A Wrestler

Hello, my name is Sara, and I go to counseling.

If you know me, that sentence doesn’t come as a surprise to you. Not because I’m obviously a mess of a person who needs a little help keeping it all together (which who doesn’t, ya’ll?), but because it’s not something I shy away from. For the better part of a decade, I’ve been a loud and proud proponent of counseling. When it comes to counseling, there is no shame in my game.

One hour every other week or so has literally transformed my life. It’s brought awareness, healing, boundaries, self-care, humility, value and a host of other positive things into my world. Until the day I die, I will find a way to put myself in the position to receive wisdom, help, and guidance from someone who is older, wiser, and trained professionally to help me be a better person (or sometimes just get through the day).

Now don’t get me wrong; sometimes counseling really sucks. Sometimes nothing about is fun. Sometimes you cry harder than you anticipated and apologize for using all the Kleeenex in the box. Sometimes you stop at the gas station on the way home and eat an entire bag of Sour Patch Kids to reward yourself for the incredibly difficult self-work you just did. And sometimes you just go home, crawl in the bed, and sleep it off.  Not because it wasn’t helpful or worth it, but because sometimes the things that are most helpful and worth the most in life require the most work.

My counselor routinely gives me homework. She knows I’m an achiever at heart, so if someone gives me a goal (a.k.a. something to achieve), I’m going to do it. End of story. The homework that week was simple: read ten verses in the book of Genesis. Genesis 32:22-32 to be exact.

If you’re not familiar with that set of verses off the top of your head, let me give you a refresher course. This guy Jacob is on his way back home with his family, where his estranged brother Esau is waiting for him. The two have been at odds because of something bad that Jacob did, and so Jacob is obviously nervous to see his brother again. During that trip home, Jacob is alone at his camp one night when he encounters what seems to be a man who immediately starts to wrestle with him. Jacob wrestles with this man all night, all the way until the man knocks Jacob’s hip out of socket and leaves him limping. As the day breaks and the wrestling match ends, Jacob asks the man to bless him, and the man replies:

From now on you will be called Israel,

because you have fought with God and with men and have won.

Ya’ll, Jacob was straight up wrestling with God all night long! If that story is weird to you, don’t worry; it is to me, too. The Old Testament is super weird sometimes, right?

I went back to counseling the next week, homework complete and story read, but totally confused as to what this had to do with anything in my life right now. When I said that to my counselor, she said: “Oh Sara, this story has everything to do with you. You’re a wrestler.”

My older brother and his friends were obsessed with wrestling when I was a kid. They even had their own made up wrestling league (though I can’t tell you the name on this blog because it’s not for the faint of heart). From watching them pretend to hit each other with chairs, or flip each other over in the driveway, or use my Barbie dolls as weapons in their basement matches, or do any number of other dumb things in the name of “wrestling,” I can say with certainty that I have very little interest in ever wrestling anyone. I have never seen myself as a wrestler of any kind.

I have, however, seen myself as an over analyzer. I’m a deep thinker, the kind of person who turns something around and around in my mind before I land on an answer. I take nothing at face value; I take it in and look at it from every angle. I think about it, then I think about it again, then I think about it again, and then I think about it again. And just for good measure, I think about it one last time.

If that sounds exhausting, it’s because it is. It makes things like making a decision of any kind hard. And it makes settling on Truth even harder.

That’s been the story of my journey as a Christian. While I’d love to be the kind of person who walks forward with full assurance and faith in every circumstance, I’m not. I’d love to be the kind of Christian who has deep-rooted peace all the time, but that’s just not the way this mind was wired. I’d love to be the kind of person who has enough faith to believe the Truth of God in spite of the circumstances that unfold around me, but I’m just not.

I can tell you that I’m the kind of person who prays… like a lot. I’m the kind of person who asks a lot of questions of God. I’m the kind of person who can’t just sit in the idea that God is good even when bad things happen. I’m the kind of person who isn’t right away okay with the many things I don’t understand about God. I’m not even the kind of person who always wants to believe in God.

But still, I believe in Him. Still, I pray. Still, I ask questions.

And that, according to my counselor, makes me a wrestler.

So many times I've sat across from her and cried (that comes as a surprise to no one, I know). I struggle aloud about the things that I don’t understand about God, and my life, and the world we live in. And then I say, “I’m sorry. I know I’m not supposed to think that about God, or say that I feel that way about my faith.”

That’s where the required reading comes in.

You see, what she wanted me to know is that I am, in fact, a wrestler. And not just that, being a wrestler is okay. In fact, I come from a long line of wrestlers who have gone before me. People who have struggled with their faith, turned it around and around in their minds, and fought through their feelings and doubts and questions with God.  People like Jacob.

And like Jacob, when we wrestle with God—when we really get in the ring and get real about what’s going on in our hearts—we walk away changed. Jacob left with a limp, a physical sign of the spiritual wrestling that happened in his life. And every time I wrestle with God, I walk away different.

So I guess my counselor was right (no surprise there). I’m a wrestler. I’m in the ring with God because I don’t want to settle for a face value faith. And even on the days I wish it were easier, I know that I won’t walk away unchanged.

Sara Shelton