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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Day 20: Fighting over inheritance

Today's Reading: Genesis 25-26

"Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east." 25:5, 6

"Abraham's sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre." 25:9

"Ishmael breathed his last and died." 25:17

"[His descendants) lived in hostility toward all their brothers." 25:18

"Jacob replied, First sell me your birthright." 25:31

"Esau despised his birthright." 25:34

There is nothing like the death of a matriarch or patriarch to disrupt the family system. Though everyone might show up for the burial, the removal of that major person, sometimes unravels the family. Like a set of dominoes, a chain reaction of hostility occurs.

I've seen this happen over and over again.

At the death bed of a parent, adult children dig up offenses against one another. It is as though the flood gates open and pent up anger, jealousy and unforgiveness spill forth.

In the ancient world of Abraham, the oldest son received the birthright and the land. This kept the large tract of land from being divided into small pieces. Large tracts of land were able to sustain whole family communities; smaller ones would have been useless.

This right of birth was great news for the first born, but was obviously a problem for other sons born into the family. Of course, the daughters inherited nothing.

Abraham gives the birthright to his second born son, Isaac, because he was born to the "first" wife, Sarah. Ishmael, the first born son, born to the servant Hagar, was not considered for the birthright. Once again, he is sent away from his father's land to survive on his own.

Can we get into Ishmael's thoughts? Is it no wonder that he despised Isaac? All his life, he must have felt cheated for he was treated as a second class citizen. And I don't care what the tradition is, children sense unfairness when another child is favored above the rest.

It ripped up Abraham's family. It is ripping up Isaac's family. And later, (because I know the story), it will rip up Jacob's family. Three generations of hostility between brothers.

Parents beware. It is natural to have rapport with the child who is easy, who adores you, who matches your personality. But check yourself. Watch out for the root of bitterness in your other children's hearts.

And if you are a parent in a blended family, beware. You will naturally favor your birth children, but stop it. Discipline yourself to see the value, wonder and needs of each child.

The way we deal with our children sets the course for their future. Reconcile before it's too late. When your children fight over an inheritance, they are displaying their true inheritance--an inheritance of jealousy, resentment and bitterness passed down to the next generations.

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