Earlier this month, I happened across an article at Crosswalk.com by Dena Johnson – How wrestling with God will change you forever. In her article/devotional, she recounts the story of Jacob and how Jacob wrestled with a person throughout the evening. His name was changed from Jacob to Israel and became the father of the Israelites. What she noted in this passage is the following:
For the last two years, I have been wrestling with God. I have wrestled night and day, asking for a fresh vision of who he is and what he wants for my life. I’ve had a particular situation that has caused me to lose many nights of sleep—nights spent wrestling with God in prayer. I’ve begged God to give me clarity because I know that God is the author of peace and not confusion. I’ve spent countless hours crying, seeking God’s face.
Prior to this, Dena recounts this simple reflection: “I’ve always been curious about this passage, about how Jacob—now known as Israel—wrestled with God. I simply couldn’t understand what it meant.“
Dena further remarks on how she came across a simple passage of scripture that held a peculiar principle of truth:
And he set up an altar there and called it “God, the God of Israel” (Genesis 33:20)
Citing Genesis 28:13, 32:9 and 31:42, Dena makes the following observation:
You see, until Jacob had a divine wrestling match with God—until he had a very personal struggle with God—his faith was not cemented. It was not his own. Yes, he knew of his father’s faith. He had most definitely heard the stories of his grandfather’s faith. But, he was only living his faith vicariously through their faith; it had not been solidified in his life.
Her observation, personal experience of her own “wrestling with God” and how it increased her faith, and giving peace, Dena shares the simple principle of an eternal principle. Until we have our own encounter with the divine and wrestle with God in our own lives, we will not fully understand and comprehend the blessings our Heavenly Father has in store for us.
I reflect on this article and its simple message because of a recent LDS Fireside I attended for the Seattle-Shoreline Stake. A fireside about those of our families and friends who have doubts about the Gospel, doubts about God, doubts about Faith and in general – they are in a season of wrestling with God. How do we respond to those who are wrestling with their own doubts? Wrestling with their own personal questions and simple truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
1 – Mindfulness and active listening
We have to be very mindful and truly be present in listening to what another person has to say. This means, we must look upon them and be in the present moment with them. Meeting them where they are at, not where we believe they ought to be. Many of us struggle with this act of kindness.
2 – We all have a story – the Lord wants to be included in that story
For those who are struggling with their own questions, doubts, testimony, faith or have particular concerns about doctrines of the Gospel have a story. Like Jacobs story of his wrestle with God, each person is writing their own story regarding how they are wrestling with God. The Lord was not reclusive, the Lord was wrestling with Jacob just as much as he is wrestling with each one of us as we consider our own doubts, questions, and crisis of faith. At the end of the day, being a person of faith is a great challenge. Yet, once we come to the morning upon which we are touched by God and realize who he truly is and are blessed by him, we then can own our faith and true testimony.
3 – Individuals with doubt and crisis of faith feel unsafe
One of the many problems in our society today, more specifically within the culture of Christianity, is that those who are wrestling with God do so in silence, alone, and without any collective knowledge. They may, perchance, offer up some hint of struggle to those very close. However, when it comes to outright discussing the exact nature of their struggle and crisis of faith, most fear judgment, condemnation, ridicule, and/or even being ostracized for not have a strong testimony or faith in God. This includes disappointments in finding those who truly may know and understand the heart of the individual who is struggle.
4 – Respect and validate where a person in crisis is
In a previous article that I had written, I opened up with this paragraph:
One of the most challenging aspects of being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is having to constantly be aware of one’s on going work toward perfection. Many times, as a Mormon, the constant teaching of, “you have to do this in order for this to happen,” came across the pulpit, at firesides and in Sunday School. The tragic loss of this message is that most people who have left the Church finally realize the real freedom in a relationship with Jesus Christ and not being obligated to prove one’s self-worth to God. The simple message of the Gospel, and of the sacrifice the Savior made, is diluted, confused and wrapped in a more humanistic effort to please God. The reality is that because God is sovereign, loving and merciful, he meets us where we are at in the present moment – not where he desires us to be in order to bless us, redeem us, or even forgive us when we falter. Unfortunately, the Mormon faith, it’s leaders and many members seemed to have lost sight of this important truth. (How God meets us where we are in the present moment)
This very thought was illuminated this evening at the fireside. People who are having a crisis of faith (whether they are Latter-day Saint Christians, Evangelical Christians, Roman Catholics or any other Christian faith), are not looking for judgment or condemnation. Instead, they are looking to be met exactly where they are at in that precise moment – without prejudice, judgment or unsolicited advice. Especially since the last thing individuals want is to feel unwelcome by those in their Christian faith community.
Instead, we ought to strive toward inclusion of those who are wrestling with God because of their doubts, fears and questions. Because, people are emotional beings more than they are rational beings and through emotional experiences, make decisions based on how they feel. We may not know a person is struggle and wrestling with God, what we say and what we do determine whether or not a person feels unaccepted and unwanted.
5. Remember what you know about your own personal experiences
For those wrestling with God because of doubts and questions, always hold onto what you know and have already experienced while striving to live out the Gospel in your own lives. This may require having a heart to heart conversation with an individual or a group of individuals (Family, friends, like minded co-workers, even those who may not share in the same beliefs you and I share in). The more insight we are able to gain, the more we are able to bring to remembrance the many different blessings and spiritual experiences we have already received.
6. Need to turn our doubts and questions over to God
We always forget that God works according to his own time line. For instance, after 400 years of Slavery, God had heard the many prayers of the Israelites and remembered his covenant he had made with Abraham. In our finite ways of thinking, we demand instant gratification, instant relief from whatever is our struggle, however we are wrestling with God. Here is where real faith is challenged and tested – not by our will, but by the Will, desire and purpose of God. A God who is sovereign, merciful and kind to those who seek after him.
What then is the recipe to get on the other side of our wrestling match with God? First, we ought to remember to always seek after truth in our own lives. Not only seek after it, live it out as authentic as possible. Remember that just as God validates our own sorrows, our own struggles and our own doubts and fears, we too must validate other’s who are going through their own season of wrestling with God. Secondly, we ought to be ready to be of service to those who are wanting to find their own personal revelation. Though, we are not able to give to them their own revelation about God, or receive answers for them. We are, instead, able to encourage, empower and support their ongoing means to find their own blessing, testimony and faith in God. Much like Jacob had to wrestle with God and receive the blessing afterward, we too must do this alone – not without the support of others around us though.
The blessings that come when we find a solidarity faith in God, his truth and the reality of Jesus Christ? The ability to live out the Gospel in an authentic way as a testimony to others that are seeking their own answers.
We all will come to our own place where we face the Sovereign God and wrestle with him. Be encouraged that just as Jacob found his faith, we too are able to find our own faith in God. And, live out that faith in a more authentic and genuine way.
Discussion Questions for commentary:
1) Have you had a moment of crisis in your faith where you doubted God? What was your experience and how were you able to resolve your struggles and doubts?
2) If you have left the Faith (LDS or Evangelical Christianity) what were some of the doubts that kept you from engaging?
3) How do you identify with the video message and this article? What questions do you have in helping those around you who are currently wrestling or struggling in their own faith?