Buried deep within the genealogical record of Esau’s descendents is a line we might skim over, merely because of its location in Scripture:
Genesis 36:7, “Their possessions were too great for them to remain together; the land where they were staying could not support them both…” (NIV).
Of course, Jacob and Esau have a storied history. From conception, they have been fighting over space and rights and blessings and dinner. They have a multitude of reasons to avoid living in the same neighborhood, but this one is an odd one. They have too much stuff between them (another double meaning for the week).
I write a lot about the tragedy that has befallen us as a selfish people who do not care about the poor and oppressed as we should—the fear, the greed, the identity crisis that has caused us to forget that all people are our people. Strangely, selfishness can also prevent us from interacting well with people who are just like us—the fear, the greed, the identity crisis that has caused us to forget that there is enough space for everyone… well… unless we hoard stuff. Then it gets tricky.
Over a period of time, I have been slowly processing what it is that I actually need, defined as require. I think it’s important to make a distinction between basic, physical needs and self-indulgent wants, but there is also something in-between. Maybe there is even a lot of something in-between. And the middle is always where lines blur and color turns to grey. I’m still working through it, but I have reached a few defining principles:
I require less than I thought. With undertones of self-deprecating humor, I have sometimes referred to myself as high maintenance, but I’m realizing that I’m actually not. In reality, I don’t ask nearly as much of others as I ask of myself. I made a list of my expectations, this morning, and it looked like this: don’t lie to me, don’t waste my time, don’t hurt my kids. I’m pretty sure those are all reasonable requests. Admittedly, I turn into someone I don’t even know if those principles are broken, so they’re more than ‘just’ wants. They are needs.
I require very few things, which is not to say that I do not own far too many. As our family has downsized (even with five children at home), some of our close friends and family members have freaked out. Are we giving away too much? I don’t think so, and I am confident that it is tied to my next need…
I require ample, uncluttered space. This is holistically true. Physical space is one thing, but I also need mental, emotional, spiritual, and even social space. Just as in literature, there must be a balance between blank space and text or images (activity). If there are no margins, I do not recognize what I have for what it is.
I require that people take priority over possessions or prominence. It’s not about me. I will share. Community has become more essential to me than ever, so if you need my stuff… or even if you legitimately need my space (admittedly, I might be slightly stingier with that)… you can have it. There’s enough to go around.
Maybe that’s why this piece of Jacob’s and Esau’s narrative stings. Why can’t they be satisfied with less of themselves and more of the other? Thankfully, their story doesn’t end like this, but they lose so much in the process of trying to gain something else. The number of years and the quality of relationship that is lost simply isn’t worth it.
‘The land’ can support us all.
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