Jacob walked with a limp. That’s my brother Jacob. The limp was the result of his own doing. If he hadn’t put his foot into that baler the day they were making hay, he would never have lost his toes. If he had listened to his employer and if he had waited until the machine was turned off to push against the things that were jamming the machine, he would still have had his toes.
In a split second, his toes were gone. Ever after that, Jacob walked with a limp. He didn’t like the spacer piece he was given as an insert for his shoe, so he just walked without the support of the ball on that foot. He limped. Every time he walked. Each step reminded him of his mistake.
In time, we got used to his limp and didn’t think about it that much. It was just who Jacob was. I never had any conversations with him about his limp. I never asked him how he felt, looking back, at his mistake. I knew the story because I was old enough to remember. I watched my sister (a nurse) dress his foot daily, and in time I got used to that raw meat look at the end of the middle part of his foot.
My brother Jacob healed from that injury and life went on. Yet the limp was always a part of him.
There was another Jacob who walked with a limp. It seems he spent a night wrestling with an angel and then, as the angel was about to leave, he grabbed hold of that angel and said, “I’m not going to let you go until you bless me.”
This Jacob needed a blessing because he was about to meet his estranged twin brother. Jacob, the deceiver, the conniver, the mama’s boy, was about to meet his boisterous, brawny twin brother. He knew what he’d done so long ago in the past was wrong. I’m sure he had repented of the sin that caused him to have to run for his life. I’m sure he was sorry that when he left home to evade his brother’s anger, he never saw his mother again.
Now it seemed that pay-day could be coming. Oh, did this man ever need a blessing!
He got the blessing – yet he never lost his limp.
There’s something about going back home and facing the memories of our childhood and our family tree that can be exhilarating, fun, and nostalgic. It can also be painful.
Ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, the world has been full of dysfunctional families. We’re all dysfunctional in one way or another.
Some of us have family trees that are gnarled with very little root system left.
Some of us come from bountiful family trees that provide shade and shelter to other travelers.
Some of us have been grafted into a different tree and, while we’re blooming, we don’t look anything like the rest of our host tree.
Some of us wish we could cut down our family tree and plant a new one someplace else.
We spend so much time looking at the limp of the people in our past that we fail to consider what kind of legacy we ourselves are leaving.
There is true healing and relief that comes from acknowledging the root system of our family tree, no matter how gnarled or warped it is.
There’s healing that comes from recognizing that there is only one thing I can do about the way that tree grew or is shaped.
There’s just one thing.
I can choose my response.
All of us need to belong. Even when there are skeletons in the closet, we need to belong. Even when it seems there is nothing but shame in the skeletons of our past, we need to belong.
Scripture says that the baton of our faith (or lack of it) gets passed on from generation to generation.
Some of us have pasts that are lacking in foundation, trust, faith, and hope.
Some of us have pasts that are riddled with pain and scars.
Some of us wish we could erase the deeds of our ancestors or have different ancestors.
Yet, we are who we are today because of the genetics and the experiences of our ancestors and their past. All of us can look back and wish our ancestors had made different choices or responded differently to the turmoil in their lives.
We can’t change what has happened in our past.
The only thing we can change is our response.
Joseph, the son of the limping Jacob, was sold into slavery because his family tree was riddled with resentment, jealousy, and pride. His brothers sold him. SOLD him. Brought in some monetary gain, no doubt divided by the lot of them. His brothers had ill will in their hearts. They truly meant it for evil and didn’t care what happened to him.
There was only one thing Joseph could do about what his brothers had done to him: choose his response. How long do you think it took him to forgive those brothers?!
When the time came that he met them face to face and he had every opportunity to destroy them, he didn’t. Joseph recognized that what had happened, though intended as evil by his brothers, God meant for good.
He saw the bigger picture. Joseph knew that God had a plan for the children of Jacob, promised to Abraham long before he was born.
That’s how Joseph coped with the pain of his past and the failures of his father. That’s how he believed in the good of God in spite of his brothers. He chose his response.
Families are important. Families are where we belong. They are where our memories (good or bad) are formed. It’s so easy to look at other families and think they must have it all together. We are certain that that family never has this problem.
There’s not a whole lot you and I can do about the family history we possess. There’s nothing we can do to change the consequences of choices made by those who came before us.
However, there is something we can do about our past and the history of our family. It will not only change what we experience today; it can change the course of history unplayed.
We can choose our response.
There are certain things we must do as we look at the limping of our families, as we choose our response.
- Acknowledge the past. You don’t need to broadcast it. You don’t need to excuse it. Just don’t try to hide it and pretend it isn’t there. Open the door to the closet and the skeletons will not be able to hide there anymore.
- Accept what is in your past. Put the If-onlys down. Don’t fight the past. Allow that crooked branch to be a part of your family tree. Don’t focus on the bent. Focus on the beauty of its shade. Accept it as part of your tree.
- Do not let the past of your family define who are you. There’s the story of the two sons of an alcoholic man. One son became an alcoholic; the other lived a clean, moral life. Both sons were asked, “What made you turn out the way you did?” Both sons replied: “I looked at my father.” The difference in the sons was not the poor model they observed, but their response.
- Choose your response. No one else can decide for us how we will respond. It’s our call.
- Look for the good. In the midst of brokenness, we can usually find some good. Maybe it’s the kindness of someone else or the generosity of someone. For certain, we can find the hand of God. Finding the good is the way to respond.
My brother Jacob’s foot healed quickly because he didn’t worry. He wasn’t able to worry because an infection years earlier had caused his emotional status to remain more child-like; therefore, he didn’t worry. His response (lack of worry) brought healing quickly. The surgeon was amazed that no skin grafting was necessary. The foot healed on its own. He recognized that the healing was not from his surgical skill, but from the response of his patient.
Joseph, the son of the limping Jacob, recognized that there was good in his being sold into slavery in Egypt. God used what happened to bring the children of Israel into Egypt. It was a way to get His people together to save them during the famine.
There might not be a famine awaiting you, and you might not be a bought slave, but God still works the same way today. You can be sure that no matter one’s past, God can use it for something good. He is waiting for you to choose your response.
Dear God, help us choose the right response!