Is there a way to wrestle with God? How do we wrestle with God? Are we even supposed to wrestle with God?
Yes…these are the questions I have been personally wrestling with the past two weeks. 😉
Wrestling has been in the forefront of my mind on many levels lately. On a literal, visceral, and very real level I have been on the sidelines watching my son wrestle the past few months. My son took up the sport this year as junior in high school. The last time he wrestled he was in fourth grade. As a mom, I thought it was hard for me to watch him battle it out as a little guy…it is even harder now at 195 pounds. The photo above (graciously taken and made available to me by Peter Mullen) is of my son and his opponent. I chose a photo where you cannot distinguish their faces on purpose. One, it was the one condition my son gave to allow me to use the photo. Two, to protect the other wrestler. Three, because it is not to show who wrestled or who won, but to highlight the struggle.
To wrestle means to contend by grappling with and striving to trip or throw an opponent down or off-balance; to combat an opposing tendency or force; to engage in or as if in a violent or determined struggle.
So as I have sat there writhing in my seat, covering my eyes, and wincing at every twist and turn my son takes on the mat, there has been a parallel form of wrestling going on deep in my heart and soul. This struggle began a few weeks ago when John Schott, a faithful follower, long-time friend, and great encourager, sent me an email after my last post and referenced the verses in Genesis 32 where Jacob wrestles with God. I had to go back to reread the story:
24-25 But Jacob stayed behind by himself, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he couldn’t get the best of Jacob as they wrestled, he deliberately threw Jacob’s hip out of joint.
26 The man said, “Let me go; it’s daybreak.”
Jacob said, “I’m not letting you go ’til you bless me.”
27 The man said, “What’s your name?”
He answered, “Jacob.”
28 The man said, “But no longer. Your name is no longer Jacob. From now on it’s Israel (God-Wrestler); you’ve wrestled with God and you’ve come through.”
What a strange wrestling match! God came down in human form to physically brawl with a man all night long? What is going on here?
To refresh your memory, Jacob was the twin brother of Esau. Jacob was the one who schemed with his mother to take away Esau’s rightful inheritance as the older brother by getting his father (Isaac) to bless him instead. It worked. Jacob got a double blessing, Esau got nothing, and Jacob fled in fear of his brother. At this point in his life, Jacob is tired of running. He is on his way home to find his brother and hopefully make peace. But he is a little freaked out because his estranged brother, Esau, is coming to meet him — with 400 men. Not as the welcome wagon, but more like the smack down revenge party. Jacob sends half of his family ahead and intends to spend the night alone — maybe to strategize, pray, and call out to God for help. But a strange man shows up and wrestles Jacob till daybreak, totally interrupting his plans. At some point during this weird contest Jacob realizes that he is wrestling God. Jacob continues fighting even after his hip is dislocated, refusing to let go until God blesses him. God seems pleased by his perseverance and pleading and indeed blesses him in the end.
I read an insightful explanation from Jon Bloom at desiringgod.org: “Take note of what God did when he wrestled Jacob. Jacob began the night dreading Esau’s arrival. He was full of fear and desperation. But he ended the night of struggle with God’s blessing and a renewed faith. All of our struggling with God in faith leads to peace.”
My friend John was able to give a name, a form, and a reason for my struggles, my storms, and my doubts: I have been wrestling with God too.
It is not pretty, tidy, or easy. It is hand-to-hand, up close and personal, and in your face uncomfortable. It has caused me to stay up all night and push through the day with aches and pains.
But it is okay. It is making me stronger. It is forcing me to hold on for that blessing. It is the arena where faith and life intersect.
And you, my friends, have had a front row seat to this match. Like I mentioned before, it is not easy for me to watch my son wrestle. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. But I have such great admiration and awe for each and every kid who bravely walks into the middle of that ring. I have sat in many arenas, stands, and fields watching my kids play baseball, football, basketball, and rugby, but none of them can quite compare to being alone against your opponent with nothing but your own body, will, and strength to get you through. As they like to say…There are no losers in wrestling, just winners and learners (author unknown).
Maybe you have been wrestling with God lately. And you are asking yourself why…
Why does it always have to be a struggle?
Why do I have to be out here on my own with everyone watching?
Why is God making me work so hard?
Why can’t He just bless me the way He does with others?
I have had these thoughts too. But maybe God has more blessing in store for us through the wrestling than without it. Does that make sense?
Remember, it was God who sought out Jacob and initiated contact. God pursued, God connected, and then God blessed. What did Jacob do? He engaged in the struggle, he did not give up, and he refused to let go until God blessed him.
I think we need to ask ourselves: What do we need from God right now? Where do we need to see His peace, provision, and protection? Who are we bringing before Him?
Are we willing to grapple, fight, wrangle, and contend for these things? Or do we just expect Him to give everything to us?
Maybe God is asking you to meet Him in the ring today. To come with your anxiety, doubt, fear, and anguish. To show up, engage, and fight until you sense His presence, hear His voice, or feel His peace.
I do not for a moment believe God is reluctant to bless us, but I do believe that there is much we can learn, own, and hold onto in the struggle.
I leave you with my friend John’s challenge to me:
“… AT THE CROSSROADS not only may look messy as if you are wrestling quite often…but maybe it should look messy as if you are wrestling quite often because that is where faith and life converge.”
Wrestling may never become one of my favorites, but I can appreciate the confidence, strength, character, and discipline it is developing in my son. I think I may also be starting to see that as I wrestle with my own issues regarding my faith and my life, God is trying to build these very same qualities in me. It may not always look pretty, but the blessing will be mine in the end.
Who knew that the crossroads could also be a wrestling ring? Thanks for showing me, John!