Summer of ’17: Sibling Rivalry on Steroids

Priscilla and I had three miscarriages before we had our daughter Chloe and son Jeremy. We waited, not decades, of course, but in the uncertainty of whether we could have children at all. Countless visits to doctors, to geneticists. Countless walks. Countless cups of coffee.

Then Chloe was born after twenty-seven hours of labor—and whisked off to pediatric intensive care even before we knew her gender. But she soon thrived, and we had the distinct, even unexpected pleasure, of raising our daughter.

A few years later—after plenty more conversations, doctor visits, and cups of coffee—our son Jeremy was born, so quickly, in fact, that I drove honking and swerving to the hospital (cursing a pickup in front of me that wouldn’t pull over). Jeremy was so ready for life that he popped out less than ten minutes later in the emergency room.

Chloe and Jeremy couldn’t be more different. Chloe loves books; Jeremy loves cars. Chloe has piercing brown eyes; Jeremy has clear blue eyes.

Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 1.21.31 PMThere you have it: this week’s lectionary text—and the topic of this week’s Summer Together podcast—in a nutshell. Genesis 25:19-34 is a prize story of sibling rivalry.

Rebekah and Isaac waited, not knowing whether they could have children. The situation became so dire that Isaac—passive, negligible Isaac—actually took some initiative. He prayed.

When his prayers were answered, Rebekah bore children as different as night and day.

Esau was a hairy man and a hunter. Heck he was even a hairy baby. Jacob was a smooth man.  Jacob wasn’t just smooth of skin. He was smooth, slick, someone who, from the start, was out to get his firstborn brother.

Sibling rivalry on steroids.

How intense was this rivalry?

  • So intense that they exasperated Rebekah by wrestling in her uterus.
  • So intense that Esau was born with Jacob’s hand grasping his heel.
  • So intense that Jacob wouldn’t give his brother a bowl of soup without having Esau forfeit his birthright.

Now that’s sibling rivalry.

Jacob and Esau apparently never got along as kids. (There is no small solace in that for parents.)

I won’t say our kids never got along, but I will confess that they shared very little growing up. They weren’t twins, like Jacob and Esau. They weren’t both boys, like Jacob and Esau. But still, we’ve had some heartache over the years because of their rivalry.

One time, in fact, we were moving cross-country from Durham, North Carolina, to Seattle. Chloe was nine, Jeremy five. We packed our Honda Civic to the hilt, with a car-top carrier, a full trunk, and every square inch covered. I made Masonite desks for the kids, with little containers for their pens and crayons, which they could put across their laps. We made it through Cincinnati and a stop to see grandparents, the vast fields of southern Minnesota, a spectacular, starry night in the Badlands, a Fourth of July at Mount Rushmore, and a horseback trek just outside Yellowstone.

Sounds like the perfect trip.

Then, somewhere in Montana—or was it North Dakota?—Chloe bit Jeremy on the ear. Nothing serious. She just up and bit him.

Sheer frustration, not with that moment, but with years of her little brother. An older sister for five years. The back seat of a Honda Civic for a week.

We laugh about it now. It’s one of our treasured family memories.

But then, at the time? We’d wondered, worried, and waited for kids. And now, when we had them, they couldn’t get along even for a week, despite fireworks and corn palaces and horseback rides.

Jacob and Esau couldn’t get along either. How much better if there had been a measure of detante, if Isaac had said, “How about, Esau, you hunt and I cook, and we start a great restaurant with exotic grilled meats?”

We begged for this, too, at times. “Find something in common!” “Do something together!

No such luck.

I wish to goodness, just once, the storyteller had said, “Rebekah and Isaac sighed.”

Just once. Now Isaac and Rebekah looked upon Esau and Jacob—and sighed.

All that waiting. All that worrying. All that wondering. And now helplessly watching their twins’ sibling rivalry on steroids. Sigh.

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Photo from Google Images. Find this week’s podcast, with Tommy Williams, at Summer Together.