There's this fairly well-known story in Genesis 32 of Jacob wrestling with God by the Jabbok River. Jacob and the unexpected visitor wrestle all night, until Jacob finally pins the man and demands to be blessed.
He receives the blessing for which he asks. His name is changed from Jacob to Israel. And then he, the victor, the blessed, the named...limps away.
One little sentence tells us that the man with whom Jacob wrestled, whom some have called God and others have called only the messenger of God, touched Jacob's hip and displaced it. Thus, the limp, which He would carry with him for the rest of his life.
What's most amazing about this limp is that it's not an injury from wrestling. The Genesis account does not say that somewhere in the course of the struggle, Jacob's leg got tangled up and his hip displaced. It does not say that things got a little rough, and he ended up injured. It does not recount for us some harrowing tale of Jacob's almost losing the struggle, wincing in pain at the unexpected displacement of his hip, before regaining his composure and pinning the poor sap who tried to tag him near the river.
What's amazing about this limp is that it's not the byproduct of a sore loser. God, the messenger, whoever it was that Jacob was wrestling near that river was not bitter about losing and therefore decided to cripple the man forever. It's not that the holy being lashed out in anger, determined to take one final toll on the man who had just spent the night engaged in this struggle with him. It's not a revenge wound. It's not a token victory. It's not something the holy wrestler did to get some kind of triumph out of the whole thing.
No. He just...touched him.
And he was forever changed.
It's striking because this is true, I think, of all of the encounters that I have had with God. Sometimes, we go round and round, wrestling for what seems like forever over something that may or may not be so big. (Genesis doesn't really tell us why Jacob and the Lord started struggling there on that riverbank, except that Jacob wanted the blessing of this man he did not recognize. That's true for me sometimes, too - I don't really want anything; just a blessing. Just bless me, Lord. Or I will never let You go.)
But we wrestle, and I think there's a part of me that's always waiting for the big moment. Waiting for the big thing to happen. Waiting for God to somehow mortally wound me in the process. There are days, I have to be honest, where I'm pretty sure that what I need is a good mortal wounding. There are days when I am crying out to be broken, longing for God to just reach over and break something that feels so central to who I am. Because I know whatever it is is holding me back. I know whatever it is is hurting me. And I just want Him to crush it and get it over with. I wrestle with God, waiting for the sound of something breaking because I feel like that's what I need.
But it never comes.
Or sometimes, God really does bless me. He does give me that amazing good thing that I feel like I'm struggling for. I demand it; He declares it. And just as we're both lying there, trying to catch our breath, I discover that I'm waiting for it. I'm waiting for Him to lash out, to reach out and strike me for something that seemed far too easy, something that He seemed to just...give up. He gave me His blessing, but does blessing come without a cost? I instinctively grab my hip, knowing the blow is coming.
But it doesn't. It isn't.
All these times that I've wrestled with God, always pretty sure that something big was going to happen, it never quite ends up that way. It never comes the way I think it's going to. No. All the big moments in my life, all the incredible, amazing moments when I have wrestled with God have all seemed to end the same way:
With a touch.
I'll get these things in my heart that have to be worked out, that have to be sorted out, that have to be wrestled with. These big questions. These open wounds. These wonderings that I have, or these insecurities. And I'll bring them to the riverbank and start wrestling with God. We'll start hashing them out, all night if we have to. Night after night after night until it feels like I could almost wrestle a blessing out of Him. And just at the moment that I start to understand what blessed it, just at the moment that I think maybe I've won, just at the moment that when I start to feel like I can almost, maybe, start to make some holy sense of it all, God says, "Just one more thing...."
And then He reaches out...and touches me.
That's it. One touch. One simple little touch, which just happens to land on the sorest spot of my soul. One tiny little touch from God, on the most raw piece of my spirit. In that moment, my real pain is exposed. My wound is opened anew. All the wrestling, all the struggle, all the strife...all the demands that I've made for God to bless me, and it's only now, only here, only from this one simple touch that I even understand what I'm asking at all. It's only in this one touch that my confidence is displaced just enough to reveal my weakness. It's only in this touch that my true question is exposed.
Bless me, Lord...
And then I limp away.
But I always wonder about this place. This river. This struggle we've had. I always wonder about this limp. And then I look in the mirror and wonder about this gimp....