When I was growing up, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) wasn’t a diagnosis. We were just called “fidgety” and “hyperactive.” Now, every other little boy I meet seems to have been given that label. Every church I have served has had at least a couple of boys or girls who have been diagnosed as ADD, and even many adults have these symptoms.
My sister, who was an exceptional education teacher, told me that as a child, I was probably ADD. I took an adult ADD test and out of 160 indicators, I had 159 of them. Today I am an ADD senior citizen.
I strongly disagree that ADD is a disorder I view it as a superpower! It’s like being the Flash. You see yourself moving at what to you is a normal pace, while everyone else is moving super slowly. ADDs aren’t smarter or stronger than others, they just go faster. It’s the rest of the world that doesn’t keep up with our pace. It’s hard to sit and wait, or to keep focused on things for very long. We tend to have quick tempers. We miss details and can be pushy or bossy without realizing we are doing it. Sometimes we hyper-concentrate and miss the big picture. We can make snap decisions, but because we don’t think things through we can often have poor judgment.
Most children have symptoms of ADD—especially boys. There’s a wildness in them—some part that doesn’t like to be tamed. If we over control them, we miss what is best about them. Nothing you do or say will make a child sit still for long. Indeed, I would worry about a child who didn’t act childish! God loves a wild child! If you aren’t wild, God loves you, too. God made us all different, and He loves the differences between us. He wants us to respect each other, whether we are ADD, or calm and collected.
Which leads us to our story for today---Esau and Jacob in Genesis 25.
We read this story through the lens of history. If you’ve been around a church for long, you’ve probably heard Esau portrayed as the bad child and Jacob as the good child. But this interpretation is grossly unfair. True, there are places in the Bible such as Malachi 1 and Romans 9 where we hear God saying, “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated” but God isn’t talking about the boys. When it comes to the boys, God loved them both.
These two boys had very different personalities, which was revealed in their names. Esau means “Big Red”. He was red from the sun and the outdoors. Esau had many traits that we associate today with ADHD children. He was restless and he liked to wander through the woods. He was active and he loved hunting and fishing. He couldn’t sit still at home, so he wandered. He had a hot temper and made sudden, impulsive decisions.
His father Isaac saw all this and loved him for it. There’s a wild child in the heart of every man. Author John Eldridge is right about this, every man is wild at heart. Esau embodied the character traits associated with masculinity.
Jacob had the opposite. His name means “Trickster”—tricky Jake. He was quiet and polite. He liked to stay home with Mother. This probably didn’t make him popular with the other boys, but his mother, Rebekah, loved him for it.
Here we have two fraternal twin boys with very different personalities. Each one had a parent who favored them. Isaac wanted Esau to be the clan leader. It made sense to him. Esau was a man of action, he had a winning personality that attracted others to him. He was full of energy. Who wouldn’t want him to be the leader?
Rebekah didn’t--she wanted Jacob! We can see Rebekah’ point. He was a quiet, studious, well-behaved child who was smart with good manners. He was responsible and he wasn’t always tearing off for the woods to hunt. It seemed obvious to her that Jacob, not Esau, would be the better leader.
Isaac and Rebekah had the same problem. They judged the worth of their children by their own judgment. But God doesn’t look at us the way we do. He doesn’t always pick the strongest or the best, but has a whole different way of judging who should lead. He doesn’t pick people for jobs based on their personality traits, but on their ability to be formed into the one He wants. He doesn’t take us as leaders when we are born, but breaks us and makes us into what He wants us to be. In this way, we don’t get the glory—He does.
Our behavior as children has little or no connection with our success in life. Those who are well behaved can develop problems later, and those who are ill-behaved can be the best adults. Our personalities are not fixed, they are fluid, developing throughout life. If we allow God to work in us, God will use us, and grow in us. God uses both quiet and rambunctious ones.
But Rebekah didn’t see this. She judged her boys by her perception of their childish behavior. Jacob was her favorite, so she conspired with him to steal Esau’s birthright.
First, they went about tricking Esau to give up his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup. Later, when they thought Isaac was dying, she had Jacob pretend to be Esau, to receive Isaac’s blessing. They stole from Esau the place that was rightfully his.
