“I am the one thing in life I can control”
–lyric from “Wait for It” from the Hamilton soundtrack
I recently read a story of two brothers: Richard and Mark. To summarize, Richard was the older of the two and got by doing what was necessary to get by. Mark, the younger, was honest, loyal and hardworking. Friends as kids, as the brothers grew older they grew apart. Mark appeared to the outside world to be the more privileged. His accomplishments always seemed to trump his older brother which fueled competition between the two. Despite the efforts of their parents who desired for their sons to be supportive of one another their relationship deteriorated over time until it came to a breaking point. Richard had enough and one day he killed his younger brother in a fit of rage in an empty field. Instantly, full of grief, he left his parents and his home to start his life over again alone. And that is the end of this story.
We hear this story and it is shocking and tragic. It is also a timeless story we have all heard before. Heard before but maybe haven’t connected with. It is the story of the first two siblings: Cain and Abel. I did read this story recently, and I read it in a new light. Read it as an actual story of two actual brothers. Brothers that could be real people living now, like say….. Richard and Mark. Bible stories, whether we grow up in or outside of the church come with a stigma. And some of the most well known stories have become so familiar that we can discount them as not having useful knowledge still for us as adults because we learned their lessons when we were kids. Sometimes I have to read these stories ‘a-new ‘ to see if there are lessons buried inside that I haven’t tapped into yet, and when I recently reread this story I found a few ah-has thinking about Cain and Abel as Richard and Mark.
It is so interesting to think that this is the FIRST family in the bible and this is the story told of them. The one story told. Fascinating. The first human family and things were not easy and effortless. Quite the opposite, the first human sibling relationship ended with murder and death. Why, I don’t remember that being a focus in Sunday school? So what is the take away? Well, as I see it this story teaches that 1- sibling rivalry is real and always been “a thing”, 2- families are complicated, and 3- conflict has and always will exist in relationships – both sibling and beyond.
As grown ups the vast majority of us have not physically killed our siblings but it does seem that many adult sibling relationships are strained. But thinking beyond siblings, I wonder if maybe this story is less about the sibling dynamic and more about the human relationship dynamics whatever it may be: husband/wife, parent/child, friends, neighbors, co-workers. What led Cain to kill Abel was unresolved conflict between the two and conflict appears in all relationships, not just that of siblings. And no conflict doesn’t often lead to physical death, but maybe conflict, fueled by comparison and rivalry, IS the killer of relationships.
Whether in a relationship, whatever type of relationship it may be, we identify more as the Cain/Richard or as the Abel/Mark when conflict arises we nearly ALL identify as the victim with the other as the one to blame. Basically we are all like Cain in this way in that we assume the conflict is the fault of the other. And what is even crazier is often we are totally unaware of this. Think about it. Think about an issue that has you in a tizzy with someone currently. Is it your fault? Are you to blame? OR does the blame fall in the other person’s corner. If they weren’t so difficult or irresponsible or judgmental or passive or assertive or busy or available or whatever then things would be okay and the conflict would be resolved. Basically, if the other person was just way more the way we need them to be in the relationship then we could live happily ever after.
Of course, we all do realize that we have our own flaws and faults BUT we breeze over this in our assessment of the situation and camp out on the faults of the other as the real source of the relationship problem. Basically in conflict the real root of the problem lies not in our hands but in the other persons. Two friends fighting over hurtful things said and done, one might think, “I know I haven’t always treated her as well as maybe I could, BUT what she did was downright unacceptable. And then we camp out on everything that lies after the BUT. We tell our friends, our spouse, anyone that will listen to all the juicy details that fall after the BUT and don’t give all that much thought to what becomes before the BUT.
What if for a period of time, a month or two, we were committed to focusing 100% of our attention on what comes before the BUT. What if we were willing to see and own our part and leave it at that. “I know I haven’t always treated her well”. And that’s where I am going to camp out for awhile. No BUT. Oh but it it so much juicer to focus on someone else’s falls from perfections than our own. But as I can see it there is really no other way. No other way to mature beyond “Cain level” and we’ve learned that Cain is the historical relationship killer.
For. . . . .
1- I am the only person I can control
2- I try and do my best to love others well but
3- I am imperfect- I will always be imperfect
4- I will screw up
5- When I screw up I hope I have people in my life that will see beyond the messes I make and forgive me and love me in spite of myself
6- So maybe I should aim to see beyond the messes others make and and be more forgiving and loving
7- To those around me that screw up
8- And fall short of perfection and will always fall short of perfection
9- But do genuinely try to do their best to love others well
10- That are not the only person I can control
This all seems to make logical sense to me but logical sense can be incredible hard to implement in the real world. Best of luck to us all on this!
See Genesis 4