When we are given children, even those of us who are the most inept, even those of us who are self-centered, even those of us who think of ourselves as the most inadequate, there are things we want to give our children. It is built into the parenting instinct. There are just things we want for them, although these things may not always be wise. There are things from which we want to protect them. There are things we want to provide. There is one thing they need above everything else, and that is to be blessed by you, to feel blessed by you, to sense they are blessed.
In the twentieth chapter of Genesis there is a family saga. For many of you it is a very familiar story. For some of you it may be brand new. Abraham’s son, Isaac, is now at the point of death, or at least he thinks he is dying. Before he dies he wants to give to his eldest son the blessing of God. We do not have a ceremony that has its counterpart today, although we have the desire. What mother has not stood with her daughter getting into her wedding dress and wanted some way of touching her, focusing her, pointing her, energizing her and giving her advice? What Dad has not stood by the old jalopy now packed for his son who’s going to college, but for all practical purposes is leaving home for good, and hasn’t wanted some ritual for blessing, for passing on values, for prophesying prosperity and success? We understand the incident.
The problem was, in this family there was not an agreement as to which of the sons should be blessed. Esau was the oldest, and while Isaac was a momma’s boy himself, he favored the son who was more athletic and more of an outdoorsman. Rebekah favored Jacob, who was more like her, more sensitive, and probably more spiritual and brighter.
I think Isaac and Rebekah had had this conversation many, many times when the children weren’t there. “Now Isaac, just take a look at Esau. He’s not what Abraham had in mind in terms of God blessing us.”
When she overheard Isaac promise Esau to bless him, she set up a deception with which she was to get the blessing for her favorite, Jacob. She said, “Son, you go serve him. Your Dad is senile already. He can’t see well. He can’t hear. He can’t tell the difference between goat and deer, and, anyway, he lost his taste buds years ago.” The boy was as bright as he could be and he said, “But mother, you know my skin is fair and I don’t have a lot of hair. Esau has hair all over his hands. My Dad may be many things, but when he puts his hand down on my soft wrist, he’s going to know he has Jacob.” So she puts the skin of a goat over his arm, and she said, “When he smells this goat, he’ll think that it is Esau, and he will bless you.”
And they did it. Isaac blessed Jacob thinking it was Esau. This had hardly transpired when Esau came in, having done exactly what his father asked him to do with the festive meal. He learned his father had already blessed Jacob. He had been deceived. Esau knew his father could not take back the words. So Esau asked his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father” (
I do not think there is enough anguish in my voice to properly communicate what was in Esau’s voice when he said, “Bless me too, my father.” I think this is the cry of every child to his or her parents: bless me too, my mother; bless me too, my father. This is the cry from every child to their parents, “Bless me too, my mother. Bless me too, my father.” I think it is our cry. We who are adults also seek blessings from our parents.
This is a different kind of story; it is a family coming unglued. I guess a psychiatrist would call this a dysfunctional family. There was rivalry among the siblings that was dangerous to their lives, and deception and contempt between husband and wife. Yet it is a family which God is going to use to bless all of us. You and I have a picture of this ideal family with a pretty little mother, a handsome young father and two well-behaved kids sitting on a blanket, eating a picnic lunch in the park, quoting Bible verses to each other.
When we compare the kind of family we are to that, we ask how could God use a family like ours? If God can use Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Esau, He can use any family. Those power-laden words of Isaac, accompanied by symbolic actions and gestures, connected with God’s purpose. In the Old Testament, it was the patriarch, or the king, or the prophet, or the priest who blessed. But in this day in which we live, you and I can bless our children.
This story is a classic picture of the dying father transferring to his children health, prosperity, victory and wisdom. Of course, there is some contrast between our family and that family. But this story should remind us that parents should work together and not at cross purposes in blessing children. This means you share common goals, that parents ought to have certain values in common. This means that you communicate to each other about what you want for your children, and sometimes we don’t do this until the kids get in trouble; then we discover we have not been thinking the same things, and we’ve not had the same goals for our children. This involves strategies for rearing our children. But the one thing that ought to come out of this story is that every child needs the blessing of his or her parents, and the blessing of one child ought not to lessen the blessing of the other. There should be no place for favoritism. There ought to be — in each family — enough love to go around.
