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How to Prepare to Meet an Estranged Family Member

Meeting estranged family members – whether it’s a biological mother, long-lost father, unknown sister or argumentative brother – requires preparation. It also requires a healthy dose of “what will be, will be.”

You can’t control what’s going to happen, but you can prepare to meet an estranged family member. In this article you’ll find three tips to help you get ready; the final tip is the most important. All tips are inspired by a man called Jacob, who prepared to meet his estranged brother Esau.

Meeting a family member you hurt, lied to, or cheated feels different than meeting a relative for the first time. It can also be difficult if you’re the black sheep of the family. Luckily, you’ve come to the right place! These tips will help you prepare, whether you’re meeting someone you grew up with or someone who was responsible for your existence…like when I met my biological father for the first time.


In Growing Forward When You Can’t Go Back, I briefly describe what it was like to travel to Jerusalem, Israel to meet my dad for the first time. I was 29 years old; he and my mom weren’t just estranged family members, they were never married.

What stage are you at in reconnecting with estranged family members? Maybe you’re like me, and preparing to meet a blood relative for the first time. Share your story below; I’d love to hear from you!

3 Tips for Meeting Estranged Family Members

Inspired by Genesis 32, this article is part of my She Blossoms Through the Bible project. In this chapter Jacob prepares to meet his estranged brother Esau. Jacob is scared and distressed because he cheated his older brother out of his birthright, inheritance, and blessing. Jacob is right to be afraid to meet his brother! Esau has every right to plough him down…but does he? We’ll find out.

You don’t have to believe in God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit to benefit from my tips on how to prepare to meet an estranged family member. Just keep an open mind and listen to the still small voice that brought you to She Blossoms. Remember that new beginnings blossom from tiny seeds of life. Reconnecting with your estranged family member — or meeting a relative for the first time — is one of those seeds.

1. Send out “feelers” to test the waters 

Preparing to Meet an Estranged Family Member

Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau, and told them exactly what to say (Genesis 32:3). Jacob was in a difficult position because he’d been estranged from his family members and homestead for about 20 years. He also lied, cheated, and stole from his older brother. He caused problems for his mother and father, and was coming home with two wives, two concubines, twelve children, and a whole slew of servants, livestock, possessions and wealth. Sending messengers ahead of time was smart — and Jacob was one of the shrewdest guys in the Bible!

What does your estranged family member say about meeting? Before I went to Jerusalem, Israel to meet my biological father for the first time, I sent him a letter. Air mail! I wanted to prepare him in advance, to give him time to think about meeting me. I was his first daughter, I lived in Canada, and we hadn’t had any contact since I was nine months old. My dad never responded to my letter, but I called him when I was in Jerusalem anyway. Whether you’re preparing to meet a relative for the first time or an estranged family member after years apart, give them advance warning. Give them time to prepare…or to decline your request to meet.

If you’re preparing to meet an estranged mother or father, read 7 Tips for Dealing With Controlling Parents.

2. Prepare for a surprising response 

Jacob’s messengers returned from his brother Esau’s homestead with bad news. “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with you,” they said in Genesis 32:6. Jacob freaked out! “In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups…” He was worried and scared that his estranged brother Esau was planning to attack him, his wives, and his children. So Jacob divided everybody into several different camps and prepared a strategy for meeting his estranged — possibly furious — brother. But Jacob kept going, for God called him home.


How will your estranged family member respond to you? It’s impossible to say for sure. If you try to read into your relative’s initial response, you could be wrong. I was wrong when I heard nothing from my dad in Jerusalem: I thought he didn’t want to meet me. Jacob was wrong when he thought Esau was intending to attack him. When you’re preparing to meet an estranged family member, give him or her space to respond. Remember that the first response may not be the most accurate one. Estranged family members are often surprised and even shocked at a request for reconnection! Give them time to work through their feelings.

3. Ask for help 

Jacob was smart enough to ask for help from the One with the real power: “Then Jacob said, ‘God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me, ‘Go back to your land and to your family, and I will cause you to prosper.’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. Indeed, I crossed over the Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two camps. Please rescue me from my brother Esau, for I am afraid of him; otherwise, he may come and attack me, the mothers, and their children. You have said, ‘I will cause you to prosper, and I will make your offspring like the sand of the sea, too numerous to be counted.’ ”  – Genesis 32:9-12 (CSB). 

Who is your source of strength and courage? Focus on Him first. Never prepare for anything — much less meeting an estranged family member! — without a healthy dose of prayer. Look at Jacob’s prayer…he asked God to please rescue him from his estranged brother’s wrath. Jacob knew exactly what he was scared of, and he knew how to ask God for the help he needed.

Read How to Trust God When You Feel Scared if you’re worried about reconnecting with an estranged family member.

Jesus, thank you for the gift of family members — even ones we don’t get along with! Love is a blessing even when relationships are difficult and painful. Holy Spirit, thank you for wisdom and guidance. You lead the way to healthy family relationships and strong bonds between people. Father God, you are the most important family member of all. Forgive us from allowing ourselves to become estranged from you. Thank you for welcoming us home with open arms…just like Jacob’s brother Esau welcomed him home. ~ Amen.

Your thoughts — big and little — are welcome below!

With His love,

Laurie

P.S. Are you struggling to make a decision or find the right path in your life? Read an Easy Way to Stop Overthinking God’s Will for Your Life.

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