In this passage, we witness the reconciliation of Laban and Jacob after nearly two decades of built-up resentment and distrust. Recall that Laban cheated Jacob several times: he switched his promised daughter Rebecca with his daughter Leah on Jacob's wedding night even though Jacob had labored for seven years for Rebecca; he made Jacob serve him another seven years before he could marry Rebecca; and then Laban outmaneuvered Jacob over another agreement they made to give Jacob a share of Laban's herd. Jacob in turn cheated Laban by breeding the weakest herd animals for him and keeping the strongest ones for himself; and then he left the land taking Laban's daughters and grandchildren, and all his hard-earned property, without even letting Laban know they were leaving.
It all came to a head in the hill country of Gilead when Laban finally caught up to Jacob. Thankfully God sent a message to Laban, in a dream the night before, to not speak "a word...either good or bad" to Jacob. This was to prevent the resentment and mistrust from increasing even more through words of judgment or flattery. However, Laban couldn't ignore what Jacob had done, so he questioned Jacob about his actions. Jacob also couldn't ignore the past, so he questioned Laban about his actions. Everything, all their baggage, was laid bare. And they realized that they had both been less than charitable towards the other.
It is at this point that they decided to start over. They made a covenant promising to never again do harm to one another. God would be their witness to this promise. And they marked this occasion with the custom of that period: a pillar of stones. And everyone among them, Laban's kinsman and Jacob's household, brought a stone to make a heap beside the pillar. There was another slight disagreement about what to call this special place -- Laban wanted to call it one thing, Jacob another. But in a final act of reconciliation, Laban agreed to use Jacob's suggestion.
What a perfect illustration of how to resolve conflict! If Jacob and Laban can do it, there is hope for everyone: in our government, our faith communities, our workplaces, our families.
From this story, we see that the ingredients for reconciliation are: (1) meet face to face; (2) offer no words of judgment or praise -- neither will be appreciated; (3) if the past cannot be forgotten then question the other's actions honestly but respectfully; (4) recognize that it takes two to damage a relationship; (5) forgive and forget -- truly let the past go; (6) make a new pact of doing no harm to each other; and (7) compromise over disagreements.
I love the way this story ends. "Early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them; then he departed and returned home. Jacob went on his own way and the angels of God met him." Each left the other feeling content and blessed.
I've been reading a wonderful book lately, called "The Untethered Soul," by Michael Singer, which speaks about this very thing. Singer writes that there are two routes we can take in our lives when a disturbance with another person occurs. We can worry and stew about our hurt or our grievances, creating such anxiety within us that we either become more and more fragile or we seek revenge. Or we can accept the disturbance, examine what it is within us that is making us feel disturbed, and let it go. We actually have that choice, Singer writes. The first route leads to physical and mental distress. The second route leads to spiritual health and wholeness, to what Singer calls "liberation." Laban and Jacob illustrate the route to liberation.
It sounds too simple to be true. And yet I can personally attest to its validity.
The other day I was feeling a great deal of stress. I kept thinking about my grievances with another person, one after another, cycling through them over and over again, until I actually began to feel physically ill. My chest began to constrict, more and more painfully.
Before I tell you what happened next, I need to fill you in on a little bit of background. I've been doing this a lot lately: stressing-out over problems with other people, feeling justified about some things and guilty about others, cycling through past incidences, etc. Also lately, I have been experiencing some heart problems: an irregular heartbeat, pain, pressure, a tightness in my chest area. Although I wondered if the heart problems were stress related, I've seen my doctor, I've worn a heart monitor, and I'm even taking a beta-blocker now. Throughout these past few weeks, the only thing that's been made clear to me is that I need to hand everything over to God. I truly cannot figure out my life on my own.
So, back to the other day... The pain in my chest was increasing, and so was my stress level as I was going to have to meet with this person soon. Not wanting to be a complete wreck when I did, I prayed to God to help me. Then, to distract myself before my meeting, I picked up a book, Singer's book, that I had just purchased. The book had been recommended by my sister-in-law who is an art therapist, but I wasn't too sure about it. This guy Singer seemed a little "out there," with all his energy-flow talk. However, I couldn't think of anything better to do, so I read. And this is what I read,
"Let's say you love somebody, and you feel very open in their presence. Because you trust them, your walls come down allowing you to feel lots of high energy. But if they do something that you don't like, the next time you see them you don't feel so high. You don't feel as much love. Instead you feel a tightness in your chest. This is because you closed your heart. The heart is the energy center, and it can open or close. ...This flow of energy comes from the depth of your being. It's been called by many names. In ancient Chinese medicine it is called Chi. In yoga, it is called Shakti. In the West, it is called Spirit. ... This energy is equally available to everybody... The only thing you have to know is that opening allows energy in, and closing blocks it out. ... There is a very simple method for staying open. You stay open by never closing. It's really that simple. All you have to do is decide whether you think it's worth closing... It's ultimately under your control." (pg. 45)Singer's words, "...you feel a tightness in your chest," spoke so directly to my situation that I felt this was an answer to my prayer. I've learned to trust such coincidences, so I listened to Singer's advice and I relaxed. I let go of my fear and distrust, and decided to be open to whatever came. I recalled the words of Jesus, "Can any one of you add a single day or hour to your life by worrying?" and "Consider the lilies of the field...." And guess what? The pain in my chest immediately began to fade, until there was no pain at all.
I hadn't realized how much of my difficulty was in my own mind.
Truly I should know this by now. I remember writing before about my meditation bowl that was so full of junk that I couldn't hear its music. I'm like a child who needs to be told the same thing over and over again before she finally gets it. Thankfully, God is very patient.
Truly, God does not want anyone to be enmeshed in negativity, conflict, worries, or fear. In many different ways, through many various means, God shows us how to be reconciled with one another. We simply must make the choice to listen. The way is open.
May the peace
which passes understanding
be with you