The last time you were sick, emotionally raw, physically spent, broke, broken, or beleaguered in any of a number of wrenching, aggravating ways–did you consider strategies for prolonging that experience? Probably not.
To be fair, some/many of us are willing to soldier on, to keep the upper lip stiff. A surprising number of us have a high tolerance for difficult situations, too. But to choose such a place? To walk into it with a will? To stay there? Not at the top of the list for many of us.
Aversion to pain is hard-wired: we draw back from heat or laceration, we spit out what is poisonous, we flee or fight when there is an altercation (each is a way to mitigate the discomfort); we lean away from the edge.
It is natural, this inclination to shy away from difficulty. But, is it good? That is, do we–on occasion, at least–run the risk of missing something worthwhile if we back away too swiftly? These are sobering, important questions–particularly when we notice how often some sort of challenge is part and parcel of the life into which God calls us. Indeed, the experience is common, frequently mentioned in the story of those whose lives we admire: Abraham, Moses, David, most prophets, Jesus. There’s the list in Hebrews 11, too. Not only that, but ‘ordinary’ people of the Bible about whom we know little more than a name (and often not even that)–these folks are often hard put. “After you have suffered a little while,” Peter says to one such group, using a phrase that is almost casual, except for what is implied by its content.
Jacob offers an example of one who leans into trouble, on that occasion when an angel came to wrassle. The account (Genesis 32:24-29) is spare: we are not, for instance, told why the angel does this. What is remarkable is that the angel is unable to prevail until he touches the socket of Jacob’s hip, dislocating it.
I spent about 15 minutes as a wrestler in college. The high school I went to was small, and without a wrestling program, and when I went off to college I thought wrestling would be a fun sport. Little did I realize that my expectation (to say nothing of my adjective) was ridiculous. Fun? I was completely out of my league. The guys I trained with had been doing this since they could walk: they enjoyed running, lifting, not eating, and getting slammed on to mats by people with unnaturally thick wrists and necks. But somehow, that did not deter them. They leaned in. Their muscles hurt. Their joints dislocated. And they did not stop.
As the son of Isaac and the messenger from heaven are locked together, Jacob utters the great line: I will not let you go until you bless me. He says this with his hip out of joint. His hip. Even then, with one of his legs not functioning–far from it: a dislocated joint hurts–this patriarch declares that he has no plans for walking (or limping) away any time soon.
Which raises the question: is there something to be gained from an encounter like this?
Again, the experience is common–any who have spent more than a day or two ‘in Christ’ have had a taste of or a deep dive into it. More to the point is what we do with it. And Jacob’s declaration (did he say it with a gleam in his eye? through clenched teeth?) suggests a possibility for us all: that good can be wrested from every difficult challenge, every desperate circumstance, every heavy load.