journeys to and from
Much of our wrestling happens at night. No wonder Jacob’s story resonates. He’s had twenty years to contemplate the things he said and the ways he acted towards his brother. He fears what the morning will bring. We are kept awake by our concerns about the past and our worry about tomorrow.
Jacob got up during the night, took his two wives, his two women servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed the Jabbok River’s shallow water. He took them and everything that belonged to him, and he helped them cross the river. Genesis 32: 22-23 (CEB)
When we are young, we take off on our own. Perhaps to college, or on some other journey. Sometimes fleeing what’s behind, often seeking adventure in the unknown. There is trepidation and excitement as we discover who we are, and who will be our God. Jacob left home knowing neither himself nor his God. Sleeping alone, he saw the connection between heaven and earth, and heard the Lord’s promise of presence.
Our oldest moves into his first unfurnished, off-campus apartment as our youngest heads out of state for university, and we celebrate twenty-five years of marriage. Each entering new territory. While Jacob’s flight from home was unique, in many ways his was also a classic coming-of-age story. We look back and marvel at how young we were. We observe and assist our kids starting out on their own. Whom will they encounter? What skills will they discover?
Like Jacob on his journey home, we have so much more stuff now! People who depend on us and need help crossing shallow water, dark in the night. And the things that belong to us, enough to be divided into several camps and even generous gifts. Do these weigh us down, even as we are grateful for them? So much responsibility.
But Jacob stayed apart by himself, and a man wrestled with him until dawn broke. Gen 32:24 (CEB)
We are still discovering who we are. That process didn’t end with college, or marriage, or careers, or kids. Surrounded by people, we must sometimes be alone. We are still searching, crossing boundaries, leaving and returning home. God is in the process, a friend reminds me. We live in each moment, present in the now, sometimes wrestling. The past behind us, the dawn will again break. And we beg for a blessing.
He said to Jacob, “What’s your name?” and he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name won’t be Jacob any longer, but Israel, because you struggled with God and with men and won.” Gen 32:27-28 (CEB)
Jacob left this encounter limping. The lingering pain reminded him that the struggle was real. Blessings are sometimes complicated. The process of living into our new names is ongoing. It doesn’t happen overnight for Jacob; this is a beginning. It can be hard to hold on to the promise, the good news of the Lord’s presence, revealed when he was young and could sleep in a field at night.
“I am with you now, I will protect you everywhere you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done everything that I have promised you.” Gen 28:15 (CEB)
When we look back at our journeys- where we started, the people we’ve met, the skills and possessions we’ve acquired- do we see God’s presence with us? Do we trust God with our future? Do we know the struggle and the blessing as real?
Wherever we are on our journeys- starting out on a new adventure or returning home, alone or caring for family, responsible for little or much- may we know God’s presence with us. Whether we are sleeping or awake at night wrestling- may we claim God’s promise and blessing. And may we continue to live into our new names.