Wrestling With God In The Dark
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel of the Lord from Genesis chapter 32:22-31. Jacob finds himself on the edge in more ways than one. It's the edge of night in the hours just before dawn. It's also the edge of a precipice Jacob had been avoiding for years.
The brother he betrayed years before is pursuing him--perhaps to kill him and take revenge. His family has gone on before him, and Jacob decides to stay behind and in the dark finds himself wrestling with a divine being. The wrestling match goes on all night until the morning when the angel demands that Jacob let him go.
"I am not letting go until you bless me," Jacob cries out. "I'm not letting go until you bless me." All of his life Jacob had felt like a fraud. He'd done underhanded things, betrayed family members, acted in his own self-interests, and somehow managed to amass a fortune in the process.
But all he wanted, in the end was God to bless him. And so he wrestled with God, so to speak, in what was a liminal moment in his life.
Liminal moments are the moments that are "in between" moments, the moments before the moment, some might call them. Liminal moments occur between light and darkness, between decision and indecision. Jacob was living in a liminal moment when he latched on to God and refused to let go.
Sometimes I feel like my prayer life is a lot like what Jacob experienced. I've discovered over time that when I am facing tough decisions or an uncertain future it can quickly feel as though I am wrestling with God in the dark, barely hanging on for dear life as I wait for the dawn to break.
In his excellent book, Honest to God, John Robinson writes about true, honest prayer not only as something that happens in liminal moments, but also as an act of proximity to God. He says, "But if I am honest, what enlightenment I have had on decisions has almost always come not when I have gone away and stood back from them, but precisely as I have wrestled through all the practical pros and cons..."
In other words, sometimes you have to just grab on to God and refuse to let go.
One of the seminal moments of my life came on a youth mission trip where I found myself lying face down on the floor of a small Pentecostal church praying for clarity and discernment. The vision I had in that moment was of myself as a small child, clinging to God's knees crying out, "I am not letting go until you bless me!" over and over again.
When peace broke over me, it crashed like a wave and left me lying there on the worn Sanctuary carpet exhausted and exhilarated. The pastor who was leading us on the mission trip that day put his hand on my shoulder and said to me, "I feel like God is telling me to tell you this: Just rest. Just rest now, you are blessed."
Rembrandt's depiction of Jacob Wrestling the Angel from 1659 is unlike any other depiction I have ever seen. He painted the angel essentially holding Jacob up, cradling him like a child. I love that depiction. It feels true to me.
May you find the strength to hold on to God in the act of wrestling through your liminal moments. May the struggle change you, transform you and lead you to peace that passes understanding. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.