One day in the car, when my now adolescent boys were much younger, we posed a silly question just to see how they would respond. We asked each of them, “Are you a lover or a fighter?” My oldest son, with a sweet smile on his face, replied, “I’m a lover.” Turning to my younger son, we heard him declare emphatically, with fire in his eyes, “I’m a fighter.” At the time, my husband and I laughed knowingly since even at the young age of 3, he had already demonstrated just how much of a fighter he was.
The truth is, he comes by it honestly. I am also a fighter. I rarely accept things at face value and fight hard against stereotypes and assumptions. I take a stand on social issues and approach obstacles with relentless tenacity. I fight for what I want. I fight for what I believe. I fight for my family and my friends. I fight when I feel cornered or threatened. I am a fighter.
My fighting nature also shows up in my faith. Over the years, I have consistently grappled with Biblical truths and principals, often getting angry with God and putting up my fists. Trusting Him is difficult for me and usually only comes when I am exhausted from struggling against His will. I find that the hardest, but most important lessons I’ve learned often come at a great price. I don’t learn easily or quickly and I find that nearly every hurdle I clear in my faith follows a long season of wrestling with God.
For this reason, I feel a bit of a kindred spirit with Jacob. In Genesis 32, Jacob sends his wives and children ahead of him on their journey and he remains behind. That night, “a man wrestled with him until the breaking of day.” As the night unfolds, it turns out that Jacob is quite a fighter. The struggle doesn’t end until the man touches Jacob’s hip socket, putting it out of joint. Realizing he’s beaten, yet refusing to relent, he demands a blessing from the man. It’s then revealed that the man is God, who in turn blesses Jacob and renames him Israel.
When dawn breaks, Jacob continues with his journey, however, he now walks with a limp. When I’ve considered this outcome in the past, I’ve viewed the limp as a hindrance, a punishment, a nasty side effect of the evening’s events. However, lately I’ve seen the gracious blessing in the limp.
If we think of it from a medical or physiological perspective, the limp indicates that something didn’t heal properly or fully. When someone breaks a bone, sprains an ankle or pulls a muscle, the goal of the physician is to completely restore the wounded area to full use. Healing is declared when we are “as good as new”, when the affected limb functions as well as it did prior to the damage. The crutches only go away when the leg is 100%, when it can bear the full weight of the person. The goal of physical healing is complete restoration with no residual pain or discomfort, as if the injury never occurred at all.
And yet, spiritually, I believe that a limp is exactly what we should want after we’ve wrestled with God. I find that when I do battle with my Father, when I go to the mattress pitting my will against His, there is only resolution and restoration when I come away utterly different than when I began the struggle. In other words, I don’t want to be restored to my previous condition. I don’t want my heart returned to its innate human nature. I want to be changed. I should be changed. I need to be changed. In the midst of the fight, God’s “injury” should leave me transformed with little resemblance to my prior appearance. I should be walking with a limp. Furthermore, that limp should remind me every day, every moment, that I wrestled with my God and because of that I am a new creation. Because He touched me, because He chipped away, no matter how painfully, at my humanness, there is less of me and more of Him.
I wonder if Jacob was grateful for his limp. I wonder if every uncomfortable step was a glorious reminder of the evening his God blessed him with a new identity. I wonder if he lay in bed at night favoring his injured hip, recalling the magnificent dawn that broke after the Great Physician had His way with not only his body, but his heart as well.
There’s no doubt about it. Being a fighter is tough business. If all my wrestling with God were actually to present physically I might be in a full body cast. But I can’t imagine not fighting. I can’t imagine missing out on the blessings that inevitably come to me after the struggle. I wouldn’t trade the pain for the magnificent glimpses I get in the midst of it all. I will continue to fight. It’s in my very nature. And after every conflict I will limp. But I will also be limping along a little closer to God.