Finding rest in the wrestling

As 2020 arrived, I stood at the beginning, wondering how I would carry the load and make it through the intense semester. I would say there was even a bit of dread. This would, by far, be my toughest semester of graduate/seminary studies, finishing up my second year in the Institute of Spiritual Formation program at Talbot School of Theology (Biola University). I loved this program and was learning so much, but going to school in your forties is not like going to school in your twenties.

I returned to California worn. Christmas break was tough and not relaxing. There seemed to always be one more thing on the list. Now the list was even longer—including a long list of assignments from the four different syllabi I had been given. Lord, what am I doing here? I just want to quit.

I sat down that first Saturday night back at my church in Cali not wanting to be back at this journey. Lord, is this really where you want me? I am so tired. I don’t think I even have anything left to give this semester. The pastor spoke from the Lord’s heart about Jacob wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22-32) and preparing for the decade ahead. He said, “Prepare to lose.” Now, this isn’t your typical new year, fresh start type of message. My ears perked up. Lord, where is he going with this?

I already felt like I wanted to quit. Now I’m confronted with the message—prepare to lose?

The pastor continued, “Jacob gets to this wrestling with God and he loses…after you lose, then the perfect opportunity to quit comes along…Satan wants to set up the perfect opportunity for your exit strategy…he already has you giving up on everything you dreamed of because you’re lost…But I’m glad you came to church today because I’m preparing you to lose. Just because you lost the fight does not mean you lost the blessing! It is not over!”

Tears streamed down my face.

I told a classmate that following Monday, “I almost quit the program this past weekend, but God reminded me that this season isn’t over.”

“A year of rest.” This was a phrase I began writing at the top of every page of a gratitude journal I received for Christmas. Marking 2020 as “a year of rest” seemed so bizarre. However, I began to approach my spring semester with this attitude. Every time I was at a crossroads with my work and debated whether or not I should push through or take a break, I tried to choose rest. I gave myself permission to stop pushing, to give up, and to rest.

I never imagined that after only two months in California during 2020, that my toughest semester would shift to an online format. Or that I would complete this intense task in the comfort of my Indiana home—many days in my pjs.

Yes, I did need to prepare for loss this year. I have lost a significant amount of work income, like so many. I have lost time with dear friends in California or really seeing any friends and most family face-to-face. I lost the opportunity for in-person learning and gleaning from the wisdom of my professors. And I’m sure 2020 will continue to reveal more losses in the months to come.

The end of my toughest semester is complete! Only one more year to go in this journey of graduate/seminary studies. And this invitation continues— “a year of rest.” A phrase that God had prepared all along, knowing what these months would be like.

I’m certain this rest will look different from month to month, but I am delighted to accept the invitation. I’m curious as to how God will use the rest to continue His transformation in my soul. As you may know from my past stories, rest is not one of my strengths. But I believe that He may be changing that this year.

Have you ever noticed that within the English word “wrestle” is the word “rest”? Seems like a paradox. But maybe there is something for our souls there. What if the most secure place—that place of rest—is in wrestling with the Lord (especially right now)?

What have you lost? Have you named them? Maybe the losses you experienced have been intense and painful. I am so sorry. I wish I could give you a big hug and remind you that you’re not alone. I pray you take this opportunity to wrestle with God and allow the intensity of loss to take you to that wrestling mat.

At the same time, what if this season is an invitation for something good that you didn’t expect? Like downtime you never planned. Are there places of rest that God wants to invite you to? What would it look like to walk into that, even today?

Remember, this is not over! God has not stopped being God. Check out Psalm 31 and the song of a fellow w-rest-ler. May his words be a prayer for your soul, too.

“Be strong and take heart all you who hope in the Lord” (Psalm 31:24).

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