On Sibling Rivalry and Reunions

My oldest brother Mark died on the eve of Father’s Day and I haven’t been able to blog about anything since then. My heart has been really heavy about it. I loved him. I miss him. I’m still grieving.

Mark and I had a typical relationship growing up. Six years older, he harrassed me a lot and provoked many tears. I will never forget the day I “ran away” because of his taunting and teasing. At the age of six, I didn’t make it far…just to the family garage armed with a box of cereal for sustenance. Mark snuffed me out and laughed at my lame solo flight. How could he treat someone this cute so poorly???

Mary First Grade

In spite of his ill treatment, I looked up to Mark like little sisters do. I thought it was cool that Mark would blast music so loud when our parents weren’t home that it could be heard six houses away. Mark was one of those people who could pick up any instrument and play it with ease: piano, flute, guitar, harmonica. He was also a great vocalist. I well remember his ninth grade performance in the Christmas program singing We Three Kings. Later, he would become his high school prom king.

Mark led the way in our family’s track legacy, setting the school record in the 800 meters that was later broken by our youngest brother Matt. I felt proud when I set the girls’ 800 record, following in my big brother’s footsteps. All of us, along with our other brother David seldom watched television. We played all kinds of games together: chess, scrabble, nurf hoops and tackle football. We set up a high jump pit in the backyard. He and David learned archery and went canoeing. As an adult, Mark competed in triathlons and he had a black belt in karate.

Mark Karate

Mark was a star in every respect and I valued his opinion of me. When he heard I was applying only to state schools for college, he urged me to aim higher. His advice prompted my application to Princeton where I eventually met my husband. Mark was our wedding photographer. Oh, did I mention his photography gifts? This photo of Joe and Mark’s eldest son Jason is an all-time favorite:

Joe and Jason

Adulthood and living 10 hours from each other combined to create distance between Mark and me, both real and perceived. He brought his family to see me only once, which was both annoying and hurtful. I will always wonder whether I remained a nuisance of a little sister. I certainly didn’t handle everything in our adult dealings with wisdom or maturity. Three weeks before he died we had a very tense conversation that didn’t end well. It wasn’t the first time I had screwed up an attempt at being helpful. But it turned out to be the last. Our relationship felt fractured. I wept that day, wanting to comfort him through his illness; to share some laughs and memories by his bedside; to let him know I loved him; to say a final goodbye.

God’s word provides me with comfort as I process Mark’s absence from my life and the hope I have of a family reunion some day. This comfort comes from Genesis where, within 5 minutes of reading, we meet a fractured family. Adam and Eve fail, blame each other, and eventually bury their son who was murdered by his jealous older brother. We’re not even out of Genesis 4 when we learn that broken relationships come with family life.

In fact, the sibling rivalry, incest, adultery, favoritism and murder of scripture would make a ton of money at the modern box office. Why is all this stuff included in the Bible?

To comfort us.

That’s right. To comfort us.

Whatever sorrow or annoyance we’re going through with our parents, siblings, spouse, or children is 100% normal. It’s all in the Bible, evidence that God is not surprised by it. He wants us to stop being surprised and learn from his word.

Our relatives will fail us.

They will be rude and sinful.

They will be unforgiving and aloof.

They won’t visit us, affirm us, or meet even basic needs that other family’s enjoy.

We all play a role in the ugly dynamics by the offensive, immature things we say and do. Old jealousies and rivalries die hard. Sometimes we disrespect our parents and vice versa. Sometimes we siblings never grow up. We’re mean. We’re prideful and sinful. We hold grudges and we gossip. In Genesis, God is teaching us the endless ways we humans can fail and disappoint those we love the most: our brothers, sisters, moms and dads.

This is especially true in the story of Joseph. I don’t know how “hot mess” is translated into Hebrew, but if there’s such a term, it applies to Jacob’s boys and their ridiculously cruel behavior against their brother Joseph. In the end, they reconcile, no grudges held. I can’t help but find hope when I read how Joseph embraced his brothers in spite of their incredibly fractured family.

That’s why I look forward to a similar reunion with Mark someday, along with David, Matt, and our parents (who have also gone before us). God put us on earth to share life together. I look forward to sharing eternal life together too.

Butlers

Mark and Me

“Then [Joseph] threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. Ahe he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him…he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”

Genesis 50.15-17;21b

3 thoughts on “On Sibling Rivalry and Reunions

Add yours

  1. Thank you Mary! This is very insightful and very well written! It’s one thing losing your parents. It’s something completely different and deep to lose a sibling. I lost my brother almost 14 years ago and I still look twice when I see someone on the street who looks like him. Take heart Mary! I pray God’s great love will overwhelm and console you!

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