I am not what one would call a Bible scholar, nor do I wish to present myself as one. I am merely one woman, longing after God, living one moment at a time. I admit to reading and understanding through my own cultural context, as well as having conflicted feelings reflecting another culture that was a part of my life for so long. I recognize that the Bible was written in yet another cultural context and sometimes, that complicates things for me.
As I went through chapter 49 and wrote out Jacob’s blessings to his sons, several things struck me.
Most of these “blessings” (or prophecies, as most Bible scholars call them) are harsh and seem to be consequences (or rewards) for choices that the sons made in their lives. I can understand that, but here’s what stood out to me.
Jacob did not hide the fact that he considered Joseph to be his favorite son. Joseph’s coat of many colors is a well-known story in most western cultures. In Genesis 42, Jacob once again bemoans the loss of Joseph, declaring that if he loses Joseph’s brother, Benjamin, that he will have lost everything.
Wow. Jacob had twelve sons. To tell the surviving eleven that if he loses the youngest that he’ll have lost everything just seems unloving to me. Did he not love his remaining sons?
How was Jacob present in his children’s lives? What impact did he have on them? Did he have anything to do with them once they were born?
What did he teach them?
Reuben had sex with one of Jacob’s wives. Simeon and Levi had ferocious tempers and murdered an entire troop of men after their sister, Dinah, was raped. Judah had sex with his daughter-in-law, thinking she was a prostitute. Issachar gave up his freedom to work as a slave. All the brothers plotted together to sell Joseph.
What kind of legacy is this?
The choices of the sons aren’t so much what caught my eye. It was Jacob’s presence or lack of presence that drew my attention.
In my opinion, Jacob mourned so much of what he had lost that he could not enjoy what he had left.
In many ways, it seems he abandoned his sons (except for Benjamin) after the loss of Joseph.
What does this have to do with me?
I have bad days. I have days in which I cry over what I have lost. Technically speaking, though, I haven’t lost anything yet I mourn what I’ve lost.
I’ve lost what I used to consider the promise of a long life. Never mind that a long life was never guaranteed to me, but my cultural expectation was that I would have one.
I’ve lost the innocence of words. It’s extremely difficult for me to blithely
sing some hymns at church because the deeper meaning of them pierces me to the core.
One example. There is a song by Hillsong that has this verse/chorus,
“In my heart and my soul
Lord I give You control
Consume me from the inside out,
Lord, let justice and praise
Become my embrace
To love you from the inside out.”
Every time I hear those words, I cringe. Partly because I’m a control freak and I don’t want to give up control. I understand the gist of the words and in spite of my cringe, I do honestly long to be consumed by God.
However, do people understand what it means to be physically consumed by something? I have a disease that will consume my physical body, from the inside out, until my physical body fails and dies. This disease will eat
(consume) my healthy cells and will override what my internal organs are
supposed to do. Cancer will shut me down, unless God miraculously intervenes and prevents this from happening.
The medical team is trying to control the disease, but there are no guarantees. Even if treatments are working now, I’ve been told that they will stop working at some point in time.
I am being consumed from the inside out and it’s a scary thing. Those words, meant to be of such encouragement to an audience, vividly remind me of what’s happening in my physical body.
Another example. The line from Philippians 3:8 that says “all that I hold dear, I count but loss.” (Yes, this was in another song.)
I understand the meaning . . . that Christ is what’s important. That righteousness is of God and not of what we’ve done here on Earth.
However, that line caused me to break down into tears.
I hold my family dear. I love my husband. I love my children. I love my sisters and my brother. I love their families. I love my extended family. I love my friends.
Quite simply, I don’t want to die.
Yes, I want to be with God, but I don’t want my husband to be a single dad. I don’t want my children to lose their mother. I don’t want my siblings to experience another loss in our family.
The idea of this happening is what I mourn. I grieve over my death even though I haven’t died yet. I am sad because my eleven-year-old son has the maturity to ask, “You’re really dying, aren’t you, Mommy?” This makes me cry because God has given him the ability to understand to a small degree what is going on. This is heartrending to me because, according to me, no child should understand this.
Am I supposed to consider these things and these emotions, “but loss?” Is it wrong for me to hold my relationships dear to me?
I feel there is no escape from death, even while I’m living. Church songs are not a comfort, but constantly remind me of my ever present mortality and the looming presence of my death.
How does this relate to Genesis and Jacob?
As I reflect on Jacob’s involvement with his children, I hear that Jacob was consumed by his grief of losing one child to the point of being absent from his other children. I don’t know if this is true or not . . . but it’s what I’m hearing as I read, study and pray. I am hearing that I should not be so consumed by grief over this disease that I am not present in the lives of those around me. This goes right along with the words I’ve already heard:
“God, what do you want me to do with the time I have left?”
“Love my people.”
“God, what do you mean by ‘Love my people?’ “
“To love someone is to show up in their life.”
It’s okay for me to grieve. It’s okay for me to cry and it’s okay for me to feel overwhelmed. I was advised on Sunday that it’s even okay for me to think that songs and sermons sound hollow in the face of my reality.
I am going to die.
But before that, I am going to live.
I am going to laugh.
I am going to cry.
But most of all, I am going to love.
Because Jesus lives, I can face tomorrow . . . however few or many they may be.
Right now, I am alive. May I continue to be present in the lives around me. May I not abandon them before my time. May my “bad” days be few and may I be real in how I am feeling.