I want this day to tell you of a man’s prayer when life had soured and fouled on him. Esau was a simple, trusting man. He was not at home in the intrigue of drawing rooms or the refined scheming of conference rooms. The Scriptures indicate that he was a man of the outdoors, most at home in the solitude of the forest, stalking his game, exercising his skill beneath the silent skies. As the elder son in Isaac’s home, he took for granted that the family holdings would be put in his hands, and simple, honest man that he was, I am sure he would have discharged his trust with fidelity and evenhanded justice. The old familiar account indicates, however, that Esau’s mother favored the other child, less physically strong, smooth of skin, gracious in his wiles and charm—Jacob. By the deception of having Jacob, the younger favored son, imitate Esau, the older and less favored son, this mother gained the blessing of Isaac for Jacob. Esau appeared later before his father to receive his rightful blessing. Isaac was dumbfounded, for he had thought Jacob was Esau. His last will and testament, so to speak, had been drawn and executed. He could not recall the act, unwise though he knew it to be. Esau was left out in the cold, so to speak. His rightful inheritance had fallen to another. Out of nowhere, it seemed, Esau’s disappointment came, hard and bitter. He should have been the son-in-charge by tribal custom. Now he was left at the mercy of a less honest and less worthy brother. Life had tumbled in for Esau.
For all of us, life does tumble in over and over again. No man, no woman, gets through the living of these years without walking at some time or the other a lonely, deserted way. Life is filled with these interludes of disappointment and sorrow. An acquaintance by a lake one summer reminded me of what a wise man of letters said: “Life is a series of partings.” So true! We part from scenes of childhood, from our family roots, from our first friends. Our families are, one by one, parted from us by death. Those we love are parted from us by the demands of life, the call of jobs, the call of the nation. This is life. We plan, and our plans do not work as we hoped they would. Every man, every woman, has disappointments. I have yet to see the human being for whom all plans work on schedule and according to one’s wishes. Children disappoint, jobs turn out to be less than we expected, illness comes, misunderstandings rise, friends betray, we fall short of our goals for ourselves.
Every man, every woman, either now or in some decisive tomorrow, must face the shadow of great disappointment.
The spiritual is so true, nor does it refer only to death: “I’ve got to walk this lonesome valley. Nobody here can walk it for me. I’ve got to walk it for myself.” What will you do? Well, Esau did not run away, cursing his brother, bitter with his father, incensed at his mother. He did not. He went into his father with his sorrow and with his heartbreak. There was no attempt to shield the anguish of his spirit or the tears in his eyes. The Scriptures say that Esau lifted up his voice and wept. I think that there is a place in God’s service and among God’s children for everything except quitting and turning away. There are days when we must cry out to God, hurt and angry like Job, saying, “I wish I knew where I could find God. I would argue my case before his presence.” In disappointment, our cry ought never to be “Well, I won’t try any longer.”