Read an Excerpt
Born to Strive
When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau's heel; so he was named Jacob.
Genesis 25:24 -- 26
Everybody has a dream. Perhaps you don't even know exactly what the dream is, but still it runs your life. Your dream is what gets you up in the morning. It is what you pursue every day of your life. The dream is what drove you to leave your parents' home, get an education, and find a job. It's the reason you moved from one city to another. It led you into relationships, and it led you out of them. Every important decision you have made in life has been determined by how close it gets you to the dream. The problem is that the dream keeps moving. It's a hard thing to catch.
Sometimes we find that other people are living our dreams. Everywhere they turn, our dreams come true for them! That's how Jacob viewed Esau. Esau stumbled into every blessing the world had to offer and took it all for granted.
For the rest of us, life is a chore. We have to strive to realize our dreams. That is why we can easily relate to Jacob. His story describes how life really is for those of us who are determined to make something of our lives. Believing that nothing is naturally coming our way, we determine to go out and make our dreams come true.
I now know that is the best way in the world to mess up your life.
The only good dreams come from God. And God insists on simply giving them to us. The most important dreams are blessings such as being loved, having a child, discovering your purpose in life, or finding a friend who will stick with you through anything, even the truth. Yet, if we insist on hunting down these sacred gifts, we prevent ourselves from enjoying them. In fact, that is what happens every time we try to earn what we can only receive as a blessing.
That was the great flaw in Jacob's life. It is in mine too. And maybe even in yours.
Your Preferred Twin
Jacob and Esau were far from being identical twins. They did not look like each other at all, but they were linked by a great struggle. Their father, Isaac, wasn't all that significant a figure except that he was their link to the blessings of life that Jacob so desperately wanted. The problem was that everyone assumed these blessings would naturally fall to Esau, the firstborn. Everyone, that is, except the twins' mother, Rebekah, who was determined to help her baby get any advantage he could in life.
As the story goes, when she was carrying the twins in her womb, they created such a ruckus that she thought she was going to die. When she prayed about this, God informed her that it would make sense that she was having a hard time because 'Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.' We have no record of Rebekah's telling Isaac about this promise from God. It seems they kept a lot of secrets from each other. Later in the story it becomes obvious that this family is as dysfunctional as they come, and that only intensifies the struggle of the twins.
Like Jacob, we all have a twin. Esau isn't just Jacob's older brother. He is the person who is like us, but better. From our earliest recollection we are measuring ourselves against some Esau, some image of what we think we should be. We knock ourselves out to fill the image, to become more like the twin who haunts us through life. It's the only way we know how to get his blessing, the one we believe should have been ours in the first place.
But no matter what we do, it is never good enough because we believe Esau would have done it better. When our parents tried sincerely to affirm us as children, what we actually heard was, 'That's not bad . . . for Jacob.' Even if we had no siblings, or even if we were the star child of the family, we still had to compete with Esau who was the better image of ourselves. When we achieved success later in life, regardless of how good it was, we continued to taint every celebration by whispering to ourselves, 'Yeah, but Esau would have done it better.'
We are very ambivalent about this twin, finding that our hearts are filled with both hate and envy. We hate the fact that Esau is what we are not, but we want so much to be like him that he takes on the power of a god in our lives. For that reason Esau has become an evil twin. In our minds we have turned him into a taskmaster whom we will never satisfy.
Jacob: An American Story
Jacob's name means 'striver' or 'hustler.' He had so much drive and ambition that he could have been the poster child for the American Dream. Our society has always admired those of the huddled masses who came to this country with little, but through hard work were able to make something of themselves.
I know about that drive. I was raised on Long Island, which is divided by a long railroad track. Those on the north shore enjoy affluent communities where Mom drives the Lexus to the train station to drop off her husband who commutes into New York City. She then deposits the kids at private schools and races off to her tennis lessons. When time permits she joins her friends in a little charity work where they raise money for those less fortunate than themselves. It is a life of privilege, comfort, and enviable blessings. At least, that was the view we had from the other side of the railroad tracks where I was raised.