Mar 4 2011

Wrestling with Self and God

Let me begin by saying that I am not a proponent of violence or abuse in any form. However, I would like to use the analogy of wrestling in order to illustrate and describe my encounters with self and God this Spring Semester. Perhaps the story of Jacob will serve as a great point of entry.

When we encounter Jacob in Genesis 32 he is preparing to go home to meet his brother Esau. For those who are familiar with the story of Jacob before he left home, we know that the condition in which Jacob left home did not make the journey to return home look pleasant. Jacob was aware of this, but still decided to go home taking his family along with him. He received bad news from a messenger along the way that Esau was coming with about 400 men to greet him. This troubled him. If you will allow me to fast forward to verse 22, we see that Jacob has made the decision to send his family ahead of him in order to appease Esau, and he remained behind. He was alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak; “When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.” The story goes on to reveal that Jacob was not going to give in until he received a blessing. What Jacob received in the end was a greater revelation of self and God.

Like Jacob, I had to make some tough decisions in preparation for coming to Candler. I left my full time job as a primary school educator along with all the benefits that came with this position in the hope that I would enter into the rest and peace of God. In light of the struggle that I had in accepting my call to ministry, leaving my job and coming to Candler, and enduring the transition during my first semester at Candler, I thought that the battle was (somewhat) over. Not so! What I presumed to be an embodiment of the peace of God this semester and a free ticket to receiving a little more rest at night than last semester, was only a camouflage for what was actually an intermission or breaking between rounds in a wrestling match.

Little did I know three weeks into the semester I would encounter readings, assignments, and presentations in classes that would cause me to arise from my “false resting place” to be thrown back into the ring with readings and discourse that would challenge, bring greater awareness of my capabilities, and bruise (or dismantle ideologies within) me in this process of learning. In my Images of God class, I have been challenged to reflect on how the image of the God to which I pray and how I interact with this God is but a mere reflection of the life experiences, formative relationships, and the doctrine that I have encountered up until this point in my life. Also in my Contextual Education Seminar, I have wrestled with developing theologies of care, home, and hope, for those who are the disinherited and marginalized. While it would seem as if one could just embody the spirit of Christ and provide food, shelter, and clothing in order to aid those in poverty, this is but one small step, and does not seek to eradicate the structures and systems that perpetuate poverty, but merely manage it.

I thought that I would have some concrete answers concerning issues of injustice and how to tackle systemic issues that plague our society, but I am left searching and (re) discerning the fresh message that the biblical text speaks to such a fragmented, displaced, and hopeless people in a postmodern world. Even more so, I am left searching for God and discovering how my gifts can best meet the needs of those in our local and global society.  I am left unsettled in my being. Yet, like Jacob, I continue to hold on tight and endure this process at Candler, because the call continues to resound even though the “what” and the “how-to” dimension of this calling are yet to appear.

One thing that I have learned on this journey is that honesty with self and God is necessary. When the man or angel asked Jacob, “What is your name?” Jacob, with his history of trickery and dishonesty, could have answered my name is Victor, but he told the truth. In that very moment of confrontation and struggle, he was faced with the truth about who he was and even received a new name, Israel. This was symbolic of transformation.

In moments of wrestling with self and God, and being bruised in the process one can either choose to give up or surrender. One can continue to rely on self or see how interdependent and interconnected he or she really is and turn to a community of reliable others, or The Reliable Other, which is God. Instead of complaining during moments of wrestling with self and God, I want to encourage you to pay attention to what is being revealed during those moments. For in wrestling we find our true voice and become aware of our weaknesses and strengths. Despite the exhaustion, choose to prevail until the end! In the end you will be conditioned, equipped, and even energized to face both the war against social ills and fulfill the calling ahead.

Know that I am in solidarity with you on this journey!

-Ashley Thomas

Ashley is a first year MDiv student from Atlanta and a Student Ambassador.