On a recent August morning I was reading the Bible Workbench lesson on Jacob wrestling with a man(or angel as some translations say) in preparation for the meeting at my church that day; tears are flowing from my eyes. As I ponder my reaction, I realize that my life[all our lives] has been consumed with wrestling—with someone else, with myself, with my conscience, with God, with my spouse and children. I would hazard a guess that there are some people who can see so clearly that they never have to wrestle at all, but I am clearly not one of them.
Before I surrendered my life to God thirty years ago, I had to wrestle a whole lot more; the various and disparate voices inside of me had a field day with any decision I wanted to make. “Save money” or “do what you’ve been told” or “you screwed up big this time” or “your choices suck”, “you need this” –voices internalized when I was a child, my Aunt Grace, my Mom, my Dad, Mrs. Magruder, my first grade teacher, and my reactions to them, raged in my mind. There was no peace; really there was only feeling badly about myself.
Since that surrender I have learned to acknowledge these interior voices, but to not let them rule me. Often they are inappropriate, based on what I needed to hear as a child. Or not based in reality, only in fear. I have learned to be an observer of my thoughts, not to get emotionally plugged into them. And so, as their influence over me has waned, more and more I was able to hear that “still, small voice” within, pay attention to it and to follow it.
With my attention on God’s voice, the divine within, I am struggling much less, but the last six months as I needed to move back to Charlotte from Baltimore[after just moving there last September] I am once again in a transition and that has stirred deeply in me things that had not had much influence over me for a long time. And so the reality of struggle and wrestling really hit home that day in August. And I had to acknowledge the cost to me of the struggle between my human and divine nature over my lifetime. The tears revealed the cost.
At a meeting a few days later I was invited to write something down on a small slip of paper, something that I wanted to let go of. I wrote down “wrestling.” The hostess invited us to put the slips into a pottery vessel that had a very small opening, so that we couldn’t take our slip back. So I let go of the struggle, the need to wrestle with myself or anyone else and ultimately with God. And I left it there in my hostess’s jar.
There have been so many things to wrestle with during my lifetime. I was consumed for years by the question “Why?” about so many things, but I finally decided that the “why” didn’t matter. Whatever it was that caused my angst just was.
I was also consumed by the way the world is, trying to understand the good/evil paradox, why God didn’t just intervene and wipe out the evil so I could live in peace. And I realized after a long while, that it’s my choice whether I am at peace or not, that peace comes from a deep relationship with God. And that God could have wiped out the human race at so many junctures in our history, but he hasn’t. And I had to learn that that’s the way God is, definitely at odds with what I wanted him to be and do.
The ultimate struggle for us is, I believe, between our personality/ego and the soul; it’s not the soul that struggles, it is the personality. When we are growing up and well into adulthood, the personality/small self/ego rules and the soul makes few inroads usually until midlife when the rules and models that our families and our culture held up for us begin to break down; we realize that they were not about fulfilling us. We begin to cast about for a new way that will be more satisfying and fulfilling. If, at this point we begin to pay attention to the “still, small voice” of God within us, then we find that the soul is calling us to our true selves, to a self-affirming[not aggrandizing] agenda. As we gradually pay more attention to that inner voice, now distinguished as the Spirit/soul’s voicing the agendas implanted in us before our birth, the soul gains more and more traction until eventually the personality/ego comes under the aegis of the soul.
By that time we are in this world but not of the world. That doesn’t mean that we’re better than this physical existence or any person in it. It simply means that we belong to God, no longer to the culture.
And then, it is my hope that the wrestling ceases. But then I am always hopeful that my challenges will end. In fact, I have no idea of how it will go, but I do know that the Lord will be with me every step of the way. So that I can relax and let God be in charge.
Questions to ponder over the week: Have I surrendered my life to God? Have I settled some of the big things I have wrestled with? Am I at peace with who I am and who God is? Is God in charge of my life?
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