In 1985, I finally faced the "Mel syndrome."
Mel was my brother. In our family of seven children he was clearly the favorite of both our parents. I write clearly because the rest of us knew and acknowledged it—that is, everyone except my parents.
After I became a Christian, I discovered the joy of being a child of God and relished the concept of the Father's love I had never known.
Then, when I was spiritually ready, I confronted the "Mel Syndrome." When the trauma hit, I hurt so deeply that the pit of despair seemed to have no bottom. I was a man with grown kids, an empty nest, and a supportive wife. But I began to feel the pain of those long-buried memories from childhood.
For instance, when Mel (two years my junior) and I were in elementary school, Dad became ill. The illness kept him bedridden for weeks and jobless for months. After he got well, he started a job at a factory where they made aluminum nails and fences.
One Saturday, a few weeks after Dad had returned to work, he took Mel and me to Sears. He bought what he needed; we headed back toward his old Ford. In those days, the Sears stores placed a big candy counter in the center of the main floor. As we approached it, Mel said, "Hey, Dad, give me a dime."
My father fished into his overalls pocket, found a dime, and handed it to my brother. It wouldn't have occurred to me to ask Dad for a cent, because I knew he didn't have much money. Yet Mel's asking emboldened me.
"Could I have a nickel?" I asked.
"I don't have any more money," Dad said and walked on.
Mel had ten cents worth of marshmallow circus peanuts; I had nothing, even though my brother shared his candy with me.
If Mel asked, Mel received. If I asked, I didn't get what I wanted. Granted, my memories may be more vivid and painful than reality, but it is still the feeling I grew up with.
The years passed. My parents both died in the late 1970s and Mel died of the effects of alcoholism in 1983. In the last year of Mel's life, he and I talked often on the phone, even though he lived nearly a thousand miles away. We developed a friendship that only two long-estranged siblings could experience.
It was two years after his death that I experienced the "Mel Syndrome." The major symptom of the disease showed up when I prayed: It became increasingly difficult for me to ask God for anything. Even when I did ask, I didn't expect to receive, because I "knew" God wouldn't give me what I wanted. Pleading only made God more resistant in my mind.
The crisis erupted one day when I was doing my daily Bible reading. I had already read the Old Testament story of Esau and Jacob. My New Testament reading was Romans nine where, again, I read about the brothers. Although twins, Esau was born first. By tradition, he inherited a double portion of his father's wealth. But Jacob tricked his brother out of the inheritance and his father's blessing.
Did Jacob get punished? Was he cast into a pit of damnation? No, he became the head of the nation of Israel and a forefather of King David. I'd always thought of that as an act of grace on God's part.
When I read a portion of Romans nine, the "Mel Syndrome" hit in all its fury:
Yet before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, "The older will serve the younger." Just as it is written: "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I hated." What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. -
As I read those verses a second time, the inner pain struck. I was Esau. God hated Esau. I had been Esau in our family of origin. Mel was Jacob in our family. Without doing anything good or having to earn love, he was Dad's favorite—just like Jacob was favored by God.
Despite my efforts to stop them, the tears flowed. Years of pain surfaced. I realized how hard I had worked to win Dad's love, yet Mel had it without any effort; in fact, he treated my parents badly. I don't know how many times he borrowed money from them and never once paid back a cent. Yet Dad kept on lending to him.
By contrast, throughout my life, I had expended so much energy trying to please my father, trying to make him proud of me, trying to get the kind of acceptance and affirmation Mel had without doing anything.
Dad's affirmation and acceptance never came. And that day, when I made an emotional connection between Dad Murphey and Abba God, the hurt went beyond words. I was Esau, unwanted and unloved. Just as Dad had made his choice of Mel over me, God had done the same in rejecting Esau in favor of Jacob. It made no difference how Esau felt or what he might have done: The sovereign choice was made.
I knew on a theological level that I was fully acceptable to God, that I was as loved by God as anyone else in the universe.
During those dark days, I constantly cried out to Abba Father as Esau had once called to his father Isaac, "Is there no blessing left for me?" I didn't mind that Mel or Jacob received favor—and in my heart I believed they deserved it somehow. But I wanted to know I was loved as a father's child.
But still the hurt feelings persisted. Yes, God was my Heavenly Father. But after all, I was only Esau and not Jacob. To make it worse, there was no way I would ever be anything but Esau.
One day when I was alone in the woods, I screamed out in anger at God. "I've tried so hard to be good. I've tried to be the kind of Christian you want me to be and look at the way you treat me!"
That was my first breakthrough. I had tried to earn Abba Father's love just as I had tried to earn it from Dad. I never (to my way of feeling) got it from Dad. I always had it from Abba, but I didn't know it.
In a way that I can't now put into words, I had to separate the two fathers. I had to draw a line between an imperfect relationship and a perfect one. And it took a long, long time. But gradually, I began to distinguish Abba God from Dad. My dad, regardless of his motives, was imperfect at love, imperfect at parenting, and imperfect in every area of his life. God is not imperfect.
Ever so slowly, the concept sank deep into my heart that God used the term Father precisely to show us the perfect image of fatherhood. It took me years (I'm a slow learner) to accept that the Perfect Father could love imperfect children.
One morning, I heard myself say, "Wait a minute, I'm not Esau. I'm Jacob!" It was just that simple. Then I knew the "Mel Syndrome" no longer had any power over me. When that insight came to me, I could say, understand, and mean the words, "I am loved."
All of us who are believers are spiritual Jacobs. We can pray to the Forgiving Father, the Loving Parent who never turns us away. God said to Jacob: "And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go … for I will not leave until I have done what I have promised you" (Gn 28:15, NAS).
That promise is ours as we pray to our Father.
Even if my father and mother should desert me, you will take care of me. --
Abba Father, Jacob's Father,
I am Jacob and I am loved.
You are my Father and you love me with
the Perfect Father Love.
Thank you. Amen.
For more from Cec, please visit www.cecilmurphey.com.
Cecil Murphey has written more than one hundred books on a variety of topics with an emphasis on Spiritual Growth, Christian Living, Caregiving, and Heaven. He enjoys preaching in churches and speaking and teaching at conferences around the world. To book Cec for your next event, please contact Twila Belk at 563-332-1622.