my sister is a good place to start.
I have found that when I remember His tenderhearted mercy and steadfast love that He has shown me, His grace naturally flows and helps me to relate to my sister with gentleness, grace, and love. This means that instead of losing my temper with her, I am guided by the Holy Spirit towards keeping the peace with her. The Spirit guards my heart against any hostility I may feel.
Also, instead of dwelling on her perceived wrongs against me, I try to put myself in her shoes, and try to adapt to her. For example, she might sleep late because she has an upcoming assignment, or she’s more productive in the nights, or simply because she’s naturally inclined to sleep later.
This can sometimes mean that I lose a little sleep. But I can always invest in a good pair of earplugs and an eye mask. Or I can camp out in the living room for a night or two until she’s done with her assignment.
Whenever something my sister does irks me, I now ask myself if there’s a good reason for it. And if there doesn’t seem to be one, then I pray and ask for God’s grace to be patient. After all, He shows us grace even when we are unreasonable, irrational and selfish.
I believe that the more we strive to love our siblings like our Lord and Saviour loved us, the more we will grasp the weight of our own inadequacies and the preciousness of His patience, forgiveness, and love towards us.