There is a story in the book of Genesis about Jacob, the son of Isaac, a conniver, manipulator and all around usurper. Jacob could have definitely been a captain of industry or a king of Wall Street with his Machiavellian instincts for sticking it to other people for his own gain. While these harsh monikers are certainly true of him, they do not fully capture the complexity of his heart or his ambitions. As duplicitous as Jacob was in his dealings, his schemes were not entirely engineered for his own glory. From his earliest age, yes even in his mother’s womb, he intuitively grasped that taking risks in the name and for the sake of God’s glory would also give his life meaning. In hindsight, his methods weren’t always the most ethical but his heart always gravitated towards doing bold things for God.
This paradox of noble intentions wrapped in ruthless pragmatism proved most volatile when Jacob tricked his brother, Esau, into trading his position as primary heir to their father Isaac for a trivial and temporary sum. Essentially, Jacob knew that he would be a more passionate and faithful executor of their father’s unique treasure, to follow in the line of their grandfather, Abraham, as a patriarch of the people of God for all future human history. However, Esau, upon realizing Jacob’s treachery, threatened to kill his brother, and Jacob lived in exile in fear of Esau for many years. The following passage brings us to the night before the first meeting of Jacob and Esau since their falling out many years earlier. Understandably, Jacob was very anxious about how his brother would receive him.
“24 Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”28 He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” 31 Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. 32 Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip.” Genesis 32
Jacob discovered that choosing to be in the business of championing God’s glory on earth, if your heart is really in it, always requires a life altering trial by combat with God to determine whose glory is ultimately the most important. You see Jacob’s tenacity in refusing to tap out against God’s superior force demonstrated that he was willing to die rather than continue his life without God’s approval. He went all in and God rewarded him with reconciliation with Esau and his family and the legitimate title of patriarch of all humanity.
But Jacob also found out that combat with God always leaves a permanent disability. God touched Jacob’s hip and he limped for the rest of his life as a reminder of his need for humility before God and others and a warning to never return to his manipulating ways. It’s not that God is sadistic, actually quite to the contrary, without limps and wounds, we tend to think we don’t need God or others, a lonely and tragic condition. Oh that we could learn humility, sacrifice and love without our wounds.
As I survey much of the modern day church, I don’t see many leaders or followers, for that matter, who let others see their limps or even more, accept and embrace others’ limps. We, the church, are so hung up on being “right” all the time and presenting perfection and excellence that we treat our limps and wounds as pathology to hide or cure rather than gifts of God’s grace. That’s why we euthanize those who have wounds that are too uncomfortable to look at or too inconveniencing to our “normal” lives. I know that many of our limps and wounds are still painful to the touch and our instincts are to protect them even hide them. I have spent most of my tenure as a pastor apologizing for and compensating for my wounds so as not to make my people too uncomfortable or convicted. That is being a really vain and selfish leader. My wounds make me more compassionate and more open to the exile and afflicted. A better picture of God’s grace and ability to make broken things whole—something my favorite mosaic teacher always says. Choosing to suppress my wounds is choosing my own glory over God’s.
Don’t let the world or especially the church pressure you into apologizing for or hiding your limps, for they are a gift from God and a reminder of your need for his grace and his power to make broken things whole and beautiful.