We long to know what to do in our hour of trial, when dreams have faded and hope is limp. What then? When children have disappointed or a love has grown cold. What then? When health is gone, taking with it the joy of living. What then? Either at one of these points or at some other point, countless people must make their decision as to what they will do, how they will carry it off when the pilgrimage of life moves from an even path to a rocky road beneath leaden skies and amidst gloomy surroundings. In disappointment’s valley, along heartbreak highway, what cry shall we raise?
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.
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.”
This is not to say that God does not allow us our hot, fretful moods, when we pound the table before his presence, angry, feeling wronged. It is too much to ask of us an everlastingly calm and gentle spirit, even in our dealings with God. When we rush before his presence, pouring out hot words of resentment, we need not fear that he will not understand. God knows our frame and remembers that we are dust. We can bring any mood before God, so long as we cling to our integrity of soul. When all of this is said, the ultimate cry of higher religion must ever be “though he slay me, yet will I serve him.” Even in his moment of bitter disappointment, Esau held on to his love and held on to his belief that his father, Isaac, could bless his soul. There was his bitter lament, surely. There was Esau’s raised voice and hurt countenance, yes.
But amidst it all was his stubborn, unconquerable faith that his father could still bestow upon his poor, helpless head a mercy that would follow him all the days of his life. There’s poignancy and pathos in Esau’s cry, but there is also a great triumphant faith as he blurts out his prayer before his father, “Hast thou but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” I know all of us sometimes feel that desire of our heart has been taken away. There are times in life when the days seem hardly worth living, when the sun has left the sky, and we walk through a grim, gray, cloudy time. But always we must remember that the Lord can still bless us in our sorrow and in our disappointment. He can make bitter waters sweet for us, and he can turn cloudy days sunny. He can turn valleys of sorrow into sunlit paths of joy. This God with whom we deal never leaves and never forsakes. He is always nearby. Our Calvary may be painful and lonely, our course rough and cruel, but God can and will heal our hurts and soothe our sorrows and turn our griefs into glad hosannas. The Judge of all the earth will do right. The desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.
The battle is almost won when we can say through the tears, “Bless me still, my Father. The road I must walk is rough and rocky, but thou know the way that I take. Bless me in my trouble. Bless me in my sorrow. Bless me in my loneliness. Bless me in my doubts and my trials.” And if the desires of our heart are withheld, still must we hold on and hold out and live by the faith that the Lord will not leave, not forsake us. One walking the night with such a faith is sure to come to the morning.