These stories — one from Genesis and one from the Gospel of Matthew — suggest that helicopter parents are not a new, modern invention. It seems we have been playing favorites, fixing fights, and begging personal favors for nearly all of human history.
It’s a biological instinct to protect our offspring, our own tribe, to preserve what we’ve established for them and hope they will thrive and multiply long after we’re gone. And so when Jacob and Esau’s grandfather Abraham received a blessing from God, it probably felt exclusive and specific.
Hey, Abraham! I’m talking to you. Yeah, you. You are the one I will bless with children and grandchildren, generations who will outnumber the stars on a clear night. I could choose anyone, but I’m choosing you. You are special. You are mine. You are being set apart.
At first listen, we might hear God as a helicopter parent: playing favorites, fixing fights, and offering favors. But this divine blessing is not rationed for the sake of some and not others. It is not either/or. The grace that comes down from heaven is not scarce — we have just treated it so.
God does not promise that this covenant will make life easier or that the promises will be fulfilled in an obvious, straightforward way. Nor does it suggest that they will get to keep this blessing all to themselves, to revel in the goodness God provides to them instead of others.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob each have their anxious moments on record, treating this blessing as a limited resource, as something to be earned or guarded or stolen. The words meant to set them free haunt their trust in God’s abundance. They wonder if infertility will be their curse and their ending. They let a birthright limit their imagination and love. They cheat and run for their lives, jumping at shadows and wrestling angels.
These were the first households gathered into a covenant with God, freed from proving themselves, earning love, and going it alone… but they were still human. Still flawed. Still paranoid about this gift of being chosen and worried that it might not be enough.
Later in Hebrew scripture, God references these patriarchs to describe God’s own identity: I am the Lord your God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Since God self-locates through these men and their families, we get lost in their honor and too often forget their messy stories, so relatable and timeless. They were just people — trying to figure out why being God’s beloved didn’t make marriage and family and work and fortune and purpose and vision any easier.
We’ll never know which came first: Jacob’s name or his trickster tendencies. But he was born grabbing his brother’s heel. He grew up scheming. And he succeeded in robbing his older siblings’ birthright and blessing before sneaking out of town and starting over somewhere else.
Jacob came alive and was put to death in the destiny of that name: cheating, tricky, sneak. It set him free to take what he wanted… and it ran him straight out of town, too.
Jacob goes to stay with his Uncle Laban and falls in love with his cousin Rachel. She is beautiful and he agrees to labor seven years for his uncle in order to marry into this family. Genesis makes a good case for Karma when Jacob is tricked — into marrying the wrong cousin: the older sister, Leah. It is as if the universe says, You stole a birthright and a blessing so you could have what the eldest gets… well, that’s Leah, sucker.
And so the heartbroken groom stays and labors another seven years, building a family with Leah while he waits to marry the woman he truly loves.
He’s far from home these 14 years: becoming a husband and father, earning flocks and herds, finding his own identity with a bit of distance from the brother he once wrestled in the womb. When it is finally time for him to strike out on his own, to find his own land and make his own way, his company begins a long journey, a route that will require a reunion with Esau.
If you have endured an estrangement or a deep and tense divide, you know the pit in Jacob’s stomach. You know what it feels like to work through your version of the events over and over until the sun rises. You know the nerves that rattle your body with every possible outcome, preparing for the worst and desperately hoping for the best.
Jacob sends his servants and his family on ahead toward the intersection with Esau’s land and hangs back for one more night alone. Not here or there. Not bound or free. Not innocent or guilty. Not quite alive, but not murdered by his brother yet either. He sleeps with only a rock for a pillow, tossing and turning until an angel of the Lord comes to visit him, to meet him in the struggle, to press and hold him in the transition from a life as Jacob the Cheat into someone new.
Bless me, he said. Bless me or I will keep struggling forever. He is stubborn and unrelenting, full of grit and wired might until dawn breaks and the angel strikes him on the hip, offering a blessing and declaring a truce.
Jacob will no longer be the baby grabbing at his brother’s heel, the sneaky trickster who ran away, the duped nephew who slaved for years. He demands to be seen and known for what could still be, the possibility of something more than what’s already been.
And so the angel of the Lord releases him and gives him a new name. You are no longer Jacob. Now you will be called Israel, which means you have struggled with humans and God… and you lived.
Jacob walks into a new day and a new life, trusting that this blessing is ancient but not extinct and specific but not exclusive. There would be more to life than he’d thought possible. And now he knows: this blessing is meant to be shared.
He finds Esau ahead with his flocks and herds and family. When he reaches his brother, he bows down and shows him great honor. Israel offers him gifts of livestock and his own humility. And Esau surprises Israel by inviting them to his home, offering to share his land, assuring his brother that he had done well in these years apart and, as it turns out, there’s more than enough.
The brothers, now men, navigate social niceties but also confession and forgiveness. They agree to new boundaries and a different relationship that will make enough room for both sons of Isaac, that will trust the abundance of God to provide enough for everyone, that will prove this blessing is meant to bless the whole world.
If their mother Rebecca could see their reunion, she would probably touch her belly and smile, remembering the war in her womb, the tumble of nations, the fight to be first. Like so many mothers, she would wish they could have realized God’s generosity sooner, but would know they came by the lesson in their own way, in their own time.
We all know something about meddling and then finding distance, hoarding what might run out and hiding what we’ve got, wrestling angels and longing to be known, deciding on space and identity over time.
Friends in Christ, our generation carries the same fear and anxiety these Patriarchs once did. We have been fooled into thinking there is only so much of the good stuff, that we must take it and run, that some must labor in exile, that a reunion will be ruin.
But God’s blessings expand. They fill and pass through us, unconstrained by lineage or border or capacity. They cannot be stifled by our stingy regulations or forgetful folly. We are blessed to be a blessing. To and for and in the world at large.
The Holy Spirit can make this commute with or without us, but let’s be involved! Let’s travel and struggle and wrestle and confess and forgive and invite and explore and wander and hope for God’s blessing to name and rename us Beloved in the midst of this messy life — until every reunion has been tried. Until every sibling has crossed paths with humble words that offer safety and space for the other.
You see, God does not call Jacob and Esau back to the close proximity of the womb, to the business of being best friends or next-door neighbors, or to the tedious work of dividing their possessions down the middle. But God does call them to a simple connection that shows honor. To see one another. To care for the future of kin. To offer a blessing on the way.
BEFORE SHOWING UP RELUCTANTLY FOR A LOVED ONE
By Meta Herrick Carlson
To love someone through pain inflicted or lies uttered
does not require sainthood
or a forgetful mind.
It does not even mean that we agree to the same story
or believe the promises.
It just means we keep trying to hold space
for others to be who they actually are
instead of bending them in our own direction.
There is enough room in the cosmos for every version of this rupture.
There is enough mercy for sacred distance or careful repair.
There is enough air to quietly breathe when you have no words to say.
To show up, even reluctantly, is an impulse born from heaven.