The story of Jacob meeting God in the middle of the night and then wrestling with him until dawn has come to mean something to me.
I’m sure some proper theologians would raise an eyebrow at me because I’m not sure that my context fits the context of the story. If I’m honest, I don’t really understand the context of that story. It’s a sort of odd pause right in the middle of all this build-up leading Jacob to confront his past—the brother he cheated not once, but twice; the brother who had, like Jacob, become a sort of nation unto himself with an army that Jacob’s scouts had just seen heading his direction.
Jacob’s resilience in the wrestling match is remarkable, so much so that God finally gives up trying to keep the fight fair and touches Jacob’s hip. It is torn out of it socket, and Jacob doesn’t yet realize that he was fighting with God, who then blesses Jacob with a new name. Jacob is filled with awe and names the place “…Penuel, for he said ‘I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.'”
And then he walked away with a limp.
What I’m saying is that I feel that way, that I have seen the face of God, wrestled with him for many hours, but now I have a limp. I’m not sure if everyone who has grieved would feel that way, but I’m not sure how else to describe it. I’m grateful to have been with God, to have heard his voice, to feel him so close, but everyday I feel the anxiety of loss, the wondering if he’ll let death rob me again. It is my deepest fear. Deeper than any fear of my own death or physical pain.
It’s a paradox, and I wouldn’t believe it if someone else was saying they felt this way, that they somehow fear God but also trust him more than anything else. But it’s not unfamiliar to us. Job felt this way, so frustrated with God’s seeming injustice, but then also overwhelmed and silenced when God finally spoke and said,
“Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty. Unleash the fury of your wrath, look at all who are proud and bring them low, look at all who are proud and humble them, crush the wicked where they stand. Bury them all in the dust together; shroud their faces in the grave. Then I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you."
Jesus was there, too, on his knees in Gethsemane knowing the wrath that was about to be poured out on him, weeping tears of blood. But he trusted God with his whole heart. “Not my will, but yours be done.”
I’m not saying I’m Job or Jesus, I’m just saying that the paradox is there. We can see it. And if you have a limp too, it’s okay. You’re not a doubter or anything like that. You’re alive. You’ve walked on. Sometimes God chooses to heal people so completely it’s as if the wound was never there. And sometimes he lets things heal on their own, scars, limps, and all. And he is no stranger to that, either, carrying his own scars for us to see.
Very recently I’ve come to realize that I can’t control the pain. If God chooses to let something like this happen again, then there’s nothing I can do about it, and to sit here and be afraid of that pain that does not yet exist (or may never exist) isn’t doing anything for me. That doesn’t mean that anytime my wife is out running errands and she calls my phone that I don’t wonder if it’s actually her on the other end or if it’s a police officer calling with the worst news all over again. A limp is a limp. I guess I’ve just made my peace with it, now. And my peace with God. I think Paul called it “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
And that’s been the struggle of it, the final one—learning how to hold on to joy.
I’ve had a complicated relationship with joy for the past few years. My life is filled with good things: a beautiful family, a great job, a nice home. But I’ve always been waiting for the other shoe to drop, wondering where’s the catch? And that wondering had spoiled my joy.
I was with my kids a few weeks ago at the park a few blocks from my house, a park with a big open field, and we used it to fly five dollar Target kites. Kite flying is one of the simple delights left to us—it requires no electricity, doesn’t need an app, there’s no subscription. Just wind and a child’s grip. And there in the park with my kids, joy found me. It would be better to say that the Holy Spirit found me, and Its raiment was joy. And I felt the delight of it, watching my kids delight and wonder at the pull of simple fabric stretched over the ever-present Kansas wind. Just joy.
And I was reminded that joy is everywhere; it grows like a weed. All you have to do it just look around and pick some. God didn’t leave us to parched earth when he spoke that long and terrible curse and drove us out of Eden. John Mark McMillan wrote “There’s a cup of joy for every taste of sorrow,” and it’s wonderfully true. It doesn’t always feel that way, but it’s true nonetheless.
Ashley was a mother and a daughter and my friend. Her life was bursting with potential and she was often joyful, more so than I was. I’m grateful for that. Jesus will return and we will say death where is your sting? Grave, where is your victory? Not yet, but soon.
He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.