My job title can be a burden. I observe two inclinations in strangers who find out that I serve as a pastor: they back up or lean in. I prefer the leaning in response. Paired with our laser focus on spirituality AND recovery at NSC, the “leaning inners” often tell me some really great stories. One storyline troubles me. It’s the storyline that recounts how a loved one does not believe in God. I’m not sure the response the “leaner” is looking for, but historically I suspect I’ve been a disappointment in my response to them. In response to this consistent message, I have acquired a personal perspective on the subject matter of lost sheep.
It is far more important to understand God’s perspective on his sheep than it is to know the opinions of the sheep. I could support this perspective with any number of biblical references regarding wandering sheep and their tireless faithful shepherds. We could talk about how God has been compared to a shepherd in the bible at least 33 times – give or take a few due to my poor counting abilities. Instead, I want to talk about someone who just might have fit into our community at NSC. His name was Jacob.
He was one of those stars in the lineage of Abraham and he was one tricky trickster. He used the favoritism of his mother toward him to help him trick his brother out of his portion of his inheritance. Many biblical accounts support the idea that Jacob was a man with defects of character. But his greatest weakness – a stubborn propensity to passionately want and take what he wants out of life – turned out to be a strength in the story I want us to focus on today.
In Genesis 32 Jacob is once again in the midst of a scheme. He’s preparing to meet Esau, his twin that he cheated and who he hasn’t seen in years because Jacob fled the scene post con. He’s gotten in trouble with the family he married into while in exile and is returning home. It really is a story worthy of your reading! Trust me on this – Jacob is pretty ruthless in his intent to preserve his own hide. Then there is this weird wrestling with God story. Ultimately, we find out he is actually wrestling with God, and he refuses to let go of God until God blesses him. He received both a blessing and a torn muscle that resulted in a permanent limp.
I don’t know what to make of this story but to say this: God is in the business of blessing people. He isn’t interested only in perfect people; he is willing to wrestle with ALL people. That willingness is a consideration when we are doing our own wrestling – over both dark inclinations and our holy humanity. When people tell me that their loved one doesn’t believe in God and imply that this somehow is connected with their addiction issues or poor choices, I generally respond like this, “Don’t you think it is at least as important to remember that God loves your kid/niece/spouse as it is to focus on what your loved one indicates about their opinion of God?” I think it matters. I’d encourage you to be gentle with yourself and others in the God department. Disappointed in yourself? OK. Go wrestle with what to do. But remember that the seat of power is God’s (not ours) and he’s crazy about you.