March 13, 2014

It’s Thursday and I’m sitting at the Wild Goose Meeting House and pretending I am in Portland while drinking a pour over coffee. It’s pretty easy to get the North Pacific vibe here with the exposed soffits and built in rugged bookshelves. As I listen to the chatter around me, I am keenly aware of the many colors of exhaustion that cling to me at the moment. Soul-weary, soul-worn. It’s been that sort of season these last few weeks.

Trying to find words for the thoughts and conversations that have been happening in my heart is difficult. Sometimes there aren’t many words at all. Sometimes there’s only… this… this internal racket that doesn’t have language, only groans and quiet and questions that the Spirit speaks.

I’ve thought a lot about Jacob from scripture lately. About his misdirected love. About how he learned misdirected love from his parents and continued in that same vein for so long, so very long. To the point that he was forced to race away, far away in order to keep safe from his brother’s wrath. He had so grievously violated the love of neighbor, especially the neighbor closest to him- who had shared a womb and a family, and yet he had betrayed, cut bonds with swift and brutal intention. And cut the cord and ran.

I am sometimes amazed when I read that God blesses him. On the run. Lying, stealing, cheating…. blessing? Yes… it’s in there. And this is the one foretold to parent the line of Jesus.

But it was only going to last so long. Not the blessing part, but the running part. Eventually everyone has to return home, return to face the demons of the past. And it is not different for Jacob. This man who has tricked his way through life, gotten his way but lost his soul, is prepared to return to his brother. His parents are gone. His family has grown. He sends his kids ahead of him. His servants, his possessions. He spent that final day commanding the last leg of the journey, in control of his stuff, and in the light of day, able to avoid the looming encounter with God. Because after all, when our love of neighbor is misdirected, it directly affects our love of God. Jesus makes that clear. 

But night is different than day. At night the wild things come. The terrors of the dark. The solitude that forces introspection. And for Jacob, perhaps, the eerie memories of those left in his wake, wounded and aching and at loss. In the dark restlessness of the dark, Jacob no longer controls his world as he is grabbed by a stranger.

And they wrestle. Wrestle hard. Wrestle long. Out of control in the dirt and the mud and the cold and the darkness. Because sometimes our encounters with a God who wants to reorient our love is just that. Wrestling, muddy, hard, tired wrestling.

But it happens. And it is good. We must learn to be careful with people who are wrestling God. Careful to not get in the way. Those who are wrestling their doubts and fears and failures and identities, who need that space to throw down in the hands of God willing to get close enough to grapple, to breathe heavy on our necks. That’s important space. We must learn to get out of the way.

Because in that wrestling Jacob is reborn, remade and changed and different and reoriented back to the love of God and neighbor, properly created and woven and raveled. He is made new- his name even changed. Because those times of wrestling change us. Completely, directly, hopefully.

And they are exhausting and that’s how I feel tonight. It is good wrestling. It exposes the places in me that still need to be shaped and formed and made new. It allows me to be close to God, arm to arm, nose to nose. It brings up the questions and fears and wonders and complaints that sometimes I am prone to stuff down and ignore. It is God’s way of reaching into the places we are so quick to shove aside as if to say, “No, that place in you needs to belong to me too.” And it’s God’s way of drawing us closer to him so that we learn what he feels like, what he is like. And it’s God’s way of making new. Of reorienting our love. So we learn to love him and neighbor in fresh ways.

If anything, Jacob’s story teaches me that God is not scared of us. And I think that’s refreshing, because we can be scary people. Very scary people. We can even scare ourselves with the stuff that goes on inside our heads and hearts. We have this stuff… this scary stuff in us. Some of us know it; some of us don’t… yet. But in the daytime, we control it. We busy ourselves with the tasks in our lives to avoid the glaring realities of our pain and loss and brokenness and rage. And yet there is always a nighttime… a reckoning- not for judgement and devastation, but for restoration and reconciliation. For growth and change. For life.

So my exhausted state caused my doubts and angers and jealousies and hopelessness isn’t so scary to the Lord that he wouldn’t come, sneaking up in the dark of night when I am vulnerable and not so in control. In fact, those who are willing to wrestle all night are the ones God delights to grapple with. But when we wrestle all night long with the things that cause us to face our disoriented loves, hold on tight. Like Jacob, hold on tight to the mysterious wrestler. Not simply because you can, but because in the holding on, in the unwillingness to let go, God delights enough to bless. To rename. To make new.

And we must want nothing less.

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