Friday, May 23, 2014

Jacob the Wrestler

“I was alone, I’d just sent everyone on ahead of me.  It was still dark, and I saw a figure approaching.  Not knowing whether this was an enemy or foe, my heart started to race.

Then he raced at me.  Catching me off-guard, he tackled me around the middle and hurled me on my back.  Instantly I could tell he was wiry guy and might be tough, but he wasn’t a natural fighter.  I’d fought before. 

I kneed him in the leg. His body shifted and I bit down hard.  I’d felt the iron taste of blood. 

Ripping off my robe we fought for the next half-hour, no weapons to grab, just me and this stranger.  I knew I was stronger but he fought with resolve.  So did I. 

Then it happened, he touched my hip, and my whole body exploded in pain.”  
- Jacob

 [A fictional recounting of Jacob wrestling God in Genesis 32]                                                                                                               
I saw the sun-light through the shades.  They were flipped so I could see the ferns, maples and evergreens stretching into the marsh.  I wake many mornings to this stunning sight, living in west Orlando.

The light pulled at me, reminding me of God’s touch, his love and creativity in and over the world outside. 

I rolled over.  I wanted inside.  My heart felt like lead in my chest.  My fears were too much today.  Too much for me to get out of bed and face. 

Now 37 and a writer with Cru, I’ve wrestled with anxiety and depression most of my life.  It’s made me extremely aware of my limitations and given me an intense desire to run from fears in my past and to control fears in my future.

Much like Jacob in the early morning dusk, I lay awake and wrestle with God. 

My go-to crutches for life are competency, praise and respect.  Fears subside if I know that people like me, like my writing, if my wife calls me a good husband and father, if I’m pleased with an accomplishment – you get the picture.  So most of the time, without even knowing it consciously, I want my life ordered by me.

This morning, it’s not working.  Why God?

Why am I alone and shaking under the covers?   Why can’t I get up and face my day?  Why is my heart so filled with dread.  I’m so afraid.  I am a coward.

Just before wrestling the stranger Jacob sent his children, wives and cattle and on infront of him to meet his brother Esau.  On the coward front, Jacob wins.

Jacob’s life was one of wrestling with God.  Always grasping his way.  Seeking his own good.  But God was going to bless him.

On days I get really depressed and stay in bed because I’m too tired, to anxious and too fearful to face what the day may bring, I too wrestle.  It’s painful.  I feel like a total loser.  I hate God.  Why has he made me this way?  Why am I so enslaved by my fears?

As I twist in the sheets, cursing God and wanting to die, God sees me.  He sees his very own child, his little wrestler.

But time passes and I’m better.  I go to work and I feel competent, happy and even whole.  But thoughts linger:  thoughts of why do I plummet so quick and fast into depression?  How come I am still trying so hard, working so hard, playing so hard?  I don’t want to rest, to stop.  If I do, I’m afraid I’ll slide again.

Jacob realized he’d been wrestling with God as soon as the stranger touched his hip.  Who lays their hand and seperates a hip?  It’s a medical fact today that the hip is the most difficult joint in the body to separate.   Almost impossible to dislocate in the Ancient Near Eastern world Jacob would have been writing in sheer misery, but he heald on.  Perhaps white-knuckling this man who he now knew was God.

God hasn’t allowed me to struggle with anxiety and depression, he has made me struggle with anxiety and depression.  While he’s a suffering God, and hurts with me, he is a big God who knows that to drive me towards his blessing, his comfort, His life of real life, the pain and wrestling is exactly what I need.

I don’t know.   There are inexplicable things about evil and pain and the world around me everyday.  We choose to battle God.  Fists clinched and raised we scream at this so-called King who allows a world break down around us.

But in our screaming, or at least in mine, and my own even small (compared to many) pain, God meets, God blesses.

“Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Did God just bless Jacob?  Why?  He hated God.  His name meant deceiver.  His whole life up to this with God was riddled with lies, inconsistencies and the absolute self-reliance.  God knew that Jacob needed to win.

Jacob and I need to win, in order to lose and win again.  I know that sounds super-confusing. 

But this God Jacob wrestled with is the same God that Jacob’s descendants would help put on the cross, thereby winning.  This God is the same God who I helped crucify, my sins holding him to that cross.  God lost profoundly for Jacob and God loses profoundly for me.

Sometimes when I recognize in my day to day that God’s grace is fuller, more powerful and kinder than anything I’ve every known, and that that grace is no-where more clear than the God who lost at the cross, my desires to control may fade.  Usually not. 

Usually it takes deep emotional, physical or psychological pain, like Jacob’s ripped socket, for me to cling to my God.  Yet does this make God capricious?  A cruel God who inflicts pain?

No, he knows just how much pain I need, not only for me to receive God-life and intimacy but for me to live courageously.  He knows like a father wrestling with his child, that he can show his love best by losing.  And that in laying down and tickling and playing and laughing and grunting, and perhaps growning when the child kicks his gut, he’s laying a foundation.  So when the father tells his child “No!”  His desire is not to inflict suffering, his desire is to protect, foster intimacy and grow his child.  He wants his child to flourish, to taste the fullest life.  He stops his child so he can live.  So the child can hear his “Yes!” and rejoice.

This does not minimize our suffering.  In fact it gives it a deeper meaning.  And it’s only half the truth.  The other half is we have a God who suffers with us as we suffer. 

Like with Jacob the deceiver, God wanted to give him a new name.  With Philip the controller, the people pleaser and the fearful one, God wants to give me a new name.  What will it be?  I know it will be good, and I’m finding out.