This morning, during Lectio Divina, I find myself in a wrestling match. The verses are from Genesis—the story of Jacob wrestling with an angel on the fork of the Jabbok as he prepares to return to his homeland—to the brother he had cheated out of their father’s blessing many years before.
To give you the context of the story: Jacob is extremely anxious about the confrontation with his brother, Esau. Will Esau accept Jacob? Forgive him? Or will Esau attack Jacob and his entourage? Jacob divides into two camps his clan and the flocks of sheep, goats, cows and camels he’s brought as gift. He sends them on ahead as two separate groups, hoping the gifts will appease his brother. If his brother attacks, at least he will have something left. Alone for the last night of his long and arduous journey, Jacob tries to sleep.
“…and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and Jacob’s thigh was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Tell me, I pray, your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his thigh. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the sinew of the hip which is upon the hollow of the thigh, because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh on the sinew of the hip.” (Gen 32: 24-32).
The verse that grabs me and will not let me go is this: “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” This is what I’d like to say to God! And so, I take the words with me into meditation, repeating them as a mantra. “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”
Usually, it takes me 15-20 minutes to reach a place within myself that is quiet enough to hear the still, small voice of God. Often, that voice is just a feeling, or a distant, lovely melody. Today, it is instantaneous. God reaches through my monkey-mind, the chatter of cicadas, and the cat twining himself around my legs. God grabs me by the shoulders and he gently shakes me, as a father gets the attention of a child who is not listening. “Look at me. I’m talking to you. Listen to what I’m saying.”
This is what I hear:
Kathy, you have been wrestling with me for 33 years. You wrestled with me after your father died, all those long months and years of your grief. You wrestled with me as you learned to mother your sons. Remember how inadequate you felt? You began wrestling with me in earnest when Joel was only a few days old. You wrestled with me through the jaundice, the decision to begin physical and speech therapy, and the decision to enroll him in a preschool for children with disabilities. We wrestled through his diagnosis of moderate mental retardation at age three, and again at age five. We wrestled through the diagnosis of autism at age twelve.
“We wrestled through all of those stressful IEP meetings, through the decision to take him out of public school and enroll him in the county school. We wrestled through all of the behaviors—the times you locked yourself in the bathroom to keep safe from his hands, stood outside of the car on the side of the road as he kicked the windows, and as he pulled strangers’ hair. We wrestled as you and Wally took turns staying up all night when he couldn’t sleep. You wrestled with me when your love for him was so great you felt it would burst, when he worshipped me with abandon, giving joy to all who watched. We wrestled as you found the courage to try the DAN protocol, and as we watched him find success at Beckman.
“We wrestled as you and Wally made the difficult decision to move Joel from your home to Safe Haven Farms. We’re still wrestling through a difficult transition. We’ve wrestled through doctor visit after doctor visit, hospitalization after hospitalization. We’ve wrestled through this newest transition to the Liberty Center. You’ve wrestled with me through your other sons’ issues, difficulties in your marriage, and through your mother’s decline into the confusion of dementia.
“Do you see a pattern here, Kathy? You’ve never let me go. You’ve held on tight. You’ve never once let go. Even when I touched your hip and the pain made walking difficult, you did not let go. Through the wrestling you’ve become strong. You couldn’t wrestle with me in that dark cupboard of lies in which you once hid yourself, afraid of the truth. In order to keep up this wrestling match, you stepped out into the light of the truth:
You are my beloved daughter. I created you for a purpose. I give you the power to speak my truth wherever you go. You speak my truth as you write, in your speaking, and as you cross the Jordan into the future of all I have in store for you.
And so, in the midst of the struggle, I give you a new name. Truth Teller.
Go forth. Stand tall in your new-found strength. Tell everyone you meet that I love them. Tell them that I want to wrestle with them as a father wrestles with his children. Tell them that I walk with them in the midst of their struggles and pain.
Tell them not to give up.