God’s Struggler

I have little time to write these days, so I am repeating one of my favorites, something I think about often. I hope it encourages you wherever you find yourself right now.


I am everyone in Scripture. In reading through the Bible I often take the perspective that each character and incident reflects something about me as a human being. A previous post described me as Barabbas. I am also the woman who worshiped Jesus with her tears. I am Joseph, the one who experiences affliction which God intends for good. It is easy to see that I am Peter, denying Jesus and being restored. You get the idea. With those new eyes I want to meditate on Jacob, who wrestled with an angel. Sure, I see that he struggled with God in prayer, and I certainly do that. But there is more to the story which I have found confusing. So this post is one woman’s attempt to find herself in Jacob who was renamed Israel.

 

You will find the story in Genesis 32 and 33. Jacob was on his way to meet with his estranged and powerful brother, and he had his family and all his possessions in tow. The Bible says that he was in “great fear and distress.” In fact, he was so afraid of his brother, Esau, that Jacob sent him numerous bribes and then lagged behind the rest of the caravan. That is how he came to be by himself, wrestling with the angel of God at night. The Bible doesn’t say this, but I think that he was going to bolt. He had already done every cowardly thing short of running away, and I think that was why he wrestled God. His name, Deceiver (Jacob, loosely translated from the Hebrew), would bear this out. When morning came, Jacob’s helpless wives and children would find themselves inexplicably alone, in the hands of Jacob’s worst enemy.

 

If you read the story from that perspective, you find that by daybreak, God had still not overcome Jacob’s fear, his craven resolution to flee. Jacob’s flesh was stronger than Jacob’s faith. And so God crippled him. In this hindered state, Jacob continued to wrestle for God’s blessing. He no longer had the option to run, and so he asked for the thing he should have sought in the beginning, God’s purpose and blessing in the midst of his struggle. Our gracious God who maims then bestowed upon Jacob, the Deceiver, his new name: Israel or Struggler. The rest of the story reveals God’s faithfulness as Jacob assumes his rightful place at the head of his family. I’ll let you read it for yourself.

 

This story is about Israel’s identity as a man and as a people. It’s about my identity. It’s about the many ways I deceive myself and others, the many ways I run from the hard things, the many ways I fail even to ask for courage. If you know me, you know that I am crippled. I have an artificial leg which is the result of an amputation which saved my life. It has also kept me from running away when I wanted to and caused me to wrestle with God until He blessed me. It is a visible reminder that my name is Struggler, and that is a good thing.

 


If you’d like to hear a sermon on this passage by Mark Driscoll, click this link: http://marshill.com/media/genesis/jacob-wrestles-god.

Angry Parent

Dear Christian Counselor,

I am a mother of 3, redeemed by Christ nine years ago, but every day I fail to live that promise. I have this temper that comes out and hurts my kids. Am I really saved? Then why do I keep repeating this sin with the littlest things, like spilt water, a loud voice etc.? After snapping I am disgusted by it, and I always repent to God and my kids. How I thank God for not giving me serenity in sin. His mercy is there, but I want to experience His victory. I pray each time that His sovereign power protects my kids from me.

I’ve read so many books about parenting, and I’ve been crying out to God each morning to experience His presence and the hope He has given me. Every day I fail in my greatest mission — to reflect Christ to my kids. How can I shepherd them if I always scare them away? Most times I feel that I don’t deserve to be a mother… Why can’t I take care of his gifts well, and why can’t I always be joyful with these? We are talking about being good stewards of what God has given us. And I’m failing big time. Please remember me in your prayers.

Mad Mama


Dear Mad Mama,

I want to answer your most important question first: I do believe you are saved. The Apostle Paul called himself “the chief of sinners” in one of his last letters (I Tim. 1:15). Conviction and remorse are signs of the Holy Spirit’s work. If God wanted to give you an instant victory, He could do that, but being saved doesn’t usually mean we stop grappling with sin – it means we have help for the struggle and forgiveness when we fail. If you can set this question at rest, and stop beating yourself up, it may help you find a bit more patience.

It seems you have taken some good, practical steps, such as reading parenting books and starting your day with reminders of God’s love. Because these things have not helped you substantially, I believe you need to find the root of your anger (see James 4:1-2a). You may be carrying a burden from the past which explodes at an inappropriate target. Finding peace within does not mean blaming others for your temper; it means leaving bitterness behind and redeeming your story. I would suggest finding a local, Christian counselor to help with that process. You might try calling Focus on the Family which has a phone counseling ministry as well as a counseling referral database:

To reach Focus on the Family’s counseling service by phone, call 1-800-A-Family (232-6459) weekdays 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Mountain Time). Please be prepared to leave your contact information for a counselor or chaplain to return a call to you as soon as possible. The consultation is available at no cost to you. You may also reach our counselors online by filling out our Counseling Request Form.

I want to add a few more hands-on suggestions:

  • First, offer your children an abundance of praise. If you give them plenty of intentional encouragement and loving kindness, it will help counteract your angry outbursts.
  • Second, you might try working through Carter and Minirth’s Anger Workbook noted on our resources page.
  • Finally, I would urge you to take very good care of yourself, finding rest in small ways throughout the day, reducing or eliminating activities which drain your reserves, asking for assistance when you need it. No one else will do this for you, and lowering your overall stress will help you when you encounter parenting challenges. Sometimes I find that Christians have a hard time saying “no” because they feel it would be selfish. You must learn to do this for the sake of your kids, so that you have the capacity to love them well over the long haul.

set of vector icons of religious christianityIn closing, I am asking everyone who reads this letter to say a prayer for you and your children. Perhaps that’s the real gift God has for you here.

Struggling with Same-Sex Attraction

Dear Christian Counselor,

 

I struggle with same sex attraction, but also find myself attracted to the opposite sex, and I struggle terribly with lust which I want to overcome.  I really want to be a father, a normal guy, a role model. But instead I’m neurotic, narcissistic and not enough of a ‘guy.’ It seems that most girls clearly see I’m not what they’re looking for.  I fear that no girl would want me if they really knew me, and so I hide. I am so lonely, and I feel so lost. I just don’t know where God wants me.. I know I shouldn’t… but I really hate myself… I’m just lost inside.

 

Constantly Despairing


Dear Despairing,

 

First of all, I am so sorry for your painful struggle.  Everyone struggles with something, but – as is apparent in your letter – this particular ‘thorn’ penetrates the outer layers of identity and deeply pierces the heart.   It’s important to remember that your sexuality is only one part of who you are.  In fact, this struggle will be finished 100 years from now, and you will still be the same person.  Don’t define yourself by the parts of you that are distressing or temporary.  No one should do that.  The battle you are fighting now is not an accident; it is a chapter in the story which ends with the perfect you.

 

As you engage this struggle proactively, I would encourage you to connect with a spiritual community.  You need some friends who accept you, love you and pray for you.  You are not alone, though I’m sure it must feel that way sometimes.  Discover some parts of your identity that you can embrace (personality, passions, gifts, story, etc.).  Do some individual or group counseling to help you fight this battle well, fill the empty spaces in your heart and heal the wounds which have already occurred.  This is not a hopeless struggle because the God of hope is with you.

 

There are several Christian organizations which minister to those who struggle with same-sex attraction.  Check out their newsletters, resources and links:

 

www.harvestusa.org

www.sexualidentityinstitute.org

www.livingout.org