But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.
Genesis 33:4 (NIV)
Many years ago I found myself back in the stomping grounds of my youth. It was late at night and I ran into an old friend. I approached to say hello and discovered he had a drink or two too many. I was shocked to find that I was greeted with anger that felt like it was seething to the point of rage. He looked like he was ready to punch me, and the air was filled with violent tension. I quickly backed away and left.
I never forgot that moment.
Ten or so years later I ran into my friend again. Needless to say, my apprehension was high when I saw him. All I could think about was the tension from ten years before. I played it cool and chose not to initiate conversation. Imagine my surprise when my friend walked up to me with a smile, greeted me warmly with a big hug, and initiated a friendly catch-up conversation. It was as if the episode a decade before had ever happened.
That moment came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter and the reunion between twin brothers, Jacob and Esau. In this case, it had been 20 years since Jacob fled into exile to escape his brother’s rage. The last thing Jacob remembered was the aftermath of stealing Esau’s blessing and birthright. Esau was spewing anger and vengeance. In yesterday’s chapter, Jacob hears that Esau is on his way with 400 men, and he is clearly anticipating Esau to greet him with the same anger and vengeance he remembered from their last meeting. He carefully devises a plan in anticipation of a violent outcome.
Imagine Jacob’s shock when Esau runs ahead of his 400 men to embrace him, kiss him, and weep at their reunion.
Along my life journey, one of the things I’ve learned about myself is that I have a very active mind, imagination, and inner world. It comes with being an Enneagram Type Four. This is a good thing in all sorts of creative ways. I discovered it to be quite helpful as an actor, allowing me to easily suspend disbelief and live fully in the world of a play behind the fourth wall. At the same time, my active mind can also become a hindrance.
They say, “Time heals all wounds.” Sometimes it’s true, but not if my brain replays that uncomfortable, tense moment with my friend over, and over, and over again. And, I did just that. I couldn’t let it go. It was like relational PTSD. All I had to do was think about it and I was right back in that moment, feeling all of the shock, apprehension, and fear all over again. It makes it hard for me to let things go. Sometimes, I’m unable to emotionally or relationally move forward from a moment. As U2 sings it:
And you are such a fool
To worry like you do
I know it’s tough
And you can never get enough
Of what you don’t really need now
My, oh my
You’ve got to get yourself together
You’ve got stuck in a moment
And you can’t get out of it
In the quiet this morning, I wondered if Jacob was wired the same way. Paul summed up his letter to Jesus’ followers in Philippi by telling them:
whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
I’ve discovered that doing this often requires me to find the “stop” button in my brain from continuing to repeat whatever mental playlist I have on a continuous loop. I have to force myself to consciously choose a different playlist that fits Paul’s description.
I’ve found that the path of spiritual growth requires me to recognize unhealthy and unproductive ways within myself, and find the self-discipline to address them. In some cases, this is easy. In other cases, it’s an entire spiritual journey all its own.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.