The Nature of Problems: Using a Bible Story as a Metaphor

The area in which I live requires a dual income and being a single female…well the honor of providing those two streams falls upon me. I work seven days a week; no breaks. For many people I know, this is a part of normal life and sometimes the only joy we experience is when we complain about having to work so hard for so little. It was during one of these complaint sessions, that a co-worker detailed to me a time when she worked two jobs so she could save enough money to bring her son to America.

At the time, she was working full-time at a retail store. She took an overnight job as a part-time stock clerk at another mega chain store. Her schedule was crazy. Some days she would only get five to six hours of sleep before working a sixteen hour stint. Worry over her son’s wellbeing plagued her and played havoc on her appetite. After only a few months, all of that stress finally got to her. She was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She said it came out of the blue. She didn’t have any family history of it at all. The lump was small so the doctors were able extract it with surgery. However, she still had to go through chemo and radiation. I asked her if she had insurance. She didn’t.

Now I am not a religious person at all. I haven’t been to church since 2000 when I threw down my bible in disgust. I was sick of it telling me I was such a horrible person. However, since then, I was introduced to the Hebrew bible, the Tanakh. I don’t know if it is because I’ve matured some, have advanced on my spiritual path or I just have a better bible but I’ve come to a new understanding of the stories contained within it. The truth of them had entered my heart and I felt the need to share one with her.

I chose to share the story of Jacob and Esau. For those of you who, like me, have let your bible collect dust in some remote corner of the closet, Jacob and Esau are the sons of Issac. On two occasions, Jacob committed deceptive acts against his brother. First, he tricked him out of his inheritance. Later, with the help of his mother, Jacob stole a blessing his father was to bestow upon Esau. Esau became very angry and planned to do some serious bodily harm to his brother but due to quick thinking on the part of their mother, Rebekah, Jacob was able to get away with his life. He spends about fourteen years with his uncle, marries two of his cousins, Leah and Rachel and amasses a fortune before, finally, making his way back home.

As he gets closer to home, Jacob becomes concerned that his brother, Esau, will still be angry with him so he prepares a large gift of livestock and sends it to him. At the same time, he sets about securing his camp just in case Esau was more interested in taking his life than taking his gift. It is in the middle of this that he gets into a brawl with a strange man.

The story itself boldly interrupts one’s reading of Jacob and Esau. One moment Jacob is kissing his wife and children goodbye, the next moment some strange guy jumps him while he is alone and wrestles with him until dawn. Jacob doesn’t go down though. He fights with the man until the man realizes that he will not prevail against Jacob. So in an effort to get away, the mysterious man breaks Jacob’s hip.

Jacob, however, refuses to be cowed and finally the man begs to be released. Jacob agrees to do so only if the man first bestows a blessing upon him. The man obliges, changing his name from Jacob to Israel and thus informing him that he has striven against a divine being and prevailed. In some schools of theological thought, this divine being is believed to be Satan whose name in Hebrew translates as “Adversary”.

So what does this have to do with anything? I explained to my co-worker that this story defines the nature of problems and sets the example that it is not the problem itself that should concern us so much as how we handle it.

The divine being descended upon Jacob out of nowhere much like problems do. An accident forces one into an emergency room visit. A spouse leaves for greener pastures. A streak of lightening destroys a home. One is diagnosed with cancer. They seem insurmountable, taking an immense amount of time and energy to resolve. Then, just as the light of dawn can be seen, the problem compounds itself. You find out you have no health insurance so you must spend money saved for a son’s homecoming to pay medical bills.

However, like Jacob, we too are able wrangle a blessing from our trials if we persevere. The hole the disappearing spouse left is filled by a more loving mate. A better home is found to replace the one destroyed and the cancer reintroduces one to G-d.

She is suffering from a broken leg at the current moment that put her out of work for a month. I reiterated to her that there is no problem that one cannot overcome even though in the midst of dealing with them, it seems an impossible task. Problems, however, have a strange way of blessing us in the end, though we may not realize it until years down the road. She survived the cancer with no complications and her son is with her through means of family and friends.

At the end of the conversation I had to wonder, though, which of us benefited more from this timeless piece of wisdom.

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