by Gill Newton.
One afternoon recently, as I was ironing, I watched a couple of quiz shows; it somehow helps the task along and makes the time pass more quickly! I was both surprised and intrigued to hear two very different contestants on the consecutive shows declare their love of wrestling when asked about their hobbies and interests! Both wanted to use any money won to fund a trip to the United States to watch professional wrestling. Personally I couldn’t think of anything I’d like to do less! But then I guess wrestling these days has moved on a little from my memories of the Saturday afternoon sport my Dad occasionally watched which involved the likes of Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy!
But whilst I may not be a big fan of wrestling as a sport, it did set me thinking about how much “wrestling” I do every day. Wrestling with an e-mail inbox that never seems to be empty and an ironing basket that provides the same dilemma. Wrestling with how to respond to the political developments both in our own land and across the pond. Wrestling with getting the right balance between work and family life. Wrestling with difficult decisions that need to be made within the District I serve or in our own family setting.
Inevitably, perhaps, my mind went to Jacob’s encounter with God (1). He was making a journey home to meet his brother Esau; a meeting that was undoubtedly going to be challenging given the manner in which they had parted some time before. He’d also just left behind him a recent falling-out with his father-in-law Laban (2) so, here he is, sandwiched between these two difficulties, and Jacob finds himself wrestling. With himself? With a man? With God? And why?
Well, there are no easy answers to those questions, but through the wrestling, Jacob somehow gained a deeper understanding of himself, and of God, and of course ultimately knew God’s blessing. But, the blessing wasn’t achieved at his first request. According to Gerhard von Rad, “this clutching at God and his power of blessing is perhaps the most elemental reaction of humanity to the divine.” (3) We long for the blessing and to find the place of rest, but we don’t necessarily want the struggle that often needs to come first.
The question that I am left with though is, how much of my/our wrestling is really with God? In this story of Jacob we can readily recognise our own struggles with fear, self-worth, loneliness and so on. Just as the apostle Paul before us, we are “harassed at every turn; conflicts on the outside, fears within.” (4) But, when I look at that list above, much of the wrestling is with the church, with my own conscience, thoughts and feelings, with my sense of priority, with those in authority or even with members of my family. So many of us wrestle with these things in the hope of arriving at a place of peace and rest when actually all we achieve is a brief respite before the bell rings for another round of the wrestling match!
However, wrestling with God may be a much more fruitful experience in terms of arriving at a deeper understanding of who we are in God, but it necessitates us facing up to and naming who and what we are. Jacob was invited to declare his name and of course, in his culture, the name was thought to bear something of the character of the person behind the name. So, for Jacob, it is in facing up to who he is that the wrestling comes to an end, and transformation takes place as he’s given a new name and the blessing is given.
Maybe individually we need to stop taking matters into our own hands as we wrestle with our feelings, our family or the church and maybe as a church we need to stop wrestling amongst ourselves and instead wrestle with God as we face up to who and what we are. That way we might just discover new things being revealed about who we truly are, find the “rest” that is at the heart of “wrestling” and know God’s blessing in the days ahead.
(1) Genesis 32
(2) Genesis 31
(3) von Rad, Gerhard (1972). Genesis. London: SCM Press Ltd
(4) 2 Corinthians 7 v 5