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.