Faith for the rest of us


Photo Credit: “Jacob Wrestles”, © 2013 michael_swan, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio14093709943_87b56566e3_o.jpg

Photo Credit: “Jacob Wrestles”, © 2013 michael_swan, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

22The same night [Jacob] got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When 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. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Genesis 32:22-31

                In the early 90’s the movie Hero made me think differently about what it takes to be a hero. I used to think that heroes were extraordinary people but the movie turned that idea on its head for me.

The person who saved the day was a unscrupulous character who didn’t play well to the cultural ideal of a hero and throughout the movie we see the characters come to terms about what it means to be a hero.

Personally it made me realize that heroes are not extraordinary people rather they are ordinary people who in perhaps only one moment in time, did an extraordinary thing.

Heroes – we love them and we hate them. They are everything that we hope to be and at the same time, they are everything that we are not. We look up to heroes for inspiration but at times, when we measure ourselves according to the outward appearance of their heroic acts, we find ourselves falling short.

In her book, flunking sainthood, Jana Reiser, explores her own attempt to live a faithful life, perhaps trying to live up to some of her spiritual heroes. She decided to take on a year-long project of reading the spiritual classics while attempting different spiritual disciplines.

From the title of her book, you can imagine how the year turned out for Jana.

As her story unfolds, we laugh with her and cry with her. In February she fasted from food but instead of realizing that it didn’t necessarily make her feel closer to God as she was expecting, however, she began to realize a deeper truth . It dawned on her that, “fasting is not for visions or even for answers to prayer. It’s not to manipulate God into acting according to our wishes, and not to show God just how willing we are to sacrifice something for him. Fasting is to help us on that painful road toward humility.”[1]

Throughout the year, as Jana engages in other spiritual disciplines, we find that the road isn’t easy for her as she recognizes her humanity and her limits but she also experiences God in the midst of all those failures. What we begin to see is that those spiritual practices reveal more of who she is and her need of God and that discovery continues to unfold for her throughout the year.

What Jana experiences during this year exemplifies the understanding that we are at the same time both sinner and saint. That in our humanity we have need of God but at the same time, God declares us saint and gives us his blessing.

I think that is why I like Jacob so much. We’ve declared him to be a hero in faith although he possesses so many qualities that make him so difficult to want to emulate.

The list of undesirable and unethical behaviour stacks up as the story of Genesis unfolds, we learn more about Jacob, one of the patriarchs of the faith.

Jacob takes advantage of his brother, Esau’s hunger to gain a birthright that he had no claim to. Unfortunately for Esau, it wasn’t the last time that he experienced his brother’s treachery. On the day Esau was to be blessed, Jacob, with help from their mother, beat him to the punch. Jacob intentionally, deceived his father into believing that Jacob himself was Esau and received his father’s blessing in Esau’s stead. Finally, although it could be argued that his father in law had it coming, Jacob took advantage of Laman’s trust in him to gain wealth through dishonourable means.

No, Jacob was not perfect. He was never satisfied and he always wanted more. More from life. More from those round him. More from God.

So much more that he wrestled with God at Peniel.  He wrestled with God AND received a blessing.

No matter how often we struggle. No matter how fierce our resistance. No matter the struggle that we engage in as we grasp for more with God.

In the end, God blesses us.

Yes, that’s right…even though we mess up, even when we are manipulative to get what we want, God redeems us and blesses us.

Jana and Jacob’s stories gives hope to the rest of us as we have our own struggles in the life of faith.

Perhaps like me their stories are making you consider the ways in which you struggle with God and perhaps the most helpful to do is to acknowledge those ways that we strive with God like Jacob.

So today I invite you to take a moment to  write down ways that right now, you are striving for more and struggling with God and I invite you to share with your pastor or with someone who is your spiritual mentor those things that you are struggling with so that others can pray with you in the struggle.

We might not be perfect in our faith yet God declares his blessing. We might always struggle for more instead of being content, yet God names us blessed.

Jana may have flunked at the kind of sainthood that most people think of when they think of our heroes of faith but she did receive her blessing. Six weeks after she submitted the manuscript to the publishers she received a phone call from the hospital that her father whom she had not seen in 27 years was laying dying in the hospital.

Her father had left her family when she was 14, cleaning out her mother’s bank account and her whe found herself facing  the difficult decision as to whether she would fly to his bedside. To top it off, she had been asked by the hospital to make the decision to take him off of life support as he was unresponsive and could not breath on his own.

As she shared her story I could not help but notice that even though she felt as if she had flunked sainthood, she was describing that God’s presence and peace was with her right in the middle of this gut wrenching experience. I  couldn’t help but notice that in the midst of all her failures and fears our God was naming and claiming her as his own. God was in the middle of her struggle declaring that she was blessed.

We all struggle against something.

We all fight for more.

And in those moments when we are wrestling with God we can remember that although we struggle, there is a fine line between wrestling and embrace. And while we might be fighting God. I’m pretty sure he is just there holding onto us not wanting to let us go until we let go, subside and so that he can give us that blessing. Thanks be to God.

[1] Jana Reiser, flunking sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray and Still Loving My Neighbour. Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press, 2011.


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