Painful seasons can provide the channels through which grace will flow
My Vocation is Love l Lindsey Weishar
In the daily Mass readings, July has been a movement through Genesis and Exodus. Part of what makes the Bible ever new is how its books and chapters speak to us at different seasons of our lives. The catching of our attention upon a particular part of the Scripture is one of the ways the Holy Spirit moves in us.
For me, one of these attention-catching moments came a couple weeks ago as I read about Jacob wrestling with the man of God (also referred to as an angel) in Genesis 32. I was struck by the narrative — Jacob wrestles a man of God “until the break of dawn” and it is the man of God who asks to be released, which Jacob only does once he receives a blessing. And this is what the man of God says: “You shall no longer be spoken of as Jacob, but as Israel, because you have contended with divine and human beings and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:29). The word Israel means “you contended with divine beings.”
To contend suggests struggle, and its Latin root word “tendere” means “to stretch.” How comforting to those of us who currently find ourselves wrestling with the Lord that the people especially beloved by him were named Israel, the action that would shape their lives — contending with God, being stretched by the struggle of it. I think of how the Israelites wrestled with God in the desert for 40 years — in their distrust, annoyance, penitence, and praise. Such a good God, but one who held them in covenant, in relationship, who asked them to live differently than the nations around them. I imagine the tension between his constancy and their human fickleness sometimes felt difficult. I know this from my own life with him.
WE ALL WRESTLE
If you are currently in a season of wrestling, I pray, as Hubbard did during her talk, that you take heart. To allow God to touch you in the wrestling is to be vulnerable before him.
I can’t quite imagine the horror and overwhelming grief she likely experienced in witnessing the crucifixion of her Savior. I hear a bit of the man of God’s conversation with Jacob in Jesus asking that Mary Magdalene “stop holding on to me” (John 20:17) when she first recognizes him post-resurrection. I imagine it was so hard to let go of her precious Lord upon recognizing him, but her call was to share the good news with the apostles.
For some of us, there may be a temptation to think that we should not struggle, should not wrestle, should not contend with the Lord. However, I’ll be so bold to say that God wants our contending so much more than a retreat into despair, disconnectedness, or passivity in our relationship with him.
I recently had the opportunity to hear Catholic writer and speaker Jennifer Hubbard address a Kansas City Legatus group on the topic of suffering. Hubbard lost her daughter Catherine in the Sandy Hook shooting of 2013. In her talk, she encouraged listeners not to rush through our trials because the seasons of our lives “have a good and real purpose. When we rush the season, when we numb the trial, we are causing our own devastation.” She said the seasons of trial both stretch our hearts and allow us to build our muscle memory of trust in the Lord. But this requires that we be transparent with God, that we contend with him.
When asked about her work as a writer, Hubbard said, “I wrestle with the words. I thank God for using my hand as an ink pen and for doing it again.”
Again and again throughout our lives we may wrestle with him. Again and again he will meet us. If you are currently in a season of wrestling, I pray, as Hubbard did during her talk, that you take heart. To allow God to touch you in the wrestling is to be vulnerable before him. It is much easier to draw away from him and much harder to struggle until dawn.
Our sufferings will change us, that is true. Jacob left his night of wrestling with a limp, but also with a blessing. When we engage with the Lord, even the most painful seasons can be channels through which unimaginable graces can flow.
LINDSEY WEISHAR is a poet, freelance writer, and native of Champaign who has a master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is executive assistant to the president of Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas. Write to her at email@example.com.