January. It is the month that we begin to set new expectations for ourselves. We look at the new year as an opportunity to step into a new chapter of life, a fresh start. There is an undeniable excitement in the air when we are surrounded by our friends and loved ones on New Year’s Eve, perhaps with a cocktail in hand (or if you’re like me, Aldi’s $4.99 “Winking Owl” Cabernet Sauvignon), waiting for that ball to drop on the big screen. There is music, delicious food, and drinks, games for everyone to play, and we are all anxiously awaiting the magic that comes with starting over. We are gathered together, possibly discussing our goals and ambitions for the year ahead, and more than ready to forget the past. It’s a party, a feast, a celebration of what we are leaving behind and of what we are moving towards. I have held this same way of thinking for many New Year’s Eves past.
Every year, my mom holds the tradition of challenging herself, my brother, my dad, my husband and I of asking the Lord to give each of us a specific word or phrase for the new year. To me, it has always been a wonderful occasion to begin again and to leave the past year behind me. Believe me, I was more than ready to leave 2018, and all of the hardships and pain it had brought, behind. So on January 2nd of 2019, there I sat, early in the morning, with a cup of hot coffee in hand, enjoying my quiet time with the Lord. I made the request that He confirm my word for the new year. As I sat there, eagerly awaiting what I thought His response would be, He shocked me by gently whispering, “Remember.” I looked up from my prayer stance, and literally said out loud, “What did you just say?! Remember?! That is not what I wanted my word to be, Jesus!” I had no desire to remember anything about 2018! I spent most of the year watching someone I love dearly walk through the darkest valley she had ever encountered. Even after the dark valley began to lighten, I was left feeling battle weary and exhausted. I had spent the better half of 2018 holding the Lord an arm’s length away, furious at Him. That was my 2018 – or at least most of it, so why in the world would He ask me to remember it? Aren’t I supposed to look ahead? Confused, I brought these questions to the Lord and he showed me Genesis 32, verses 22-31.
Let me give you a little background regarding this passage. It’s about a guy named Jacob, who was the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham. Jacob had cheated his twin brother, Esau, out of his birthright and blessing. So of course, brother Esau was trying to seek revenge on Jacob and had threatened to kill him. So Jacob runs away, and for years, seeks safety and asylum from his mother’s side of the family, avoiding any contact with his revenge-filled brother, Esau. After years of hiding from Esau, Jacob is to finally meet his brother face to face. Jacob is terrified of what could happen upon the encounter with his brother, and the night before they are to meet, Jacob finds himself alone in the dark. And there, in the utter darkness, Jacob comes face to face with God. Verses 24-25 show us what went down when Jacob encountered his God:
“So Jacob was left alone,
and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.
When the man saw that he (Jacob)
could not overpower him,
he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip
so that his hip was wrenched
as he wrestled with the man.”
Ouch. God pretty much laid down the hammer on our poor friend Jacob and left him with a painful injury. Can you imagine being Jacob? He’s already in enough trouble, which he had brought upon himself through his deceit and disobedience toward his brother, Esau. He has most likely lived for years in horrific fear for his life, along with deep regret, and now the God of the Universe has decided to wrestle with him and ends up wrenching his hip. That is a lot of humiliation and pain that he probably would have liked to immediately forget.
Now let’s take a look at what happens next in verses 26-31:
“Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
The man asked him, “What is your name?”
He answered, “Jacob.”
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob,
but Israel, because you have struggled with God
and with humans and have overcome.”
Jacob replied, “Please tell me your name.”
The man replied, “Why do you ask my name?”
Then the man blessed Jacob there.
So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying
“It is because I saw God face to face,
and yet my life was spared.”
The sun rose above Jacob as he left Peniel,
and he was limping because of his hip.”
Before Jacob wrestled with God, he had not surrendered all of himself to his Creator. Jacob, because of his past mistakes and humiliation with Esau, was on the run for years from not only his brother but also his God. I imagine Jacob was probably trying to hide his shame and careless ways, desperately wanting to forget the entire thing and just move on. God loved Jacob too much to let him stay in that place of hiding and decided to confront him. Amidst the wrestling match, I can imagine God fiercely trying to remind Jacob of who he was created to be, demanding that he stop running and step into the life his Creator had intended for him. Like many of our stories, Jacob fought back. Being called out is one of the most uncomfortable situations we can find ourselves in, which is right where we find our friend Jacob. To be called out by the Creator of the Universe – that hurts. It hurts because it requires us to stop hiding and face our Maker with our whole hearts, not just parts of it. It requires us to face our pain, not just hide it. So I understand Jacob’s unwillingness.
When Jacob finally stopped resisting God, the battle ceased and Jacob got the blessing he had asked for from the Lord. The Lord even gave him a new name, Israel, to represent that Jacob was an overcomer! Even though Jacob had run, had made plenty of mistakes along the way, and had literally wrestled with God, in the end, Jacob surrendered which deemed him worthy of a new title. It was a long battle, probably the biggest fight of Jacob’s life. The battle that left him with not only a blessing but a wound he would never forget. Remember when God struck Jacob’s hip? At the end of the passage, it says that Jacob “limped” out of Peniel, the place where he wrestled God. I don’t know about you, but I think a physical wound from God Himself would probably have lasting effects… like, forever. Every time Jacob felt pain in his hip, he would remember the deep pain and fear of his past mistakes. He would remember his disobedience in running away from the Lord. In that moment of remembrance, he may have even been filled with regret. More than anything though, he would remember the day of his surrender. He would remember the Lord running after him, and literally tackling him to the ground in His furious love. Jacob would remember the day he stepped into his blessing.
So I will remember my scars of 2018. I will look back at the fierce anger, pain, and emptiness that filled my heart. But I will also remember the healing and renewing of my heart. I will remember the Lord’s faithfulness in running after me despite my unfaithfulness. I will remember the sweet surrender. And I will always remember the simple truth the Lord whispered to my eager soul on that early morning of January 2nd, 2019. Sometimes we need only look back to remember how far He has brought us.
(We are all Warriors, fighting battles that maybe no one knows about. If you have a word for 2019 that the Lord has given you, please share it with me so we can continue to pray for and encourage one another! Being a Warrior means you never have to go into battle alone.)