My 26-year-old brother has done very well for himself. He has a great job with a very generous income, and we are very proud of him for the hard work he has put in to reach his goals.
He has been dating a young lady for the last three years. They’ve been living together for two years and engaged for one. She is not a Christian, although she says she’s interested in learning more about Jesus. She is an only child, and her parents have instilled in her that you need lots of money to make you happy, and lots of things, too (e.g., she “needs” a designer purse from Paris because everyone else is getting one). My brother doesn’t really like her parents, which is sad because they will be his in-laws if they get married.
Getting back to the fiancée, she is very driven by money and social status. She herself has worked hard and makes very good money, and we’re proud of her for that. However, she controls my brother’s spending, belittles him when he wants to buy something — even something he needs. She is also very active overseeing a sorority she started up before she graduated university and spends a lot of her weekends with her sorority sisters. My brother believes this will change when they’re married, but I don’t think it will.
So here is the issue: Me, my parents, my other two siblings, aunts, uncles, friends and my pastor don’t think it’s a good match and don’t want them to get married. My brother isn’t easy to talk to, though. He doesn’t deal well with what he perceives as criticism. He has a hot temper and a very quick tongue — his words can feel like a slap in the face.
We don’t know how to talk to him about this delicate issue. What if he decides to marry her after someone has told him our concerns and then he tells his fiancée what was said? I’m afraid she would always feel hurt and rejected, and it would put a huge wedge between our families.
There have been signs that my brother isn’t completely happy, and my mom and dad want to talk to him, but they’re afraid of the outcome. The wedding is in nine months.
My mom and I have been praying that if it’s God’s will for them not to marry, that He speaks to their hearts. I’m so very afraid for my brother’s future. I only want the best for him, but I’m afraid he’s convinced himself that he’s in a healthy relationship. My parents are wonderful people, and they’ve modeled a good example of what a marriage should be, so it’s hard for me to see my brother going this direction.
Do you have any advice for how my parents could lead into a discussion with my brother about their concerns?
This is a tough situation, bordering on nightmare, and I empathize with you. I have two brothers who’ve gone through different phases of walking away from their faith and making decisions that, to me, seemed foolish. You’re right to be concerned. If you’ve read any of the articles in the “Biblical Dating” series, you know that the way your brother and his fiancée are approaching their wedding is less than ideal for building a firm foundation for their marriage. Strained in-law relations; premarital sex; disagreements about money, priorities and faith — any one of these could easily lead to trouble. Together, they’re a recipe for disaster.
It’s not enough, however, to be able to diagnose the problem. What’s trickier is prescribing a solution. Just knowing what’s wrong isn’t justification for running headlong into confrontation with him. If ever there were a situation that begs for caution, this is it. It’s all too easy to see the folly of someone else’s decisions, and it’s tempting to want to jump in and stop them. But that’s not always helpful.
The best thing my family ever did for one of my brothers was to fast every Friday for his rescue and return to the Lord. We decided to forego breakfast and lunch and take that time (and reminders that a grumbling stomach provides) to pray for him and take our concerns to the Lord.
I’m convinced that before we can successfully share our concerns with a family member — especially over issues as touchy and intimate as choice of spouse or career — we need to take those concerns to the Lord. He is able to move in the heart and mind of a loved one more than we ever could. And often, whatever we say, especially if we’re motivated by our feelings, does more harm than good.
It does sound like your concerns are valid and that your brother is in the midst of an unhealthy relationship, is sinning sexually, and is making bad decisions. But that’s not all I’m concerned about. It’s not enough to stop him from marrying this gal. His current relationship, with all its complications and difficulties, is likely the symptom of deeper heart issues. His, and possibly, yours.
The fact that you and your parents aren’t sure even about how to talk to him is evidence of a relational breakdown that likely preceded your brother’s current romance. In addition to fasting and praying for your brother, the next best thing you all could do is work at building back (or establishing for the first time) a Christ-like friendship with him. Before he’ll ever trust your input about his choice of wife, you’ll have to earn his trust over more everyday issues. You have to earn the right to speak into someone’s life at this level. It simply doesn’t work to neglect a friendship and then show up one day with grave concerns and have them take you seriously. This is obvious with non-family members. (Who would ever presume to give advice to a friend we’d not seen for a decade without first getting re-acquainted?) Sadly, it’s much less obvious when it’s someone we grew up with. Too often we presume upon siblings, speaking frankly when it’s neither warranted nor welcomed.
Far better than giving unsolicited advice is waiting to be asked. Queen Esther is a key example of this. Mordecai urged her to bring a hard, possibly the hardest, word to her newish husband, Xerxes. She even risked her life to do it. It took great courage to approach his throne uninvited. But she waited for him to extend his scepter and ask what she wanted, “up to half of the kingdom,” before delivering the message. She was strategic in how she presented her news. Our families would benefit from such careful timing and word choice. Notice though, she wasn’t timid and she didn’t avoid the subject. She just waited till the moment was right. She was sensitive to timing and approach. (Read the book of Esther for the full story.)
Finally, if your brother is ever going to receive such a hard word (“you’ve chosen your future wife poorly,” “you’re living in sin,” “your relationships with your future in-laws and your own parents are in a shambles,” etc.), you’re going to have to take an honest look at the sin in your own life.
Why? Because we all sin and fall short of God’s glory. We’re all prone to folly. We all stumble in many ways. I think this is why Jesus told us to take the plank out of our own eyes before trying to get that pesky splinter out of our brother’s. In Matthew 7:3-5, Jesus said,
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
I don’t know what the planks are in your life or those of your family members, but I know from God’s Word that we all have them. In my case, it was my tendency to be like the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son — to think that because I hadn’t sinned and had always done what my dad wanted, I was worthy because of my goodness. Reading Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God helped me finally understand that the point of the prodigal son story was just as much the resentment of the elder brother as it was the rebellion of the younger. (This book would be, I believe, a great help for you and all your loved ones who are concerned about and wanting to help your brother.)
I would simply encourage you to meditate on this passage and pray, both for your brother and yourself. Ask God to reveal any areas of sin in your own heart that are an obstacle to your brother seeing his own. Ask Him to rescue your brother and to bring people into his life (it may be you or another family member, or a friend, employer or pastor) to challenge him and call him to a renewal of his faith and sold-out commitment to God. And pray for his fiancée. She needs a savior, too.
May the God of all creation — the One who made your brother and has the idea in mind of who he’s meant to be — guide you in your prayers, your thoughts and your words. Even more, may He rescue your brother for your brother’s good and His glory.
Copyright 2010 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.