“Struggle” is a word with negative connotations in our North American culture. The statement “My friend is struggling” is usually an entre to some sad story, and an entreaty to pray for the person or at least pity them. But I’ve been thinking about ‘struggle’ lately, and my friend Kelsey. I think I’m going to go ahead and diagnose her with a terminal case of ‘struggling’. I’m also ready to declare it a very good thing.
My friend Mark’s suggestive blog post started my thinking on this, and the new and excellent book by Pete Rollins is making a more extended case. They both recount the Biblical story of Jacob, who is confronted by a stranger one night. Separated from all he knows, Jacob wrestles this man, who wrenches Jacob’s hip, giving him a permanent limp. Somehow in the midst of all of this, it becomes apparent to our newly disabled friend that the man he has been wrestling is, in fact, God. And for his effort and injury, Jacob is given not a reward or compensation, but a peculiar blessing: a new name. He is now called ‘Israel’– “one who struggles”, for he has struggled with God, and won the respect of the Almighty.
My friend Kelsey carries the weight of the world, because she is a true citizen of the world. Her questions about God’s power and goodness are not borne out of a lack of creature comforts (like me, melting from a simple power outage) or even from personal grief. Hers are huge questions provoked by the tsunami in Indonesia, where hundreds of thousands of people died in minutes, and where she arrived later to coordinate aid for those devastated. Her burdens are carried for those enduring genocide in Sudan and Darfur, where she also served and tried not to be killed for the truck she was driving. Her angst is not abstracted, but actual: felt for her fellow aid workers who were killed in cold blood there.
So like the man who God named ‘Israel’, Kelsey is ‘one who struggles’ and this is not a temporary condition, or one that will have a happy ending. It’s not an easy life, but I’m beginning to see that it is a good life, a real life, a beautiful life, as she faces the world as it is and wishes and works toward the world as it should be. And though she is an exceptional person, her struggle ought not be so unusual: would to God that we would all wrestle with God and struggle with how God fits into the world, and walk with God to work with God as we restore this world. Even if it means that we walk with a limp.