More than anything else we do not have to wait until we are old and dying to bless our children. We can bless them all of their lives and all of our lives. I know people who spend their entire lives claiming the reason they are giving so much of themselves to their business is that they want to leave something for their children. Very often, what you leave your children in your will is not all that important. What we leave them in their memory, in their understanding, in their character, in their experiences — this is what counts. It is a great tragedy to get to the end of your life and be interested in your children, only to discover you missed the chance to bless them, and it is too late.
There should be no unblessed child in a home. Each of us needs the blessing of our parents. Paul Tournier, the late Swiss psychiatrist-theologian, used the story of Esau to describe a certain type of psychological problem which he was constantly dealing with in his therapy in Switzerland. He called it “The Unblessed Child.” It had nothing to do with the gifts of the child, or the ability of the child, or the opportunities in life the child enjoyed, or even material possessions. It had to do with this child not being blessed, not feeling approved by his or her parents, feeling that somehow they did not measure up, that somehow they never really pleased their parent. There are in this congregation men and women who will say to themselves, “I am an unblessed child. I never amounted to what my mother wanted for me. I never accomplished what my father wanted me to accomplish. I am one of those unblessed children.”
I have a friend who is one of the most talented preachers I know. He taught preaching for many years, and has written one of the classic books on preaching that’s in the literature of the field today. He was reared in a home of a very successful businessman who had been mayor in their town. He was a perfectionist when it came to expectations for his children. His father has been dead now for two decades, but he is still working to please his father. He is still trying to do something with his life which would make him think, “My Dad would really like that.” It is unbelievable what it does to a child to grow up in a family and feel they have not been blessed.
You’re saying, “Well Pastor, I’m convinced I ought to bless my children. How can I bless my children? What are the power-laden words, those actions, those gestures which will bless my children?” I have already suggested you should resist the temptation to make the passing of material gain for children your only goal. I don’t think it is a sin to die and leave things to your children that they can spend, or live in, or drive. That’s not what I’m saying, but if this is all you leave them, then you have not left them enough.
There is something that wants us to make it easier for our kids. My father used to say to me, “I just hope you don’t have to work the way I’ve worked.” As if there was something wrong with working. Or there is something in us that makes us more interested in sheltering our children from life than equipping them for life. I don’t know what it is, but it is there, and I guess what I want to say is, don’t assume the obvious is obvious to your children. I know parents who love their children, but somehow never communicate that love. I know parents who are proud of their children, and somehow never communicate that pride to their children.
Here are some suggestions to get us started:
I. Nothing blesses a child more than being loved or accepted.
This needs to be felt by the child, communicated by the parent, understood by both. When you are little, it comes by touch, by holding, by looking, by talking, by giving attention. There is a kind of bonding that comes. I used to wonder how, when all the calves ran up to the cow, how one cow could tell her calf from another. Then when we began to watch the little calves be born, here was that mother licking the calf, smelling the calf, spending time with the calf, a kind of early bonding.
If this is true in the animal world, it is really true with people. There needs to be a kind of physical bonding, touching, holding, looking, bouncing, making noises, listening to noises, and being delighted. That doesn’t sound hard, does it?” Or love is communicated by just being interested in the child and listening.
A little kid comes in, and in her sweaty little hand is a bouquet of dandelions. They smell terrible, but if you are to look beyond that bouquet to a child who is so anxious to please you, to communicate their love for you, the dandelions turn into long-stem red roses. You get a vase and you put water in it, you put it in a place and you crow over this lovely gift. What a marvelous gift to a child! People who sit down with little children and read that same story over and over and over until you have real thoughts about Dr. Seuss and his rhyming words; then you begin to play games with your children — you come to a spot and you put the wrong word in and they correct you, and that becomes a game. It is a sort of a way of saying, “You are significant to me. You are an important person. I like to read to you, and you make reading an enjoyable thing.”
Words of praise for children are powerful words, and sometimes as pushy parents in our desire to get them to go to their full potential we leave the impression that they will never please us. Sometimes those small victories need to be crowed over. Words of love and affection are essential. They may come from all sorts of people, but if they do not come from your parents, you are not blessed. I have seen people stand as adults in the community and be praised by all of their peers, and I knew that inside them there was an emptiness, because while the whole world had praised them, their father or their mother did not praise them. It is an easy thing to bless a child. They need love and acceptance.
