Wrestling with God
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” Genesis 32:28-32, NIV
Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you I’m not a “kid person.” I like my own OK (most of the time) and I adore the kids of most of my friends. But as a general rule, I’m not one who is thrilled to be seated on a plane with the mom on one side and the dad on the other side of me passing a screaming baby back and forth. (That really happened. I insisted — no, really, I don’t mind at all — that we trade seats so they could sit together. I’m fine with the aisle, I said with a smile. But I digress.)
Maybe I don’t think of myself as a kid person because I don’t usually know what to talk about with them. I’ve read that dads are usually the ones who roll around on the floor with the kids, but in my family it’s me. I don’t know why. But I’m more likely to be found swinging my friends’ kids around and being goofy than sitting and having a conversation. I blow raspberries on stomachs and turn in circles as I carry them and tickle their feet.
Because once there’s a connection in place, the walls are down. And the conversations come more easily.
I was talking with a friend the other day, saying that I felt far removed from God and church right now. And I didn’t know why or what to do about it.
I came home and sat down with my journal. And then, spontaneously, I picked up a book I started months ago but had decided not to finish. I opened it to the crumpled post-it note marking the page where I left off. Within minutes, I grabbed my pen and filled journal pages with quotes from the book. I underlined passages, drew stars in the margins. I had ideas. Questions. The book is, in some circles, slightly controversial — or, at the very least, not an easy one to grasp. After reading, writing, thinking, struggling — both to grasp elusive insights I could just barely start to discern and to decide whether I agreed or disagreed with this writer’s theology — I suddenly noticed that I felt God again.
As I lay in bed that night marveling at how quickly that had changed, I think an actual giant light bulb illuminated the space above my head. Followed by this awareness: Jacob wrestled with God.
Maybe that’s what I’m doing. I want to dive right in. All or nothing. I’d rather spill my guts in a conversation than discuss weather or sports. In the same way, I don’t know how to do superficial with God. And, sadly, that’s how it feels sometimes. I’m there. I’m being polite. But I’m not engaging. I’m not going deep. I’m holding Him at arm’s length so I don’t have to really give anything of myself.
But when I pick up a book, some kind of spiritual/self-help book (or a challenging blog on a controversial or inflammatory subject), the intensity of it forces me to engage. It’s not the same when it’s a fluff piece or even someone who parrots what everyone else says. It’s OK if it’s not easy to process or accept, if it’s a viewpoint or teaching that differs from one I’ve heard before (or that I currently hold). Usually those are the best ones. I may not always like what I read. Then again, I may change my thinking 180˚. But the one thing that will not happen is that I will remain lukewarm.
If I agree with the author, I will read the Bible and study and talk it through with my friends to be sure I’ve found the “right” answer. If I disagree, I will read the Bible and study and talk it through with my friends until I believe I’ve found the “right” answer. To be truthful, even though I try to keep an open mind, often my gut-level answer is the one I stick with. But before the wrestling is over, I will have found resources and information to support my stance and solidify it. Over time, my opinion may evolve or outright change. But the great thing about wrestling with spiritual concepts is that I always — always — end up closer to God in the end.
I think it’s because wrestling is how I relate. The mental/intellectual struggle gives me something tangible to hold onto. Facts, quotes, ideas. It allows me to delve deep into the emotion. And it bypasses the superficial. When I wrestle with a Biblical passage or concept, I find myself adopting the words of Jacob: “I won’t let go until you bless me.”
And you know what? He always does.
Please comment, because I’d love to know: What books, articles, or blogs challenge you, spurring you on to studying a topic for yourself?