I remember when I was little one of my favorite things to do with my Dad was wrestle with him. He would come home from work, set his stuff down, and I would begin to bombard him, “Dad let’s wrestle! Dad lets wrestle! When are we going to wrestle dad?” We both knew that he could beat me easily. I was small and scrawny and he was my dad, the big guy who to me was so incredibly strong and powerful. I remember my dad being so gentle as we wrestled, I can’t recall ever getting hurt while we were locked in combat. I enjoyed this battle so much! Years later, as I look back at that moment, I realize how beautiful these moments with my dad were because they were moments when I could just be with my dad. He allowed me to grapple with him, he could have just put his foot on me and waited for me to give up, but he allowed me to enter into a struggle with him. Whether or not my dad realized it then, he showed me a glimpse of God the Father.
In Genesis 32:24-32, we hear how Jacob literally wrestles with God. By the end of this contest God gives Jacob a new name, “Israel,” which means, “he who struggles with God”. I was reading about this event in a book called “Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina” by Dr. Timothy Gray. Gray unravels how very unique this is that Jacob’s name is changed to Israel, and as a result the entire nation of Israel.
“The collective name of God’s people, Israel, is itself an invitation to wrestle with God. The boldness of this name can be contrasted to the origin of the term Islam, which means “submission,” and to Islamic prayer, in which you simply bow before God and accept whatever is spoken or done as the act of Allah. To question is to transgress… In stark contrast, the patriarchs, biblical prophets, apostles, and even Jesus Himself wrestled with God in prayer.” (Pg. 81-82)
God invites us to struggle with Him! He desires it so much He gives His people in the Old Testament this name as an invitation for them to not just blindly follow or submit but to grapple with Him. Jesus even shows us in many of His own prayers this “wrestling” with God. He quotes the beginning of Psalm 22 when He cries to God on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46). This is not a rejection of God, but rather an example of this wrestling with God in good and bad times. If you read through all of Psalm 22 at the end you read the psalmist saying, “I will praise you: You who fear the LORD, give praise! All descendants of Jacob give honor” (Ps 22:23-24).
I am starting to see that much of what we believe as Catholics invites us to struggle: God being unchanging, and yet ever new, Jesus being completely human and completely divine at the same time, being present at every time and every place and yet uniquely present in the Eucharist, Jesus as God who came to earth to bring all people to Himself and yet He tells us that we weak humans in the Church will do more than He did in His earthly life, that God gives us complete free will and yet knows what we are going to do or say before we even do, and of course God being One, yet three persons. All these things seem so contradictory and yet I understand now that God reveals these aspects of who He is to us, so that we would come to wrestle with Him.
I have found lately that as I accept the invitation to wrestle with God in these different ways (as I wrestled with my Dad when I was younger) God allows me to see more of who He is as my Father in Heaven. God invites us to not just blindly submit to Him but to come and through grappling with these characteristics be very close to Him.
God, give us the strength of Your Holy Spirit as we wrestle with You. Draw near to us and give us Your blessing, You who are a good Father to us. You desire that we be close to You always, prepare our hearts for that day when we shall see you face to face, and dive eternally deeper into Your most Sacred Heart. Amen.