II. Children are also blessed when their parents have a good relationship with each other.
To be able to say “My mother and dad love each other” is a marvelous thing for a child. It gives them a sense of security. It gives them a sense of belonging. Children read the relationship. Often before words or definitions they understand that the good nourishes them and the bad frightens them. To neglect your marriage is to neglect your children.
This does not mean that a single parent cannot bless a child. I am a child whose mother and father got a divorce, and yet I feel that I am a child blessed by my parents. It is just that the child’s needs never change, so if as a single father or a single mother you are parenting, it is just a little harder for you and you have a little larger load to carry.
III. Children are blessed by the consistency of our lives and by the involvement in our lives.
It’s what our character is. When what we are saying to them is what we are acting out in our lives, they feel blessed. Things sort of fit together if they watch us become truth tellers, honest with them, honest with others, honest with each other; if they see us respecting people, treating people as persons; if they sense in us a prizing of values; if they sense in us an interest in life.
It’s not good for children to be worshiped. It’s not good for children if the only interest their parents have is those children. It gives them too much power, and sometimes makes them feel unloved. When given a choice, a child will choose between what we are rather than what we say. If they see us as phony, they buy the life rather than the words. They are blessed by the consistency and the involvement in our lives.
IV. They are blessed as we introduce them to God.
I hear there are two things we ought not to force on our children: religion and politics. I always translate that: there are just two things that are not important to me, religion and politics. I realize you cannot choose God for your child, you cannot impose upon a child your faith. It is not an automatic thing. It is not an easy thing. Each generation must decide.
But you can early introduce a child to the biblical faith that this is a God-centered world, not a man-centered world. You can introduce a child to the revelation of himself we have in Jesus Christ. You can introduce a child to the value system that grows out of the Judeo-Christian faith where they learn a basis for right and for wrong. You can create a climate which predisposes a child toward faith.
It doesn’t bother me at all to go out and make my garden produce squash rather than weeds and roses rather than thistles. A parent blesses a child by creating a kind of climate in which faith can take place.
V. We bless our children when we let them grow up.
There is such a temptation to keep them children. I remember when we used to have parent dedication day just once a year, when all of the parents who had babies that year would bring their babies. In a little pre-service I would stand with the parents and hold the baby, and sometimes we would have our picture made together. The most common phrase I would hear was, “They are so sweet, I hate to see them grow up.” I’ve always felt that’s a way of saying, “Aren’t they cute?” I remember one day a mother said to me, “I just don’t think I can let this child go, ever.” and I kiddingly said to her, “Well, God has a secret weapon. He’s going to turn her into a teenager, and you’ll be glad when she leaves.”
That’s not exactly true. It is still hard on parents to have their children grow up; it is such a temptation to keep them children. We are afraid for them. You cannot protect your children from the world. We are afraid sometimes for ourselves, and you cannot stop the process of children growing up. You never stop loving them; you never stop praying for them; you never stop caring for them, but you stop trying to control them, and you bless your children by letting them grow up.
What about you? When did you sense you were a blessed child, if you did? Let me tell you when it came to me. I went through a period when I just didn’t know about my Dad. My Dad was not articulate, not good with words. I never remember hearing my father say, “I love you.” He was not a secure person. He didn’t feel comfortable about how well he did things, although when he learned to do something he could do it over and over again. He was not physically affectionate. I never remember him touching me and putting his arms around me. Lots of you have parents like that.
I went to see him in Idaho. I was grown and already a preacher, already a teacher, and we sat. All he liked to talk about was coon hunting. He had this dog named Ol’ Rock, and I heard the Ol’ Rock stories over and over again. We couldn’t even talk about our relationship.
While he was out milking the cows I got curious about his old suitcase. It was an old metal suitcase with belts around it to keep it from breaking open when he checked it on the Trailway bus. He wouldn’t fly. I opened that suitcase up, and it was filled with every clipping that ever had a picture of me or my name in it, every church bulletin that had ever been mailed to him — everything in that suitcase had my name on it. I looked down into all that clutter and thought, my Dad is very proud of me, and I felt blessed. It doesn’t take all that much.
Let me say a word to you who have come to adulthood and don’t feel blessed. Your parents may never be able to bless you, but there is a heavenly parent anxious to bless you. You don’t have to come, like Jacob to Esau deceiving God, pretending you are someone else. You can come just like you are, inadequate, failure, a sinner, whatever, and God will love you, forgive you, and accept you, and make you His child and bless you. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is how God reaches out and blesses us and makes us His children in Jesus Christ.