Monday, November 20, 2006

Wrestling With Angels

I have twin almost-toddlers. When shopping with them, people usually give me one of two reactions: pity or envy. I actually considered carrying a sign with a handle on it that says YES THEY ARE TWINS on one side and PRAY FOR ME on the other, and randomly flipping it back and forth as we move throughout the store. People love to kitchy-koo them. As they should, for they are very kitchy-koo type babies and usually very sweet-tempered. Except when it is bedtime and I’m exhausted and they are squirmy and wriggly and I have to literally wrestle them into clean diapers and pajamas. Then I have to remind myself that the angels that greet me with smiles and laughter every morning are the very same angels that are now whining and turned upside down and crawling away from me with a half-on, half-off diaper loaded with angel-poop. It’s difficult sometimes, but we get through it and it is one of the thorns of motherhood that is intertwined with all the blooms. When I am wrestling with them, I think of the patriarch Jacob and how he wrestled with an angel for an entire night. I think of how we all wrestle with things, with spiritual battles, with other people, with addictions and problems and joys and decisions. Life’s a struggle and we don’t seem to stop struggling until it’s over.

In the bible passage, Jacob wrestles and the angel does not overcome him. I know what the angel feels like sometimes. It is a revelation of sorts when you realize you can’t overcome the strength of your one year old who will not relinquish your house keys while you try to balance her 20 pound weight on one hip and a diaper bag and groceries on the other.

I am not a big wrestling fan. When I think of wrestling, I think of people like Hulk Hogan; big, loud, burly men dressed up in capes and tights who throw each other around a ring while the crowd goes wild. There is a kind of back-and-forth movement in wrestling, where one guy will have his opponent locked in a choke-hold and it seems like he is winning and then all of a sudden the guy in the choke-hold will pull a sly move on the first guy and have him writhing on the floor. I think most of it is staged ahead of time. In Jacob’s case, when morning comes and the angel cannot overcome him, he tells Jacob to release him. Even then, Jacob tells him he won’t let him go without a blessing. The angel has to reach out and shrink Jacob’s thigh to get him to let go of him. In this we recognize that the whole purpose of the struggle between the two wasn’t winning or losing, it was persevering in the struggle itself. Jacob’s bravery and his strength are proven.

I’m not particularly good at perseverance, especially if I’m uncomfortable. I hate having to go to the bathroom at a sporting even when the line to the ladies room is a mile long. But perseverance means more than waiting patiently for your turn. I’ve found it means being strong, even when everything and everyone around you is screaming at you to give in to the easier or more popular influence. For example, take same-sex marriages. Here in Tennessee the majority are opposed to gay unions and we did in fact vote to ban them. In my own personal opinion, it would be easy for me to say that love is love, and if two people love one another and are committed enough to want to marry, why not allow it? But as a Christian and a Catholic, I know that the answer is because it is an abomination to God, something that offends him grievously and out of love for Him, I must take a stand against gay marriage. This makes me a fuddy-duddy and a holy-roller; one of those bible-thumping Christians. Yes, and obedient to my Father in heaven.

The world tells us to seek riches, and to take advantage of those already disadvantaged, and to rely on our own mind for strength. In Jacob’s story, he was afraid of facing his twin brother Esau in battle, fearing that he would be overtaken by him and so he multiplied his prayer to God and leaned on what God had already promised him:

9 And Jacob said: O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who saidst to me: Return to thy land and to the place of thy birth, and I will do well for thee,
10 I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies, and of thy truth which thou hast fulfilled to thy servant. With my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I return with two companies.
11 Deliver me from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am greatly afraid of him: lest perhaps he come, and kill the mother with the children.
12 Thou didst say that thou wouldst do well by me, and multiply my seed like the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for the multitude.

Jacob was scared out of his wits because Esau was coming in haste to meet him with 400 men. He must have wracked his brain trying to understand how God could fulfill His promise to him while it seemed so impossible that Jacob could overtake Esau’s larger army. Taken figuratively, Jacob wrestled with his faith in God that night, against what he saw before him as something unconquerable. We are all like this, wrestling with what we see against what we don’t see, but believe through Christ’s promises. The Word is contrary to the flesh, and this struggle is made even more bitter and difficult when we are left to struggle alone, when we see others reveling in comfort and apparent peace, having gone the way of the world and given up on God and faith. But we are encouraged to persevere, being promised a blessing beyond description at the end of the fight. As we read in Matt 13: 31 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

The angel does indeed bless Jacob in the morning, and gives him a new name, an amazing name: Israel. Jacob says now tell me your name and the angel replies with a question: Why do you ask my name? As if to say, come on knucklehead, I’ve been with you all night…who do you think I am after all? Jacob knows he has wrestled with the appearance of God Himself, Who has taught him that He is faithful to His word.

I, too, am a knucklehead. I wrestle the angel all the time and am always questioning God’s hand in my life, so obvious to me and so needed. I look at my children and wonder how so great a God could be so generous to someone as unfaithful and, yes, unwilling to persevere at times in faith. But He leads me along gently, even if He sometimes has to “shrink my thigh” to get me to recognize His presence. This happens as I am scraping baby-goo off my shoulder and thinking that instead of being a mom I should have been an astronaut. Or a wrestler.


Blogger Sarah said...

Mikala, LOVE this post. I especially loved your introduction when you mentioned the sign. My aunt has twins (now 11) and she has said the same thing. Me, I just have ONE toddler and that's enough at a time. And I love how you tie in the wrestling... Great thoughts and great sharing. :)

12:36 PM  
Blogger Mikala said...

Thanks Sarah!

6:23 PM  

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