Many friends from within our group as well as outside our community have been in seasons with great challenges. The days are painful and the restless nights filled with every negative thought imaginable. I’ve been there, and when I’m trapped in my own head I want to scream out how I feel so forgotten and so forsaken. That feels like the truth in the moment. Any time I’m there I can’t hear the encouragement from others, and I certainly am not in a position to hear that my thinking isn’t right. But in the midst of a struggle, in the heart of a storm it feels like God Himself is conspiring against me. I question His love for me, I question whether He knows how much I love Him and I question whether or not He hears my prayers. I feel like a poor excuse for a Christian in those moments, as though it’s the biggest sin imaginable to question God’s plans for me. Yet, I’m not alone. Not just in this day and age either.
Genesis 32: 24-28 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. 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.”
Some interpretations have it that Jacob wrestled with an Angel, others that it is God Himself. Either way, with difficulties ahead Jacob wasn’t able to sleep and literally wrestled through the night. I can imagine the mental baggage he was carrying with him. He twice took his older brother’s birth-right and fled his homeland. He then settled into a life with a relative who used a measure of deceit to get Jacob to marry his two daughters, one of whom created a great deal of bitterness in his days. He was then found out to be creating a bit more wealth for himself than he was due and was about to be killed when God told him to go back home. I imagine it was truly the lesser of two evils. Head back to a brother that *might* be won over by gifts or might decide to kill him, or stay with a family that might also decide to kill him. He placed his faith in God and made the trip back, but not without his epic version of Wrestle-Mania. Jacob’s struggle showed a great deal of persistence on his part. To seek out God’s blessing in person, and to not give up when it would have felt so much easier to do so. The result was his brother welcoming him home, open arms. I can’t imagine the relief and joy he must have felt. I can learn a lot from him. Because the truth is when I’m wrestling with God, many times I want to give up and persistence isn’t always a thought I have.
The difficult seasons make me think, what’s wrong with me? Is it my fault? Why is this happening to me? Why would God do this? When times are rough or if things are even just a bit uncomfortable, all I want to do is bury my head in the sand. These are the times when I see God is testing my faith and cheering me on towards Him. God doesn’t want me to give up during these times. He wants me to fight through the pain, fear and difficulties. He wants me to be seeking Him through it all, which often-times means struggling to understand Him better and fighting the temptation to give up. Cling to something richer, cling to something good and something true.
Jeremiah 29: 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
In times of hardship, failure, grief, and pain, or maybe more so in the aftermath, we’re encouraged time and again to persevere, and to fight through it with God. And in so doing, to grow and mature. It even tells us to be joyful in hardship.
James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
As I look back at those nights when I toss and turn, when I’m wrestling against myself, the world or God I’m always better for it in the morning that follows. I’m stronger because I don’t give in to the committee in my head that promises me I can get some sleep by taking the easy way out. There are always easier ways out, but I pray we all choose the path of perseverance. It’s not the easiest for sure, but to make it through and see how far you’ve come is perhaps the sweetest of victories God gives us.
I’m reminded of the last time I tested in karate to move up a belt. In the first fight of 8, another student landed heel first on my foot. The pain was brutal and I had trouble putting weight on it. I was given the opportunity to stop and continue in a few months, but I prayed and was given the strength to fight through and earn my yellow-belt. The relief was immeasurable, as was the joy I felt (through the pain). I actually saw something through I had worked hard for. If I hadn’t persevered, I would never have earned my yellow-belt. That’s not me being dramatic, it’s me being realistic that I don’t bounce back as quickly as I used to. So now that yellow-belt stands as a reminder that I have it in me, and I can lean into the discomfort because God is with me, and for me.
Grace, peace and love