The oldest of eight children, my mum can tell quite a few stories of sibling hijinks, mischief and rivalries. She became the appointed babysitter and had to learn quickly to hold her own among her energetic charges. To her siblings, she was simply bossy. On occasion, those relational contexts of long ago rise to the surface, so with any advice she offers her beloved siblings today, my mum reminds them the only life she’s in charge of is her own.
Family relationships are complicated. Few experiences can hurt us like the betrayal or rejection we experience at the hands of those who should have loved us most: our family. Old assumptions from years gone by can be difficult because they keep us locked in the past. While others’ beliefs about us can be influential in our lives, the lies we believe about ourselves can be equally powerful.
Driven by the repercussions of his past wrong behaviour, Jacob feared not only what Esau believed about him but what Esau would do to him (Genesis 32:3-8,11). It’s certainly no coincidence that Jacob had to own his identity before God before he could face his past with his brother Esau (vv.9-10,27-28). Jacob discovered (contrary to what our feelings might tell us) that God’s love for us is not synonymous with our family’s approval, and our wellbeing doesn’t rest in how much we can control our family’s responses to us.
Efforts at familial reconciliation are in order when the opportunity arises (vv.3-4,13-20) but even then we can accept responsibility only for our own choices. Regardless of others’ responses, we take hope in remembering that God’s view of us stands above anyone else’s—even our family’s (vv.29-30).