The Beautiful Smackdown

Spent. Aching. Frustrated. Salty tears mix with the torrent of sweat flowing down my face. I must will myself to get up, limp into the corner of the ring and prepare for the next round. My body cries out, reminding me it is due time to concede. But my soul can’t stomach the thought of letting another victory slip away. Mentally paralyzed, clueless about what move to make next, my bag of tricks is empty. I’ve exhausted all known strategies yet continue to find myself laid out flat. Pinned on the ground, staring directly up into the compassionate face of my challenger, I silently contemplate how I’ve ended up in a crumpled heap once again.

In the longstanding tradition of Jacob, I wrestle with God.

At times, the account of Jacob grappling with God seems downright bizarre. As Jacob plodded along to Canaan, he was likely frazzled at the prospect of reuniting with his estranged brother Esau, whom he cheated out of their father’s blessing. Perhaps his mind was churning with doubt and fear. Has he forgiven me? How will I face him? Maybe I shouldn’t go. I can’t do this … Slicing through the tension of this mental tug-o-war was God, masquerading as a stranger, who thought it appropriate to engage Jacob in a little spontaneous ground fighting. Apparently not stunned by this peculiar interruption, Jacob welcomed the stress-relieving diversion and actually proved to be a skilled wrestler. He had previously outwitted both Esau and his uncle Laban. Clearly he could contend with this fellow, too.

God must have allowed Jacob to show off quite a sampling of winning moves. After all, they struggled until daybreak and Jacob appeared to have the upper hand. But God finally went for the knockout and took the never-fail-hip-socket-displacement approach. If the pain wasn’t enough, Jacob heard God’s unbelievable challenge to let go. Concede? Feisty Jacob refused, even daring to counter the Creator of the universe with a demand of his own.

Time and again God allows me to flaunt a few successful moves, too. Quite often we struggle until daybreak. And it’s easy to stubbornly assume I’ve got the upper hand, as if I know what’s best. Yet repeatedly I find myself limping out of the ring, thanks to another crippling version of that blasted hip socket thing. Through the pain I hear God challenging me to let go. Of my plans. Of my frets, my misconceptions and my will. Purely, to let go of myself. Concede? I’m feisty and usually refuse, even daring to counter the Creator with demands of my own.

Yes, like Jacob, I’m a fighter. But what sets us apart never ceases to humble me: Jacob did not obstinately struggle for dominance or control like I so often find myself doing. Through the lengthy scuffle Jacob was merely clinging to his Maker and holding out for a blessing; God’s best. I’m not letting go ‘til you bless me (Genesis 32:26, MSG). He didn’t qualify his appeal. He didn’t direct God regarding how he wanted to be blessed. Confidently leaving the essence of the request in someone else’s hands, Jacob looked square into the face of God and said, “Bless me.

I’m no longer surprised when God interrupts my journey and we engage in a few rounds of spiritual sparring. He continues to use the most tried and true tactics to lay me out flat. He challenges me to let go of what I think I’m struggling for, which in reality is a whole lot less of me and increasingly much more of Him. What remains to be seen is whether I will concede and thus abandon His presence so casually. The more I struggle with Him, the more I learn to let go of myself. Through the tears, I confidently choose to take my eyes off of me and train them on my Savior instead. I tighten my grip, cling to Him with what little strength remains and haltingly confess: I’m not … letting go … ‘til … you bless … me.

Until I bless you? God murmurs. And the still, small voice reminds me that by grace “every spiritual blessing in Christ” dwells within me (Ephesians 1:3, NIV). Right now. So what else do I expect to receive when I already have everything?

“God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left” (Lamentations 3:22-24, MSG).

As if a single measure wasn’t enough, He faithfully imparts a fresh portion of His loyal, merciful love every morning. Still, in my humanity it has to be made painfully obvious before I’m aware of it, though it’s becoming clearer (and less painful) as my eyes remain focused on the right person.

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In time my palms may get sweaty and my grip will loosen again. I’m bound to find myself in another crumpled heap, staring with desperation into the eyes of my Savior. However, I will stick with God (I say it over and over) for He’s all I’ve got left. And those once faltering words of condition gracefully morph into a simple whispered promise: I’m not letting go.

[Amy Wesner is on the road to discovering what it really means to abide in Christ. And she frequently pauses along the way to rest in the grace of the unchanging One.]

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