Friendships in the Family
One warm spring day, a gentleman tore down an outbuilding that had stood for thirty years. When all the rubbish had been cleared away, the spot looked very bare, like a bit of arid dessert in the midst of the rich garden that surrounded it. But soon rain fell and then the sun poured down its beams; and in a few days, there sprang up countless lovely little flowers, where for thirty years there had been neither life nor beauty, covering the unsightly place and making it one of the fairest spots in all the garden. The seeds must have been lying there in the soil all those years; but having neither light, moisture, nor warmth, they had never grown.
Similarly, many a roof covers a family-life that is bare of beauty and joy. Yet all the elements are there which are needed to make it a true image of heaven, in its blessedness and peace. In the children growing up together, there are the possibilities of a very rich life, with deep joys, fond ties, and mutual inspirations. All that is needed to bring out all these possibilities is the mighty transforming power of affection! Surely it is not right that so much blessing should be lost. There is not so much happiness in the world that we can afford to leave our homes as barren deserts, when they might be blossoming gardens.
In every home where there are brothers and sisters, there is a field which needs only wise and patient cultivation to yield life’s richest and loveliest things. Are we cultivating this field, or is it lying neglected – being covered, perhaps, with weeds and thorns, while we are spending all our strength in trying to make harvests grow on some bare, rocky hillside?
A full and complete family is one in which brothers and sisters all dwell together in tender love. We all know such homes where the family life is full, and the family fellowship is close and caring and happy; where parents, children, brothers, and sisters all live together in sweet harmony, and where the music of the daily life is like an unbroken song of holy peace. Wherever there is such a home, its blessedness is almost heavenly!
Brothers and sisters have an important duty in the making of the happiness of the family-life. What is their part? Here is a household in which there are two or three sisters, and as many brothers, growing up together. What does each owe to this home? What do they owe to each other? How should they live together?
These are a few of the questions which I would like to raise in the minds of young people who are living together in the home of their parents. It does not matter so much whether I answer the questions myself or not. If I can merely start them in the minds of those whom they concern, so that they shall go on thinking about them and trying to answer them practically in their lives – this will be far better than the fullest, completest, and wisest answers on this page or any other.
What should be the home fellowship of brothers and sisters? How should they live together? These questions may be answered in general by saying that a close and tender friendship should exist between them. This sounds like a very commonplace remark. Of course, brothers and sisters should be friends. No one denies it. But do we universally find this warm, loving, and tender friendship where there are young people in a home? We often find strong ties and attachments, mutual affection and interest, and much that is very beautiful; but when we come closer and look for friendship in the true sense, it is lacking. The brothers and sisters may love one another very truly, but they still seek their friends outside the home. They go outside the family for warm sympathy, close friendships, and confidential companionship.
It is not hard to find reasons for this. Living always together and knowing one another from infancy, members of the same family are inclined to grow uninteresting to one another. The sameness of the society, day after day, takes away its freshness. The common life which they all lead under the same roof – with the same pursuits, the same topics for conversation, the same incidents and experiences, the same hopes and fears, the same joys and sorrows, the same books, and the same social life – renders it difficult for the members of a household to impress one another in continual repetition, and to always freshly kindle inspiration and emotion in one other, as friends from other homes can do when they only come in now and then.
Then there is also the fact that it is home, and the ties there are natural and thought to be secure. The family members are sure of each other, and make no effort to win confidence and regard. Love between them is a matter of course, as if by nature, without winning it or cherishing it or troubling themselves to keep it. These are some of the causes for the absence of real friendship between brothers and sisters. They imagine that family affection is a sort of instinct, not subject to the laws which control other affections; and that it does not need to be sought or gained or won (as affection must be in others) by giving affection in return, and by the countless little tendernesses and thoughtfulness which are shown to others whom they desire to win. They forget that the principle, “He who has friends must show himself friendly,” applies inside the family just as well as outside of it. They forget that friendship anywhere must be cherished, or it will die; they do not remember that indifference and coldness will cause friendship to wither, just as drought causes summer flowers to wither. They imagine, in short, that the love of the family is so sure and strong that it needs no care and no pains to keep it safe. This is why, in very many homes, brothers and sisters come and go – day after day, and year after year; mingling in all the life of the household, but never really forming close friendships among themselves.
Friendships in the family require care and cultivation, just as other friendships do. We must win one another’s love inside the home, just as we win the love of outside friends. We must prove ourselves worthy; we must show ourselves unselfish, self-forgetful, thoughtful, kind, tender, patient, and helpful. Then, when we have won each other, we must keep the treasure of affection and confidence, just as we do in the case of friends who not in the sacred circle of the family.
If we have a friend whom we respect and prize very highly, we all know the pains we take to retain his friendship. We are not sure of it, regardless of our treatment of him. We are very careful to never do anything to make us seem unworthy of the friendship. We try to prune from our own character anything that would displease our friend. We cultivate assiduously those qualities of heart and life which he admires. We watch for opportunities to do kindnesses and show favors to him. We guard against whatever would wound him or cause him pain. We give him our confidence; we trust him and prove our affection for him in countless ways.
Let no one suppose that family friendships can be won and kept in any other way. We cannot depend on nature or instinct to do this for us. We must live for each other. We must gain each other’s heart by giving just what we expect to receive. And we must cherish the friendship that we have won. Unless we do, it will not grow! We must watch our words and our conduct. We must seek to please, and we must take pains to never wound or grieve. We must deny self and live for one another. We must confide in one another. We must cultivate in our own hearts and lives whatever is beautiful, whatever is tender, whatever is holy, and whatever is true. In order to be deep and true and heart-satisfying, friendships in our own home must be formed by the patient knitting of soul to soul, and the growing of life into life, just as in other friendships.
Has this article inspired you to cultivate a deeper relationship with your brothers and sisters, or (if you are a parent) to teach your children how to make their siblings their best friends? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments! Feel free to leave your reflections or ask a question below.
God bless you and your family, this day and always.
All for our King’s glory,
photo by Prixel Creative | Lightstock.com
This post is another installment of Miller’s Monday Musings, a weekly series that is published every Monday on my website. The series features selected writings that have been adapted from the works of James Russell Miller (1840-1912), a much-beloved Christian author and pastor who is well-remembered for his practical thoughts on Christian home and family life. Learn more about this weekly series by clicking here.