One thing I love about stories is the way that they can come alive in fresh ways as we see new layers and new meanings in them over time as we grow and gain more experience with life.
I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household, so the stories of my childhood are mostly Bible stories—stories that are often particularly ripe for seeing new meaning in as I grow older.
One of those stories has been on my mind a lot lately as an illustration of kintsugi living, and it's been interesting to explore it in that way. (For those of you who are not religious, don't worry! This post is really about kintsugi and not about religion in any way.)
This story comes from Genesis (chapter 32, if you want to check up on it yourself), and it has always struck me as an odd little interjection into the narration.
The back story is that there were a set of twin brothers named Esau and Jacob, with Esau being the eldest by a few minutes. As their father was getting old, he made plans to give his blessing to his eldest son, Esau, but Jacob (with the help of his mother) managed to trick him into giving it to Jacob instead.
As a result, Jacob wound up fleeing for his life to his mother's relatives in the face of Esau's anger.
In the intervening years, Jacob has married (2 wives and 2 concubines), had many children, and grown prosperous. So prosperous, in fact, that things have gotten a bit uncomfortable where he was due to his somewhat tricky dealings, so he decides to return home in the hopes that Esau's anger has cooled.
As this story opens, he is coming back into his home territory with all of his family, his servants, and his large flocks of animals, and he is about to encounter his twin brother the next day.
Afraid of what his twin brother might do, he sets up a stream of gifts of livestock to march out to his brother first to soften him up a bit. Then he's taken his family and remaining herds and divided them into two companies, thinking that if his brother kills one company, he can hopefully still escape with the other one so that he doesn't lose everyone at once.
He gets this all set up to go into motion the following morning and sends everyone on ahead across the stream to spend the night alone.
And this is where it gets odd.
Out of nowhere, the story tells us that he was alone and that a man wrestled with him all night until daybreak.
There's no hint of who this man is, where he came from, or why they are wrestling.
As it gets close to daybreak and this mysterious man has not been able to best Jacob, he causes Jacob's hip to come out of joint (ouch!), and then he tells Jacob to let him go because the day is dawning.
Now, if this was me, I would by this time be afraid of my brother, exhausted from wrestling all night, frustrated by the mystery of why this stranger was wrestling with me in the middle of nowhere, and in pain from the wound he had just inflicted on me.
In this broken condition, I can imagine any number of likely responses I might have. My three most common responses boil down to:
Make it stop! I'd probably be perfectly happy to let him go and send him on his way, if he indicated a willingness to go, just to make the pain stop. The day ahead would bring enough else to deal with!
Tell me why! If I wasn't quite ready to let go yet, my next most likely response would be to demand answers—particularly an explanation of why this was happening. Why me? Why now when I'm already stressed about facing my brother? Why are you here? Why are you wrestling me?
Fix it! Then again, there seems to be a hint of the miraculous about this man and the injury he has inflicted on Jacob's hip, so I might also (were I in his sandles) demand that this man fix the hip that he had just broken.
Jacob does none of these things. He continues holding onto the stranger and says, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."
That's the line that keeps ringing in my head. "I will not let you go unless you bless me."
He doesn't look at this situation that is causing him pain and fear and demand that it stop or that he's given an answer to why or that it be fixed. He only demands that a blessing come out of it.
It's an interesting image to carry with me about kintsugi living. So often, in the face of life's brokenness, my demands for the pain to stop, for answers to why be made clear, or for everything to go back to how it was before are completely ineffectual. (Nevertheless, those are still where I start time and time again.)
What if instead I were to approach each of life's challenges only with the demand that I will not let it go until it blesses me?
I am not imagining here a literal holding onto whatever is causing me pain—that's seldom a productive idea.
I'm imagining more that my absolute, fierce demand is that I find the gold in the healing from that pain.
That I refuse to accept anything less than an eventual blessing coming out of whatever has left me feeling so broken.
"I will not let you go unless you bless me." That's a mantra I can go a long way with!
In case you are wondering how the story ends, after a bit more conversation, the stranger does bless Jacob (changing his name to Israel), and Jacob then decides that the stranger must have been God. The stranger seems to disappear at this point, and Jacob moves into his encounter with his brother Esau with a limp.
The reunion with Esau goes well, and Jacob (now Israel) continues to prosper such that his line of descendants becomes of the nation of Israel, but he also lives the rest of his life with that limp from the hip injury.
I still don't entirely understand this odd little story, but I do appreciate the gift of an image to carry with me of a way to approach life's hardships in a kintsugi kind of way.
Questions to ponder
What is your typical response to life's hardships? Do any of my habitual demands of life sound familiar to you? Are there other you default to? How well do those demands help you?
Can you imagine using Jacob's response instead? If so, how does that approach feel different from the way you normally react?
Is there any situation in your life right now that might benefit from trying Jacob's response?