When Esau found out, he acted like a typical ADD—he blew up! He threatened to kill his brother. Rebekah arranged a long trip for Jacob to keep him out of harm.
Most commentators seem to be on Jacob’s side here. Well, it was stupid for Esau to sell his birthright for soup! But they miss the point. They stole what was rightfully Esau’s. If someone is dumb enough to leave a wallet on a park bench that doesn’t mean you have the right to steal it! God sees and knows. God may have used Jacob, but that doesn’t make Jacob any less deceitful.
You may have psychological or social problems, but in God’s eyes, you are of no less value than anyone else. He can still use you. Our problems make us unique--they are not a curse. God has a special plan for Esau too, as we shall see.
As for Jacob, God arranged some serious payback. He became a fugitive, living with his uncle Laban in Syria. While there he fell for his beautiful cousin Rachael. Laban promised that if he worked as a servant for seven years they could get married. But then Laban switched daughters at the altar, and he got plain Leah instead of beautiful Rachael. He had to spend another seven years in indentured servitude to Laban for the privilege of marrying his true love.
What delicious irony—the trickster became the tricked! He learned the hard way that tricking people out of what they wanted the most was not a nice thing to do.
Jacob and his two wives had thirteen children—twelve boys and a girl. Then Jacob and Laban fell out over some cattle. Jacob ran away again. Uncle Laban promised to kill him if he came back. Now two close relatives were out to kill him—his uncle and his brother. (Family reunions in this family must have been interesting!)
Jacob had no choice, but to move south into the Holy Land. But it’s hard to sneak around with a tribe that large. Esau heard that he was coming and rode for Jacob with an army at his back!
The Bible tells us very little about what’s been happening with Esau all these years, but it tells us enough to guess. Esau had become the leader of a very large tribe. Isaac was right about Esau—he was no fool. Esau had proved himself a good leader, and as result had collected a very large tribe around him. It’s not a bad consolation prize for missing the birthright.
Jacob may have had the covenant promise of Abraham, but in his day, Esau had a much bigger group. Now that group was at Esau’s back as he rode to confront his brother.
The clash happens in Genesis 32--33. Jacob tries to placate Esau by sending all his worldly goods, even his wives and children ahead, to placate his brother’s wrath. Esau kept coming.
That night, gripped with fear and broken from all his cleverness, Jacob wrestles with God. Wrestling is something we would associate more with Esau than Jacob. It’s a match he can’t possibly win, and Jacob loses it, big time. It leaves him lame for life. But out of the struggle he changes. He becomes a new person. He even has a new name—Israel, man of God.
But Esau has also changed. By the time they met, something had been broken in Esau, too. Maybe it was time that broke him, or maybe it was the humiliation of losing his birthright, but when they met, Esau was a very different man. He fell upon his brother and kissed him in forgiveness. Esau the hotheaded, impulsive child had grown into a man who could forgive his brother.
That’s the way it is with God. It doesn’t matter what you were before or what you think you’re good at, God will beat you at your own game and reduce you to humility and submission. God can want your talents. He wants your humility and obedience. He doesn’t need you to prove yourself to him. He only needs your willingness to be remade.
When a person makes a sculpture, he doesn’t use the strongest wood. He uses the wood that is the easiest to work. If wood is too strong, it’s useless to the carver. When God makes a person to be used, he doesn’t want the most talented. He wants the one who can be remade. Our strength is a weakness to God, and our weakness is a strength. God must change us to use us.
When God changes us, He uses two tools—prayer and pain, but mostly pain. Proverbs says, “He who, being reproved stiffens his neck will be broken beyond repair.” God breaks us until we can be used.
Dr. Haddon Robinson told me about sitting through a sermon series called, “Leadership Secrets of Moses.” At the end, he told the preacher. “You left one out. Tell them about the murder and the Egyptian, and burying his body in the desert.”
“Whaat!?” the pastor exclaimed.
He explained that it wasn’t Moses’ strength that made him a leader, but his weaknesses. His sin led him to repent and to humbly follow God. Without brokenness, God can’t use us.
Whatever your personality type, you can still be used by God. Personalities change, God doesn’t. We are all on a journey, and our personality quirks are part of that journey. God loves us just where we are. Don’t be defined by you labels, but trust his goodness, revealed in our failures as well as our successes which lead us to know and love Him more.