Loving the Neighbor in Our Own Home

A wise priest once said to me, “It is often easier to love the orphans in Africa than it is to love our own siblings.” I thought of that quote today as we were doing a lesson on “loving one’s neighbor” in third grade CCD. The first page of the lesson talked about how we should love all people as our brothers and sisters. Note to Religious Education publishers: this is a bad analogy to use in a textbook aimed at eight and nine year-old children. The teacher’s manual prompted us to ask the students how they should treat their brothers and sisters. Interestingly, the only student who answered “we should be kind to them” was the one who doesn’t actually have any brothers or sisters. The others proceeded to give a run-down of all the mean things their siblings and they do to each other. As a mother of two boys, nineteen months apart, I can relate. I’m actually pretty lucky. My children get along well most of the time. But when they don’t, I feel like refereeing international disputes at the United Nations might be an easier task than trying to keep them from killing each other. They swear that they will never speak to each again, only to be best friends an hour later.

Even as adults, getting along with our siblings can be a challenge. We may no longer feel the need to scream at them or punch them (although I have seen adult brothers do this as a bonding ritual), but chances are, at times, they will rub us the wrong way. We do the same thing to them. We are just alike and different enough to drive each other crazy. We would never treat other people (co-workers, friends, strangers on the street) the way we feel free to treat our siblings.

The same holds true with others we live with. Whether it be our spouses or our children or our parents, the people we share our home with often share the brunt of our stress. We hold in all, or at least most, of our frustration when dealing with others. We maintain the respectable façade. Yet, when we are home we feel free to be our “true” selves, however unpleasant that may be at times. After all, they are supposed to love us anyway.

The recent movie Fireproof was all about reclaiming a troubled marriage through using kindness and making sacrifices. The same holds true for all our close relationships. What a different world this would be if we were all kinder to the people we share our lives with! When we hear the scripture reading about the Good Samaritan we usually take it to mean we should love our enemies. That is most definitely true. All people are our neighbor. We should never turn our back on someone in need. Neither, however, should we turn our backs on those we love. Sometimes, the hardest challenge is to love the neighbor within our own home.

Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

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Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur writes from western Massachusetts where she lives with her husband and two sons. A Senior Editor with Catholic Lane.com, she blogs at http://spiritualwomanthoughts.blogspot.com

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  • dennisofraleigh

    I wonder if the good Father wasn’t recalling G.K. Chesterton’s pithy observation when he wrote, “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.” The biggest fights and quarrels in our house were not among the siblings (who squabbled and fussed) but between the mom and us kids. Dad only had to say something once. Discussion over. ;-)
    On the other hand the worst fights occurred when my mom and one of my younger teenage sisters’ disputes descended into a shouting match. No physical violence. Just hollering at each other at the top of their lungs across the dining room table. Anyone who grew up in a large Catholic family can attest to those moments. Remember how we all kind of stood by helplessly and watched as the shouting went on and on and on (dad in the other room watching TV with the volume way up)? Dad usually didn’t interfere. Many times he was clueless as to what it was they were actually arguing about. So long as it didn’t involve borrowing the car or spending a lot of money he let mom & sis settle it between themselves.
    It was never malicious arguing that I can recall. But the decibel level was sometimes enough to shatter glass!

  • wgsullivan

    Dennis,

    Dr. Guarendi would say dad should have never allowed sis to yell at mom. In turn, sis would have had a wonderful example in seeing how dads protect their wives and look for a guy that would do the same for her.

    In Christ,

    wgsullivan

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