On Being Brave
22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” 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,[a] because you have struggled with God and with human beings 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. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel,[b] saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” 31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel,[c] and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon. – Genesis 32:22-32
I woke up thinking about this passage on Saturday. Since I started this blog, I have occasionally been awakened before my alarm already thinking of what to write about. But this time I didn’t really understand what this passage had to do with body theology, or with me, for that matter.
I had a marathon weekend working in Pasadena and didn’t get to put much thought into it, but last night on the long drive home, I put a good portion of my attention toward identifying the purpose God had for leading me to this well-known moment in biblical history when Jacob wrestles with God.
And I noticed three things.
1) God shows up physically.
God meets Jacob at a critical moment in his life–just after he has learned what it’s like to be deceived by Laban’s manipulation and just before he is going to be reconciled to the brother he once deceived.
Let me clarify. God meets Jacob physically, and Jacob is left with a physical injury as a result of his night-long struggle.
But here’s the thing I love about this moment: God did not overpower Jacob. In another translation it says that the man “was not able” against Jacob and that Jacob struggled with God and with people and “was able.”
God met Jacob exactly where he was, down to the exact strength of his muscles.
2) Jacob has the audacity to demand a blessing–and he receives it!
As much as the health-wealth gospel is criticized, here’s a mark in its favor. If Jacob had not asked for the blessing, he would have walked away from his encounter with God with only the injured hip. Jacob may limp away from his encounter with God, but he also gains a new name.
3) Jacob is still referred to as “Jacob” after this moment when he is given the new name “Israel.”
I find this truly interesting since all the other times people are given new names (Abram/Abraham, Saul/Paul), they are immediately and forever changed. Yet Jacob is still sometimes “the deceiver” even after he becomes “one who struggles with God.” That tells me sometimes receiving a blessing or realizing a change in character are not lightning-bolt moments but ongoing journeys toward something new and better.
One of my favorite books when I was younger was Hinds’ Feet on High Places. If you haven’t read it, you should! It’s an allegory of the Christian life, following Much-Afraid’s journey to meet the Good Shepherd on the Mountain of Spices. Her companions are Sorrow and Suffering, and they help her navigate the difficult path through the mountains on her crippled feet. At the end, Much-Afraid reaches her destination, is restored to full health in her body, and receives a new name. Her companions are also transformed.
So I asked God on my drive home late last night what it was about this passage in Genesis that was so all-fire important that I had to wake up early on an already full weekend just to hear about it.
And I realized something.
I am Much-Afraid.
Okay, maybe that’s not news. I’ve identified myself with that allegory many times in my spiritual journey. But this time I realized something else.
I’ve been given a new name. But like Jacob, I’m still sometimes Much-Afraid. I’m still learning to live into my new name more fully and more often.
Then I read about how Alise sometimes feels like she doesn’t stack up against other bloggers and how Sarah is sometimes afraid of her name and her voice, and I suddenly felt known and understood and not alone anymore. These bloggers have such unique and vital voices (and such well-established web presences), and they still sometimes feel the same way I feel.
I opened up my bedside table drawer and pulled out a gift a friend gave me, a little paperweight in the shape of a heart with “Strength” carved into the rock.
I once heard the word courage described as “strength of heart” and remembered a story I wrote in seminary about a boy named Courage who goes on a journey to recover his name after a spell of lies changed it to Fear. If you read Tuesday’s post, you’ll understand.
And that is how I came to understand why God felt it necessary to wake me up so early on Saturday morning and remind me of a passage I haven’t read in ages about something that doesn’t even seem that related to body theology and yet MUST be the inspiration for this week’s blog posts.
I’ve been given a new name.
I am not Much-Afraid anymore.
I am Strength-of-Heart.
But I have been living like I’m still Much-Afraid for a long time.
I have strength of heart, as much strength as Jacob had that night he wrestled with God. When I encounter God, God shows up with just exactly that amount of strength to push back with. When morning comes, I am wounded and limping, but I am also blessed and so much closer to being that courageous woman God has created me to be.
God is restoring my name to me. I am becoming Strength-of-Heart again, the Strength-of-Heart I was created to be, the Strength-of-Heart who got buried under all the fear and lies of the world.
I am emerging. I am being made new.
I am finding my voice.
I am going to be brave.