This Sunday's scripture is one I relate too a lot. It's Genesis 28:10-19 and features Jacob, who has made a mess of everything back home, running away to flee from his brother's wrath. While sleeping on a rock in the wilderness, Jacob has an encounter with God.
I can relate to the notion of running away from one's problems. Can anyone else out there?
And when I think of running away, I think of a scene from the Broadway play "Into the Woods" by Stephen Sondheim. "Into the Woods" is a sly retelling of the fairy tales in which all the characters must go "into the woods" to find the solution to their problem/dreams. In Act 1, they accomplish their goal, with Jack (of beanstalk fame) killing the giant.
Act 2 takes a dark twist as the giant's wife comes to the fairy-tale town to seek revenge, and now the woods become a place to hide or run away from life. One character is the Baker. The problems become so great he runs away, leaving his wife and child by themselves. And while in the woods he meets a mysterious man who once ran away from life too. It turns out the mysterious man was Jack's own father who had also deserted his wife and child once life got too tough.
And in a touching musical number, Jack and the mysterious man/father sing about running away. And Jack's father gives him these sage words of advice "Running away, let's do it. Free from the ties that bind. No more despair, or burdens to bear...Running away: don't do it... Just more questions, just different kinds...Running away, we'll do it, why sit around resigned? Trouble is son, the farther you run, the more you'll feel undefined, for what you have left undone and more what you have left behind."
The older I get, and the more mature I become, I grasp the notion that in life our basic sense of self-protection calls for us to run from that which scares or burdens us. And often times it is OK to take a break, to pause, to take a "time out." But a time out is different from running away or pretending problems do not exist, and as the song states, the further we run from our problems the greater they become.
Jacob ran from his problems. That is the human condition. The good news is that God did not run away from nor abandon Jacob, in fact, that's when Jacob became even more aware of God's presence in his life. And perhaps even greater news, is that although it took decades, Jacob did eventually realize he had to go back home, and he had to face the mess he made. But the grandest news of all was that even then God was still with him, and God worked through the mess and the chaos and was able to bless not just Jacob, but his family, and through them, all families, just as God promised God would.
Running away can sound like such a good solution at times. And maybe every now and then we need to go "into the woods" to sort through the mess we have made or the mess others have created, but through God and with God, we are called to return and face what we have left behind.
May we all be blessed this week.
Peace, Pastor G