In the morning, Jacob will cross the Jabbok River into the Promised Land and face his estranged and violent brother Esau who may destroy him completely. All of Jacob’s family and wealth have already begun the journey. Jacob sits alone and waits in the dark.
God held astounding plans for Jacob, plans far too great for a man like Jacob who cheated people as a matter of character. How incredibly tempting is must have been for Jacob to think he had misunderstood God’s word – that he has the short end of the bargain this time. Jacob lay in the dark knowing God, knowing God’s promises, praying, but not knowing God’s plan.
Can you imagine the bone crushing doubt that kept company with Jacob that night? Do you ever feel the soul rending tension between God’s glorious promises and the olive press of your circumstances? Do you wait alone, naked of all conventional security, and in the dark?
In the middle of the excruciating waiting, a fight breaks out. Jacob wrestles with God – all night long. Nothing God does can sway Jacob. Nothing defeats Jacobs’s will. Jacob will not submit. Ultimately, God’s victory requires divine intervention and leaves Jacob crippled by God’s touch. But still, Jacob clings to his will and stays engaged: “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”(Genesis 32:26 NRSV)
I don’t know about you, but I often wrestle with God, in the dark, and for huge stakes. Those battles seem to last forever. They hurt, sometimes horribly. Sometimes, like Jacob, I hang on even after I am thoroughly beaten and insist on my blessing. If this is where you are, “…take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” (Hebrews 12:12–13 NLT-SE) Know that your struggle will bless you as well as the cloud of witnesses cheering you on and those who look to your example to cast light on their own path.
Also, please know that trust, simple submission to God’s will, also leads directly to peace and joy.
On the first day of the New Year, with the subtle awareness that it was time for me to stop running from my own brokenness prowling around in my sub-conscious, I dove into a long stretch of PJ wearing idleness – watching Netflix, playing cards, and tracking football on espn.com with my family. Anxiety crept in. The uncertainties of the New Year gathered around. Potential problems grew into happiness robbing fears. I did not want to think about all that uncontrollable uncertainty tinted with the sick gleam of my past failures. I wanted to get off the couch and get busy. I wanted to work on something, anything instead. But I did not. Knowing that Jesus promises peace in the middle of the storm I stayed where I was and let my desperate vulnerability break over me in waves. I mourned the end of the holiday season, worried about work, and suffered with my anxiety.
This was uncomfortable but not all consuming. I had enough attention left to notice that my alma mater, Wisconsin, was also suffering – slowly losing the Capitol One Bowl to South Carolina. I found myself defensively setting each negative play against the greater perspective of the game and the history of the football program. “All is not forsaken (I got a little dramatic). We’ve won Rose Bowls in the past and we will again. Hang on to our glorious history and hope for the future. Keep fighting the good fight Wisconsin!” Then, as I was about to break into a rousing rendition of Varsity, it hit me.
My stewardship (all that productivity I throw myself into and the failure I fear) matters. God chooses to work through people, and my faith must manifest in loving acts of humble service. My sanctification requires it, and God stands ready to use my life’s testimony to invite others. But. But, the greatest possible victory has already been won. I am immersed in the pleasure and privilege of playing a vital role on the winning team. The pressure is off. My participation is critical, but God knows I’m going to screw up and it’s cool. The plan accounts for my selfishness, stubbornness, and astounding desire for control. In fact, all that human messed up stuff is part the victorious game plan. I don’t need to run from it. I need to embrace it and trust God with it.
Poooooof (or maybe it was more like woooosh), anxiety lost its power. The waves stopped pounding, the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. Now the New Year looked challenging and bright. I realized that I could bust my butt, fail, succeed, and find peace all at the same time. His burden is in fact a real burden and the yoke is in fact light.