(An excerpt from a conversation between Ann and her son after a fight with his brother, from One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, because I know there are a few of you who have not bought this book. What on earth is wrong with you? 🙂 No, really?!)
“There was once a wrestler like us. His name was Jacob. And on a night when he was all alone, staring up at the stars in the dark, unable to sleep because he was scared to go meet his brother the next day, this brother that he has run away from because the brother had wanted to actually take his bare hands and kill him. Talk about taut family ties.”
“Esau.” Ah. He’s listening. His voice, hope in the sands. I smile into his shoulder, squeeze him tight.
“Yes. Esau. Jacob was terrified to meet his brother Esau. And all night long, he wrestles hard with a man, flailing and thrashing and struggling and he grips his fingers deep into the leg, the torso of the man, and he utterly refuses to let go, right till the sun embers kindle up the horizon. It’s hard. He’s exhausted. He’s confused.” I sit up. Rub my son’s back in slow, wide circles. The midmorning sun’s rays through the window are strengthening.
“And when the man can’t overpower or throw off Jacob, he touches the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh. The man breaks Jacob. Then day breaks. And he commands Jacob to let him go.” I run my fingers up through his hair, that cowlick of mine.
“But Jacob, he refuses to let the man go. He doesn’t even really know who the man is, can’t clearly see his face, but he begs, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” And the man turns to Jacob and gives him a new name. Names him Israel, the God-wrestler. Says to him, “You’ve wrestled with God and you’ve come through.” All that while Jcob hadn’t known who he was wrestling. Just a man in the dark, a man he couldn’t see. And in the black, all that night, it was the face of God over him that he was struggling against. God is behind the faces, son. Can we see?” My hand rests on his head and my chest hurts.
“And you know what Jacob named the place? Peniel– means ‘God’s face’. He said, ‘I saw God face to face and lived to tell the story!'”
I smile. “But there’s more to the story… there’s always more to every story.” His lips twitch a sad smile and I see it. I half grin. “A long time ago, a preacher names James H. McConkey asked a friend of his, a doctor, ‘What is the exact significance of God’s touching Jacob upon the sinew of his thigh?'”
“And the doctor told him, ‘The sinew of the thigh is the strongest in the human body. A horse couldn’t even tear it apart.'”
These are the words I have never forgotten, what preacher McConkey said: “Ah, I see. The Lord has to break us down at the strongest part of our self-life before He can have his own way of blessing with us.”
Like this morning, breaking us down at the tough parts… Then we see. See the blessing.
I lean in close to my boy’s ear.
“And when Jacob went out the next morning to meet that brother he dreaded? After the dark of the wrestle, and being torn right apart in his strongest part, by a man he didn’t even know was God– do you know what he said? He looked into the face of his brother , that brother who had wanted to kill him, and he said, ‘To see your face is like seeing the face of God’ [Genesis 33:10].” I rest my hard on his arm, arm so still.
“Wrestle with God, beg to see the blessings… and all faces become the face of God. See, son?”
Water? Do you see the water?
But wells don’t come without first begging to see the wells; wells don’t come without first splitting open hard earth, cracking back the lids. There’s no seeing God face to face without first the ripping.
Tear the thigh to open the eye.
Wrench the socket of the hip, the tough grizzle of the heart, and heal the socket of the eye. It takes practice, wrenching practice, to break open the lids. But the secret to joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is.”