There have been times when my hurt and grief overwhelmed me and turned my face away from God.
Times when sorrow turned my inmost thoughts to darkness and I “blamed God for it with fierce, hot breath and yet ached for his touch at the same time.”
We all wrestle with God at times, shoving against him in the darkness of our pain and doubt.
We wrestle like Jacob by the river. We wrestle, hurling our accusations while at the same time refusing to let go until he blesses us.
And isn’t this what most often happens? We fight against God without being able to let go of him.
I strike at him with my pain while being unable to rid myself of my anguished desire for his love.
He was the cause of my grief, the opponent, and the peace I craved all in one enigmatic, awful Beloved. I could no more walk away from his existence than I could walk away from my own desire for breath. ~ Sarah Clarkson in This Beautiful Truth
Do you know the story?
Jacob, deceiver, heir to God’s covenant promises, is heading home after twenty years in exile. Home to the land God promised him.
He sends his family and servants across the river Jabbok, but stays behind to spend the night on the shore alone. We don’t know why.
Suddenly, out of the darkness, a stranger leaps at Jacob and they fall to the ground, wrestling through the darkness. All night they struggle until just before dawn when Jacob realizes who it is that he has been grappling with.
God is the enemy whom Jacob fought there by the river, of course, and whom in one way or another we all of us fight — God, the beloved enemy. ~ Frederick Buechner in The Magnificent Defeat
In the realization that it is God who is wrestling with him, Jacob refuses to release his grip, just as he has refused to release his grip all night, but in his pleading for a blessing, his grip of violence becomes a grip of desperate need.
God is our beloved enemy because he promises us everything, but before he gives us everything, he demands of us everything. “Before giving us life, he demands our lives — our selves, our wills, our treasure …” Buechner
Will we give them, you and I? I do not know.
Only remember Jacob, limping home against the growing light of dawn, a shadow of one to come.
Remember Jesus of Nazareth, staggering on broken feet out of the tomb toward the Resurrection, bearing on his body the proud insignia of the defeat which is victory, the magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God. ~ Buechner
Art credits: Jacob Wrestling by Gustave Doré; Jacob Wrestles by Gerard Hoet; Jacob Wrestled by Charles Foster
I can spend two whole days in silence with God and still want to scream at my children the next day during school when they throw a tantrum over practicing the piano.
Loving others is hard.
This second greatest command is easy to say, yet ridiculously difficult to do.
It always seems to me that it should be easier than it is.
To be sure, loving a stranger might be difficult, giving of yourself to someone who habitually behaves horribly would be a challenge, but offering love to those dearest to you? It is a task that should be effortless.
It is not. It is a near impossibility to consistently love people day in and day out, no matter how much we adore them.
Why is this so difficult? Why is it so daunting a task to truly love another person?
I think it is because this kind of true other-love involves a death.
It involves a kind of death of our own self as we set aside ourselves, our desires and dreams, for the sake of the other.
No matter how hard we try, we resist this death: we fight back … We seek any convenient excuse to break off and give up the difficult task. ~ Thomas Merton in The Wisdom of the Desert
Just as our physical bodies fight to cling to life, our inner selves also repels any attempt at self-crucifixion.
Our only hope in this fight to obey this most necessary command is in surrender.
We cannot hope to succeed in the battle to die to self without the deliverance of the only One who has laid down his life of his own accord.
What is required as we learn to love is not a greater effort on our part to will our selves into obedience but a laying down of our works and a waiting on God.
We must become like Israel with the Red Sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s chariots coming up quickly behind them.
The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.
In the end, being able to love my children, the stranger we invite into our home, even the poorly behaved acquaintance, requires not that I try harder, screwing up my will in an attempt to force myself to behave in a loving way.
Being able to love others requires that I spend more time in silence with God, allowing him to change me into a person who can die to myself.
I must be silent and let God fight this battle for me.
Art credit: The Israelites Crossing the Red Sea by Juan de la Corte
Today I needed this post from several years ago. Maybe you need it too. Peace be upon you all.
It changes nothing. It changes everything.
How do you endure? When everything around you is falling apart, when all that you love on this earth fails you, how do you keep going?
It happens to all of us. At some point in our lives, whether early in life or late, we sit in stunned silence while our world crumbles.
What do we do? What do we do when we or one we love is living in the middle of unimaginable pain? What is it that keeps us going, that lets us persevere?
It changes nothing. It changes everything.
Hope doesn’t heal the sick or take away the pain. It doesn’t fill the stomach or bring your loved one back.
It changes nothing.
Hope gives you a glory-full vision of the end of your story. It gives you a glimpse of the beauty, the joy, the perfection that is promised.
It changes everything.
When you know the end of the story, when you know that Christ wins and that we will be with Him forever, it gives us the power to bear anything. Anything. When you can see the end of fear, the end of despair, the end of pain, when you can see the adventure, the rest, the wholeness that waits for you, you are sustained in the now because you know that this, too, shall pass.
So hope. Hope in what is promised. Hope in what God has promised through the power of the resurrected Christ.
For you who have just received that 3 a.m. phone call, you who walk dazed from your doctor’s office, you who saw your child drift away, you who wish desperately for a child, you who sit weeping in a corner, who think that you will always be alone and unloved, for all of you who live in darkness and doubt…
there is hope. Beautiful, glorious, resurrection hope. So breathe deep of this hope. Let it fill you up with peace and joy so that you are able to endure all things. For He who is our hope is coming.
It is promised. It shall be so.
Art credit: last photograph by R.K. Sewell Photography (photographybysewell.webs.com)