Sweeping Conflict Under the Rug
When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” Genesis 27:1
When we first got married, my wife and I decided that we wanted our kids to grow up without alcohol in the home. That’s how we grew up and that’s what we wanted for our kids. That didn’t mean that I didn’t want to drink though. Because my wife didn’t imbibe and because I often over-imbibed, we had this long-running, but unspoken struggle over alcohol. Neither of us wanted to address it, mostly just to avoid conflict. She didn’t realize the growing problem I had with chemicals, and I remained unwilling to admit it. Ignoring the issue was fine with me as long as I got to do whatever I wanted. Sweeping this under the rug wasn’t healthy though. I’m not claiming that I would have avoided my opioid addiction if I’d have talked about my use of alcohol. I’m just saying that pretending the problem didn’t exist wasn’t helpful or healthy.
Ignoring conflict is a theme of today’s passage. In it, Isaac, nearing the end of his life, called his favorite son, Esau, so he could pass the family inheritance and blessing on to him. But there was a problem. Esau had already traded this birthright to his brother Jacob. Did the family address this? No. Maybe Isaac didn’t know, but Esau certainly did. Rebekah and her favorite child, Jacob, remembered. But no one openly addressed the problem. It was simply more convenient to ignore it, going on as if the trade never happened. But it did, and not addressing it only led to further conflict, making things much worse in the end.
Most of us are prone to this, particularly in our families, where that’s just the way we’ve always done it. Most of us prefer to avoid conflict, so we ignore past, and present, hurts. We simply move on with life – just making it through the next get-together – as if nothing ever happened. This solves nothing of course. It just kicks the conflict down the road, where we’ll run into it eventually, likely making things worse in the end.
Openness and honesty are difficult because it means we expose the problem now, which is painful for everyone. Like a simmering infection though, conflict doesn’t just heal itself when ignored. Unspoken conflict spreads, poisoning relationships, perhaps forever. If we want healthy relationships in our families, then we must consciously choose not to sweep conflict under the rug. Daily, we must openly address that which needs to be addressed. Or, we’ll pay for it later.