“But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” (Genesis 33:4)
Well this was unexpected. Two brothers who, from the womb, had wrestled with one another – for parental love – for position – for favor – for blessing. For decades, their relationship was fraught with manipulation, physical and emotional cut off, lies, fear, resentment and guilt. And now God has come – in disguise – to wrestle with one of them. Jacob is renamed “Israel” – one who wrestles with God. Amid an uncertain future for two siblings, God enters the muck and provides blessing. Love wins. The brotherly reunion is epic.
Many of us long for reunions – with classmates, friends, and family. Some of us know the pain of estrangement from physical and/or emotional cut off. We may experience the love and loyalty of family in blood relatives and/or in others we choose and who choose us. All of us wrestle – with our own narratives – the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, how worthy we are, what it is we have to offer. The story of God’s love for us is pure grace.
“Hospitality” is the origin of hospice – the world in which I work as a chaplain. I have the deep privilege of being present with those who are living their final life chapter on this earth. I am guest to life stories, spiritual pain, and sacred trust. All of it, for me, is gift. When physical energy diminishes, so, too, do the masks. The disguises to appear “fine” when we are not; to sound perky when we are tired; to smile when we are anything but happy – these all fade away and allow us just to be. I so often sit in awe when at the bedside of one for whom death draws near. Almost all verbalize peace with death. Even so, in the journey some wrestle with past sins, with salvation, with unreconciled relationships, and with feelings of abandonment – even by God. And God comes. Into the muck of it. In disguise:
- A son in law is finally accepted and, indeed, is the one holding his mother in law’s hand when she dies;
- After days of non-responsiveness, eyes open and a wide smile spreads across the face of an elder at the presence of her great-granddaughter;
- A son, long separated from his mother, crawls into bed with her, cradling her as she breathes her last;
- A recent widower, now in hospice care, renews his faith in God and both revels in the “bevy of widows” vying for his attention and in gifting family with their inheritance while he is able to enjoy their delight. In the same moment, he weeps with loneliness for his beloved wife and speaks of his “soul already being with her”;
- A young adult woman brings her young mother to Boise November 2020 to be with extended family, both freeing her mother from an abusive home and allowing her to die in safety and in peace. After her death, daughter and cousin spend a night tending to her body, painting her fingernails and toenails, dying her hair purple, washing and dressing her, putting lipstick and make up on her face, crying and laughing while sharing memories. I visit the next day to listen, to see photos, to offer supportive touch, to pray. The masks over our noses and mouths cannot hide grief. And God is there. God was there before I arrived. God will be present in the wrestling to come.
These are but glimpses into the blessings in disguise in my life in this past year. When people remark to me how “depressing” my work must be, I am emphatic in my disagreement. Is there suffering? Yes. And that, I believe, is where God is most fully revealed.
Peace to you in your wrestling through the muck – in times of reconciliation and in the longing for it. God is with you.