In high school, two of my buddies, Vince and Eric wrestled for our school team. The first time I watched them compete I was grossed out (the lycra, the sweat, the sounds, oh my!) and awed at the same time.
These days, my favorite wrestler is my tough nephew Ryan, he leaves it all on the mat.
This sport oozes strength, courage, and intensity.
Guess what? I wrestle too. Oh, not the team-lycra kind, my matches are spiritual. And you? I bet you are a wrestler too.
The champion God-wrestlers I know cleave to a deep, daring faith. These are the ones who have grappled with God after the loss of a child, or who overcame addiction or abuse. They experienced betrayal, trauma and much more. Some held their fist to God and cursed Him. Others scorned or blamed Him. Yet eventually, they all wrestled, and He blessed them for it.
I shared dinner with one of these champions the other night. We always exit our time together with red eyes and mascara on our cheeks. She and her kids’ story is a made-for-TV-movie kind of saga. We spoke of going to the mat with God. I said, “The anguish over my boys is where my deepest wrestling happens. Seeing them get their hearts smashed leaves me broken and questioning.” She agreed, she and her children are shattered by their nightmare. We cried in our soup.
There is a strange passage of scripture found in Genesis 32:22-32, where a man named Jacob wrestled with God (some say an angel of God). You may know the story, even so, I urge you to read it.
Jacob was a cunning and impetuous dude. His life, a never-ending struggle in one way or another. We find Jacob in a place called Penial, exhausted and at the end of himself, drowning in pain and fear.
This entire section of scripture draws me in. But it is the last part of verse 29 that grips me.
Genesis 32:29 The Voice (VOICE)
Jacob: Please, tell me your name.
Man: Why do you ask what my name is?
Right then and right there the man blessed Jacob.
These two spent the entire night on the mat tussling it out.
Then, when night became day and they observed one another face to face, God blessed Jacob right then and right there. After this, in Genesis 33, God provides for Jacob as he meets his brother, Esau. But let’s stay in Penial, on the heated dust. Here, where God transformatively blessed Jacob by changing his name from Jacob, which means:” heel-grabber”, “supplanter”, and “deceiver”, to Israel, which means “one who struggles with God”, and “Prince of God”. The Lord informs Jacob of the purpose of His new name: “Because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” (Gen. 32:28)
Have you struggled with God and humans? Like Jacob, do you ache from the consequences of bad choices? Are you at the end of yourself? Do you question God in your own place of Penial?
My conflicts and questions do not look like yours. Our paths are fraught with different sorrows and joys. However, we all endure trouble of some kind. Most of us go to the mat with God.
Just this week, I grappled. A series of raw moments and interactions brought me to Peniel. I realize that my God-wrestling usually leads me to (here’s that word again- my word of the year) surrender. As I battle, my heart sobs, I will not let go. As God holds my tender soul, I question, why, God? How, God? He reassures me and whispers, do not give up, my child. Then, as the sun rises, I lay my burden down with weary trust. It is here where surrender leads to blessing.
This wrestling changes our lives…
- with the release of trust, comes peace
- it prepares us for future service to and adventures with God
- it deepens our faith and intimacy with the Lord
- and builds God-power within us
Even without the singlets and macho grunts, we wrestle. I believe in us, this team of Christ-followers, who engage with our Savior. We question. We battle. We surrender. We overcome.
My friend, hold fast in your Penial soil until the sunrise appears and the blessing arrives.