Gen. 22. 32-31
I once took my kids to try out a jiu-jitsu class. I didn’t know much about jiu-jitsu—I assumed we’d learn how to kick and punch like Hollywood actors. This will be fun. We all dressed up in white kimonos and waited for our instructor on the dojo. The instructor assigned us partners and demonstrated the lesson. Before you know it, we were all on the ground with our partners twisted up like pretzels. I locked eyes with my kids, their faces flush and speckled like watermelons. They all got in the car, a little battle-worn and shell-shocked, and said, “Mom, can we please never go back?” (The irony is that some of them are in jiu-jitsu now.)
I learned a lot about wrestling that day. Wrestling is intimate. It’s hard, strategic, tiring, and uncomfortable. It’s not for the faint of heart or the easily embarrassed. But I also learned something I’ll never forget. When the instructor walked around, examining our form, he said:
“95% of altercations end up on the ground. This is why we focus our efforts here. It’s in these situations that you need to know what to do.”
Do you know what to do when you end up on the ground in life? You wrestle with God.
If anyone from the Bible knows how to wrestle, it’s Jacob. The scrappy fella came out of the womb grappling with his twin brother, Esau. Jacob, known for his striving and deceitful tendencies, also possesses a good trait: tenacity. Jacob fell in love, and he fell hard. Rachel, Laban’s daughter, became the apple of Jacob’s eye. Jacob loved Rachel so much he agreed to serve Laban for seven years in exchange for her hand in marriage. Genesis 30:20 tells us, “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.”
It seemed that Jacob’s season of waiting went by in a flash; love made all those years of physical labor seem like a few days. But the night of the arrangement, Jacob wasn’t presented with Rachel; Laban gives Jacob the oldest sister, Leah. Laban tricks Jacob and tells him that he’ll have to serve him another seven years to receive Rachel. How would you feel if you got to the end of your season of waiting only to realize it doubled? Jacob spent fourteen years of his life toiling for the one he loved.
Jacob spent his life striving, but in Genesis 32, we see Jacob in a wrestling match with God that changed Him forever. For generations to come, the people of Israel don’t eat the thigh’s sinew on the hip socket because of Jacob’s encounter. Jacob’s wrestling match not only changed his name and his identity, but it changed history.
Of course, by now, I hope you know I’m not talking about physical wrestling. I’m talking about wrestling in prayer. This kind of wrestling doesn’t look like a rehearsed prayer or your Sunday best. This kind of wrestling in prayer happens when we get alone and honest with God, we ask Him tough questions, and we allow our season of waiting and confusion to move us into a more intimate relationship with Him.
It’s okay to grapple with God in prayer, to come to Him with every question, every doubt, every fear, and every pain. After all, our deepest relationships are the ones that have allowed us to move far beyond pretense. They see us in our unrefined and unresolved moments. Most often, we wrestle with God because His presence and His promises feel far away. But what if it’s the opposite? There is no such thing as long-distance wrestling.
Father, thank you that you make yourself known deeply through these seasons of wrestling and waiting. Please help me to press into you during this time. Change me, Lord. Let my hope reside in you. Help the truths I know move from my head to my heart as I wrestle with you in prayer. Amen.