This is not a physical limp. Though at times my heart is smashed so much I am physically ill. This is a limp that says “I’ve wrestled with God and did not let go…and won.”
Jacob is my favorite Bible character. Yes, he’s a lot of a swarmy character. From his birth he was known as a heelgrabber (Genesis 25:26) and he continued to be a hustler as he grew up. Jacob would have fit in very well in New York City. I married a New Yorker and he clearly thinks differently than I do. I’m not a fan of the integrity of such a mindset (though I am a fan of my husband–the contradiction befuddles me). Yet I’m drawn to the realness of Jacob.
I’m drawn to Jacob mostly because of this one story recorded for us in Genesis 32:22-28. “This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ ‘What is your name?’ the man asked. He replied, ‘Jacob.’ ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob,’ the man told him. ‘From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.'”
Jacob wrestled with God. Who would dare! Some of us would wrestle with all our might but when we realized it was God we would say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was you. Oh, let me clean you off. I shouldn’t have done this.”
But not Jacob. He wrestled all night long. He never relented. Even after his hip was put out of joint. And when he found out it was God he didn’t apologize. He didn’t try to clean God off and fix things. He said, “I will not let go until you bless me.”
I will not let go until you bless me. Do you wrestle with God like that?
Or do you keep your faith safe?
I don’t know why but I’ve been wrestling with God like this since early in my faith. I have had many tenacious prayers from my gut saying (screaming) “I will not let go.” That probably explains my tenaciousness of being in the ministry—and youth ministry of all things—for nearly 40 years. So many people, men in particular, who I went to school with didn’t make it in the ministry, said I wouldn’t.
Yet here I am still standing—with a limp.
I limp from the reality that prison is a part of my life. I now have two sons in prison (jail and prison are very different). Of course, these sons were optional. I didn’t have to keep them. But how could I not? They are awesome. They are the best part of me. (My other two non-prison sons are awesome too.) I will not let go. God gave me these sons. I will not let go.
There are more painful limping stories to share but they are not my stories to share here. Pain and joy are a part of my life. If I numb my pain, my joy gets numbed too. I choose to wrestle and hold on to the blessing. There is nothing safe about this.
Another Jacob thing. Because Jacob was that hustler, he already had the blessing. Even if it was ill-gotten. Here in this story was his opportunity to know that he had the blessing. He would get dirty with God until he knew. He would hang on with all that he had to know.
Do you also realize that Jacob was winning? The limp came because his hip was put out of its socket because he was winning. Do you ever feel like in your relationship with God that you are winning? A safe faith does not have that feeling. A safe faith says “I know you are omnipotent so I will feel helpless while I wait on you.” You may choose to wait on God like this. Not I. The pain is real. I have to know. So my joy is real too.
The experience changed Jacob. Every time Jacob limped from that time on, he knew he had the blessing. His life was changed more than his name. I know this to be true.
Can you wrestle with God like that?
Your first thoughts may be that wrestling would be a human way to manipulate God into the blessing. This is where the apology would come. “I’m so sorry I’m showing so little faith. I’ll be quiet and believe for the day to come.” God desires to walk in the cool of the day with us. To have a relationship with us. I believe God welcomes the wrestling.
It is relationship. “Let Me tell you that you are blessed.”
“May you never walk the same again.”
“Let this time with Me be one that you never forget.”
Those rare times that we take God on become the most memorable. Not free from pain but we know the blessing. And walk with a limp.
I will not let go.
The now deceased Dr. Paul Brand wrote and taught much on this “gift of pain” and the wonderment of the human body. He wrote this about limping:
A limp amplifies the body’s response to pain. Out of orthopedic habit, I tend to stare impolitely at people who limp. What they may view as an embarrassing malfunction, I view as a wonderful adaptation. A limper’s body is compensating for damage to one leg by redirecting weight and pressure to the other, healthy leg. Sadly, leprosy patients do not limp, and their injured legs never get the rest needed for healing. –Dr. Paul Brand, Fearfully and Wonderfully, p. 179
I walk with a limp. It is a wonderful adaptation. I am getting the needed rest. What? Wonderful.
(Artwork by Alexander Louis Leloir)