But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. --Genesis 32:24-29
And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." --Matthew 18:3
A few months ago I preached a sermon entitled Walking With God. Now, while I am not a preacher in my day job (although my children might beg to differ) it was not a difficult thing to do because I believe the message I delivered. (That and I like a forgiving audience!) Seriously though, I believe we are called to walk with God an entire lifetime while trusting in His will for our lives and living that out to its fullest. Yet here I am a few months later laughing at myself (again) because while I might aim to walk with God in my everyday life, my faith is far more consistent with Jacob's wrestling match than with Mary's complete surrender, submission and total adoration. And while I know I am not alone, that doesn't necessarily make it easy.
I so often wish my faith was like that of a child. I spend quiet moments imagining what that might look like in my life, how that might transform my everyday interactions, filling them with an abundance of meaning and joy, simplicity and peace. And I am filled with envy when I meet fellow travelers whose faith is so solid and unwavering....and perfectly childlike. And I know that if I got to choose my childlike faith, I would choose a faith filled with the contagious joy and enthusiasm that we so frequently experience from our three year old, Liam.
You see, a few weeks ago, Liam was part of Bible Sunday at church; that is the day that our church gifts our 3 year olds and 3rd graders with their very own Bibles. I had told Aidan and Liam they would both be receiving their Bibles that day: Aidan would be getting his first full-version study Bible and Liam would be receiving the children's story Bible of which we already have three.
They finished up and sent the kids off to Sunday School. Not wanting to lose his, Aidan dropped his Bible off with me. I tried to convince Liam to do the same but his arms tightened around it and he exclaimed, "No, ME read it, ME read it," and ran off with the others. As he exited the sanctuary via the center aisle, he told everyone, "Look! My Bible! I got my Bible!" He was very well received, to say the least.
When church was over, I went to get Liam from his class. He was still clutching his Bible. He refused to let me take it so that he could get down the stairs easily when we went to pick up the other kids from their classes. ("No, MY Bible!") He also wouldn't consider allowing me to hold it for him so that we could get back up the stairs in a timely manner so as not to hold up traffic. ("No! I LOVE my Bible!") And when it was time to go to the pancake breakfast, I told him he would not be allowed to eat if he didn't give me the Bible. ("No eat!") He chose to go hungry. All the while, he joyfully and excitedly stopped everyone we came across, eagerly telling them he had his very own Bible.
And as I thought about the irony in my fierce efforts to take the Bible away from my child, knowing that there may very well be a day when I wish he'd keep it just a little closer to his life, I realized that his is the faith I wish I had: a faith that clings to God's word even when the pressure is strong to just let it go; a faith that clutches God close while enthusiastically sharing the good news with everyone around; a faith that holds tight, holds on, holds us together, even in the face of hunger and pain; a determined faith of someone who knows they are loved and loved well.
Yet, like Jacob, I wrestle with God, in my questioning and doubts, in unbelief and disbelief. "Stop fighting me already, it's morning! Time to get to work," God says. Yet, stubbornly I resist: "Who are you? Please tell me your name," I ask over and over, not entirely sure I believe it. And while I remain humbled by my seemingly fair-weathered faith, I "cling to that old rugged cross," stubbornly refusing to let go. And even though I don't have all the answers (shoot, I'm not sure I have any of them!), and I mess it all up time and time again, I am certain God is with me in my struggle, perhaps even throwing a wrench in my hip ever so often, as He calls me forward, urging me to seek Him out in all that I do. And at the end of the struggle, God remains unchanged and I, changed for the better.
At least, I hope so. (But if you see me limping, you know why!)