“Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’
But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’”–Genesis 32.26
It’s one of the most enigmatic passages in the Bible.
Jacob has a mysterious encounter with an angel. He wants a blessing from him. In order to get it, he wrestles with the angel all night long. When the dawn breaks, Jacob has the blessing he was looking for–but he’s also got a dislocated hip. He clung on through a tumultuous dark night of the soul, and he got was he looking for. But he walked away with a permanent limp.
I’m more convinced than ever before of the generosity of God, of the ways He delights to give good gifts to His children. But if you walk away with a blessing, blessing won’t be the only thing that marks you. There is still the dried blood and unsightly bruises that come from the long night of wrestling. Gifts come without strings attached, but that’s not to say they come without consequences. It’s why so many people will happily go through their lives keeping the greatest blessings at an arm’s length. Because intrinsically we know that blessing is on the other side of struggle, that blessing is on the other side of the dark night.
If that makes you want to stay home, you’re in good company. Many strong and competent people have chosen the path of least resistance, deciding it is better to walk away without bruises or broken bones. They have pragmatically decided it is better to keep the safer blessings they have rather than taking the risk of having to stare down God, the devil and themselves. And make no mistake–the dark night of the soul will involve wrestling with all three. In the midst of it, you really don’t know if you are going to make it to sun-up.
It sounds so sterile and truncated to narrate the tale even now: “Jacob wrestled with an angel all night.” It sounds so straight forward, so uncomplicated. But how could wrestling with angels be uncomplicated? Night complicates most everything to begin with. And don’t you know how long a night can feel? The way that time seems to slow down at night? In the middle of the night, temperatures shoot up while hope plummets. If it feels like our lives are in perpetual fast forward sometimes, sleepless nights feel like an endless instant replay–where it is fear and regret that are in slow motion. Given all of that, it is difficult for me to judge anybody to harshly for wanting to avoid something as terrible as having to stare down God and their own demons. I understand all too well the desire to avoid bruising.
And yet there still is the reality of blessing, the promise that lies on the other side. That if you just don’t let go–for it is not necessary to win, only to not lose hold of the one you’re wrestling with–that the blessing is as extravagant as the night is long. That the bliss is as sweet as the night is painful. Blessedness is a feast that can only be tasted by those who’ve first tasted the acerbic taste of their own blood in their mouth.
When you’ve been wrestling all night for a blessing, it may be difficult to say that you would do it all over again when the dawn breaks. But to say that you’re glad you didn’t let go and you hung on for dear life is not the same thing as saying you’d volunteer for it again. You are glad you didn’t let go. You can’t escape the truth that the sacredness of your own life has been enhanced not only by the blessing, but even by the wrestling itself.
The truth is, blessings that don’t come with bruises–victory that doesn’t come with a limp as a trophy–will neither be particular sweet nor memorable. Granted, there is the soreness inherent in a night of wrestling. It is true that long after the night is over, the slightest movement may trigger the familiar pain. But with the wince of the wound also comes the visceral reminder of blessedness. What a fascinating phenomenon: that every time Jacob stepped awkwardly, you couldn’t tell if he was wincing or smiling–and maybe he was doing both. Because every step would now have the message of blessedness and belovedness implicit in it. To have that message contained in your joints may well be worth a thousand of years of long nights.
In short, if you have no limp then you likely have no blessing. Or at the very least without a limp you are unaware of the blessings you have, which is likely just as bad. I am at this point far more inclined to think that walking with a limp but knowing the blessing is decisively better than walking whole without the blessing.
If you are in the long night of wrestling, there are neither strategy nor steps I could give you to end it faster. But strategy is not needed–perseverance is. You wouldn’t remember steps if I gave them to you, not when the night gets dark and long enough. But you can remember this much: don’t stop until the sun is up. You can remember that the reason for the wrestling is not because God is out to kill you, but that He’s really wanted to bless you all along. You don’t have to do anything to earn the blessing–you cannot be strong or powerful enough. You just have to stay in the ring, and the dawn that creeps up when the wrestling is over will take care of the rest.
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30.5