I have two sons born 22 months apart. They are sandwiched between two sisters, all four born within seven years. Ours was a busy, noisy, chaotic household for about two decades as they grew up and then launched into independence. Our little boys were great playmates who enjoyed being dirty, wrestling, and throwing rocks in any body of water. They shared a room with bunkbeds and spent hours building Lego models. They invented things and pretended they were circus performers in the backyard. They worked hard protecting our household from robbers a la Kevin McAllister in Home Alone (I’ve always wondered if we let them watch that too young!). Their boyhood had all the makings of a lifetime friendship, and as the mama bear presiding over her den of cubs, I was pleased.
As they became teens, however, they grew to disrespect each other. Though they were both curious learners, the older brother, Jon, became curious about the wrong things and traveled down a path of destruction. His behavior was a disruption to our peaceful household, and everyone felt it, but the sensitive younger brother, Nate, took the brunt of it. He was kind and easy to get along with, while Jon was seemingly unaware of the impact of his words and actions. We spent countless hours on our knees and felt the fog of war in our home. I don’t think we realized the impact of everything on the others.
Thankfully – and I mean thanksgiving with shouts of joy – the Lord delivered Jon from his own foolishness at age 20 in a grand display of His sovereign power. When I tell the story of his surrender to the Lordship of Christ, the listener gets goosebumps or starts crying. It is a powerful story and one I could never have written. Our God is an amazing God.
But the fallout of the disrespect and dishonor during the years prior had lasting implications on Jon and Nate’s brotherly relationship. There was tension at family gatherings. Insensitivity raised its ugly head repeatedly, and they avoided each other. They both married wonderful women, and surely their influence softened the men. It took some years of sanctification and maturing for the “old things” to pass away. A reconciliation conversation was initiated, they forgave one another, and agreed to a fresh start.
They are now 34 and 32 and have been on this path of reconciliation for a few years now. I am not privy to all the in-between conversations of how they have gotten to this place; I just see the beautiful blossoms of their labor and forgiveness. So beautiful, it makes me cry.
Both men have been going through tough things with their families. Jon and his wife adopted three teen siblings who were trapped in the foster system. As one can imagine, this brings a unique set of challenges, and the kids are suffering from the sins of their birth parents and their own distorted choices. (In the midst of one crisis, Jon called me in tears to express his sorrow for what he put our family through in his teen years, now that he is experiencing this as a parent.) Nate and his wife have just given birth to their fourth child, a beautiful boy who has a rare genetic disorder that has him fighting for his life in the NICU. They are commuting an hour each way to be with little George daily, praying for a miracle amidst a grim prognosis.
Nate shared a text with me yesterday that he had received from Jon. Some of the phrases demonstrate the love that God has birthed between these brothers. “God has put this on my heart for you while I was praying last night…I was thinking about you and being reminded that God is not impartial to the suffering we experience–He is calling us to trust HIM…I love you, brother.” Sniff sniff. I know there have been other interactions like this between them over the past few years, and I am absolutely amazed at the beauty that has come from ashes.
As a side note, I was pondering how none of this could have taken place without the presence of intense suffering. The difficult adoption process prepared Jon’s heart for welcoming these particular children into his home. The pain of watching children you love make decisions that lead to their own detriment has developed compassion in him and created a very sensitive heart. He would not be in a position to share any of this if he had not suffered. And Nate would not be in a position to receive this loving encouragement if he were not in a place of pain. The path to beautiful maturity, to Christ-likeness, is paved with suffering.
I have seen every single one of the character traits listed in Colossians 3:12-14 in my two sons as they continually surrender their lives to the Holy Spirit’s influence. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (NIV*).
How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity.Psalm 133:1 NIV*
*Unless otherwise noted, the verses in this post are from the 1978 edition of the NIV, which is no longer in print, but still available online.