Ignoring the Unpleasant

1Now the famine was severe in the land. 2So when Israel’s children had eaten all the grain they had brought from Egypt, their father told them, “Go back again! Buy a little food for us!” 3But Judah said, “The main firmly warned us, ‘You shall not see my face unless you bring your brother with you.’” — Genesis 43:1-3

(This is Henry again—it’s one of those weeks! Apologies for sending it late.)

Do you ever just forget about something that has an unpleasant element to it? I know that I do. There are things that need to be done, but I kind of let them slide because they are either unpleasant in themselves, or they involve me doing something else that’s unpleasant.

For example, I have a really hard time getting motivated to gather the paperwork to do my income taxes. I know the forms now for my business quite well, and can fill them out quickly. It’s not fun, but it’s not hard. But gathering the paperwork together and the reports from my accounting software? Not so much! I’m even getting fairly good at keeping the accounts up to date so all I have to do is get the right folders together and select the right reports, but I hate it.

Then there are phone calls to someone I don’t want to talk to, or someone to whom I need to convey a less than pleasant message. I’m likely to think suddenly that Jody is really good at making that sort of calls, and perhaps she’ll do it for me. Unfortunately, she will probably not forget the unpleasant side of it, so she’ll say, “I think that’s your call to make.”

So here’s Jacob, acting pretty much the same way. The brothers have already told him what the ruler in Egypt had said. He knew what was required, but he just couldn’t help asking the brothers to go back to Egypt. Maybe they would forget about the need to take their brother. Maybe they’d risk themselves.

I notice in the story that Joseph seems to become reconciled to his brothers, and they to him, but Jacob himself never quite gets it. He’s still willing to sacrifice 10 brothers for the sake of one. He hopes they won’t notice and will do it “somehow.”

It reminds me of what I call the “Star Trek” style of command. Those of you who know the older Star Trek series, you know, the one with Kirk and Spock, not Picard and Data, will remember how Scotty would be down in the engine room fighting fires and collapsing parts. Kirk needs Warp 7 or whatever, but the engines aren’t up to it. “It will take at least two hours to fix,” says Scotty. “That’s not good enough, I need it in one,” says Kirk. And because this is fiction, Scotty “somehow” manages to get it all done.

It’s easy to fall into this style of leadership in our homes, businesses, or churches. A leader announces a goal, and then expects others to figure out how to do it, whether the resources are available or not. We ask our children to accomplish great things, but then don’t provide the atmosphere and support that are necessary. We may ask employees or coworkers to “solve it” but we don’t provide the means or consider their gifts.

There has to be a careful balance here, because many times someone is not doing all they could or should, and note that those may be two different things! But at other times unreasonable demands may just be creating unnecessary failure and discouragement. We need to recognize this also in our bosses at work and our leaders. When is someone simply making a demand because they don’t have any better idea, or have decided to forget the unpleasant?

Are you a Jacob? Do you ask people to take risks you wouldn’t take? Do you expect things of others that you have no idea how you would manage yourself? Do you let others do it to you?

Make sure the burdens you accept are the proper ones.

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