My Children’s Burden

Genesis 48

1After this Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.2When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” he summoned his strength and sat up in bed. 3And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and he blessed me, 4and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and increase your numbers; I will make of you a company of peoples, and will give this land to your offspring after you for a perpetual holding.’ 5Therefore your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are now mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are. 6As for the offspring born to you after them, they shall be yours. They shall be recorded under the names of their brothers with regard to their inheritance. 7For when I came from Paddan, Rachel, alas, died in the land of Canaan on the way, while there was still some distance to go to Ephrath; and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem).

It’s true that we don’t so much read scripture as scripture reads us. So much of what I have reflected in reading these familiar passages this Lenten season are simply highlighting where I am in life. I’ve read these stories again and again and yet they hit me in this season in ways they have not before.

I think of that as I read the demands that Jacob makes of Joseph in this passage. After all that has been done to Joseph, once he is reunited to his father, the traditional roles kick back in and son is beholden to the wishes of the father. And the father, for his part, makes some considerable asks. He claims that Joseph’s oldest two sons are now his, in the ways that Joseph and his brothers belong to Jacob. Any children that Joseph has from here on out can be his, but the first two sons are Jacob’s. What a strange and terrible request for a father to make of a son. Yes, this is symbolic, and fairly irrelevant as Jacob is about to pass away, and yet he feels entitled to make such a request of his son.

Just a few hours ago, I dropped off my kids with their mom. She was out my direction so we met and I had a day and a half with them. We made the exchange and they made the three hour trek back to Pittsburgh. I’ve asked much of my young children in these last few years. I’ve asked them to try to understand divorce. I’ve asked them to understand the new life I am trying to create for myself. I’ve asked them, unconsciously, to value my happiness. Much of what I’ve asked of them they won’t feel the effects of until they are much older, but even now, I see the confusion in their eyes. I hear the questions. “Why don’t you and mommy still live together?” “Why can’t the four of us have dinner together?” “Do you and mommy still love each other?” My daughter found a picture of the four of us from right after she was born. She was transfixed by it. I was ashamed.

I confess that I have asked my children to bear the weight of my sins as all parents do. They bear the weight of my selfishness and ego and it hurts my heart. I pray that one day they will be able to forgive me.

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