Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Come Out From Under My Sibling’s Shadow?
“I wanted to be an individual, but I always felt I had to live up to my sisters’ reputations. I felt I could never do the things my sisters had accomplished.”—Clare.
DO YOU have a brother or a sister who seems to succeed at just about everything? Do your parents constantly exhort you to be more like that sibling? If so, you may fear that you will always be in his or her shadow—that your worth will always be measured by how well you live up to your sibling’s accomplishments.
Barry’s* older brothers are both graduates of the much-respected Ministerial Training School* and have excellent reputations as Christians. Barry admits: “My self-confidence suffered, since I felt I could never live up to their standards in the preaching work or be as good as they are at public speaking. I found it hard to make friends of my own because I just tagged along with my brothers when they were invited out. I felt that people were only friendly to me because of who my brothers were.”
It is hard not to feel jealous when you have a sibling who is often the object of praise. In Bible times young Joseph stood out among his brothers. The effect on his siblings? “They began to hate him, and they were not able to speak peacefully to him.” (Genesis 37:1-4) Joseph, of course, was modest. But your sibling might stir up rivalry and resentment by constantly reminding you of his or her achievements.
Some youths react to all of this by rebelling—perhaps letting their school grades slip, cutting back on Christian activities, or engaging in shocking conduct. They may figure that if they cannot do as well as their sibling, there’s no point in trying at all. But in the long run, rebelling will only hurt you. How can you come out from under your sibling’s shadow in a way that makes you feel good about yourself?
Don’t Put Them on a Pedestal
Seeing all the attention your sibling receives, you can find yourself buying into the belief that he or she is perfect and that you could never, ever, measure up. But is that really true? The Bible puts matters bluntly when it says: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”—Romans 3:23.
Yes, whatever siblings’ skills or talents are, they are still “humans having the same infirmities” as we do. (Acts 14:15) There is no reason to put them on a pedestal or to make idols out of them. The only human who has ever set a perfect example is Jesus Christ.—1 Peter 2:21.
Learn From Them!
Next, try to see your situation as a potential learning experience. Consider, for example, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 13:55, 56) Think of what they could have learned from their perfect sibling! Nevertheless, “his brothers were, in fact, not exercising faith in him.” (John 7:5) Perhaps pride and jealousy got in the way of their faith. It was Jesus’ spiritual brothers—his disciples—who responded to his generous invitation: “Learn from me.” (Matthew 11:29) And it was not until after Jesus’ resurrection that his fleshly brothers finally appreciated Jesus. (Acts 1:14) Until then, they missed out on many golden opportunities to learn from their outstanding brother.
Cain made a similar error. His sibling, Abel, was an outstanding servant of God. The Bible says that “Jehovah was looking with favor upon Abel and his offering.” (Genesis 4:4) For some reason, though, God “did not look with any favor upon Cain and upon his offering.” Cain could have shown some humility and learned from his brother. Instead, “Cain grew hot with great anger” and ended up slaughtering Abel.—Genesis 4:5-8.
Not that you would ever get that angry with your sibling. But you too could miss out on precious opportunities if you let pride and jealousy stand in the way. If you have a sibling who excels at math, is a whiz at history, has mastered your favorite sport, possesses an outstanding knowledge of the Scriptures, or does well at public speaking, you must resist jealousy! After all, “jealousy is rottenness to the bones” and can only harm you. (Proverbs 14:30; 27:4) Instead of being resentful, try to learn from your sibling. Accept the fact that he or she has some abilities or skills that you do not have. Observe the way your sibling does things—or, better yet, ask for help.
Barry, mentioned earlier, came to benefit from the good examples his brothers set. He says: “I saw how happy my brothers were because they were willing to help people in the congregation and in the preaching work. So I decided to follow my brothers’ example, and I became involved in Kingdom Hall and Bethel construction work. The experience I gained has given me confidence and helped me to grow in my relationship with Jehovah.”
Finding Your Own Strengths
Perhaps you fear that imitating your sibling’s good qualities will mean losing your own individuality. But that need not happen. The apostle Paul encouraged first-century Christians: “Become imitators of me.” (1 Corinthians 4:16) Did this mean that Paul wanted them to be devoid of their own individuality? Not at all. There is plenty of room for variety. If you are not as good a math student as your sibling is, it does not mean that you are defective. It simply means that you are different.
Paul gives this practical advice: “Let each one prove what his own work is, and then he will have cause for exultation in regard to himself alone, and not in comparison with the other person.” (Galatians 6:4) Why not work on developing your own unique skills and abilities? Learning to speak a foreign language, to play a musical instrument, or to use a computer may help you feel better about yourself, and it may also give you valuable skills. Don’t worry about doing things perfectly! Learn to be thorough, conscientious, and competent. (Proverbs 22:29) You may not have much natural aptitude toward something, but “the hand of the diligent ones is the one that will rule,” says Proverbs 12:24.
However, it is especially your spiritual development that you want to cultivate. Spiritual skills are of far more lasting value than any talents that may get more attention. Consider the twin brothers Esau and Jacob. Esau won much praise from his father because he was “a man knowing how to hunt, a man of the field.” Initially, his brother, Jacob, might have been easy to overlook because he was “a blameless man, dwelling in tents.” (Genesis 25:27) Esau failed to develop his spirituality and missed out on blessings. Jacob cultivated a love for spiritual things and was richly blessed by Jehovah. (Genesis 27:28, 29; Hebrews 12:16, 17) The lesson? Develop your spirituality, “let your light shine,” and your “advancement [will] be manifest to all persons.”—Matthew 5:16; 1 Timothy 4:15.
Clare, mentioned earlier, says: “I was content to live in the shadow of my older sisters. But then I decided to follow the Scriptural advice to ‘widen out’ in my affections. I worked in the field ministry with different ones in the congregation, and I looked for practical ways to help those in need in the congregation. I also invited brothers and sisters of different age groups to our family home and cooked for them. I now enjoy a wider circle of friends, and I am more confident.”—2 Corinthians 6:13.
From time to time, your parents may lapse into admonishing you to be more like your brother or sister. But realizing that your parents have your best interests at heart can take away some of the hurt. (Proverbs 19:11) However, it may be good to tell your parents respectfully how such comparisons make you feel. Perhaps they will try to find other ways of expressing their concerns.
Never forget that Jehovah God himself will take notice of you if you serve him. (1 Corinthians 8:3) Barry sums it up by saying: “I find that the longer I serve Jehovah, the happier I am. People now see me for who I am and appreciate me, just as they appreciate my brothers.”
Some of the names have been changed.
Arranged for by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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Is your sibling often the center of attention?
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Explore your own talents and interests
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“Let your light shine” by developing your spiritual skills