“So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 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?’ ‘Jacob,’ he answered. 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.’” Genesis 32:24-28
My family has hip issues. Clear back in high school I can remember my sisters having hip pain, their joints locking up and the efforts they made to work through the pain to continue their running careers. My Grandmother had a hip replacement as well as my Mom. I suspect a few decades from now, I’ll get my own new hips as well.
For a time I managed to dodge the genetic hip-pain bullet then, 8 years ago, it finally caught up with me. I had been working my first “sit-a-lot” job, got up to walk and my hip locked in pain. Even after all these years as I strengthen and stretch I still have a limp sometimes. The pain will catch me off guard and I’ll smile and grimace, lean to the right, and walk like my Grandmother for a bit until it subsides. It’s a part of the history of who I am, the story that I have.
With all this, you are probably not surprised to learn of my affection for the story of Jacob’s wrestling match with God that resulted in his own lasting hip injury. I love this story for all the obvious reasons. I love what it teaches us about wrestling with God. About being willing to engage in a long, hard battle so you can emerge on the other side with a blessing. It is a story of perseverance that can strengthen us when we are wrestling, growing, trying our best to come out on the other side changed for the better.
And while I appreciate the empowerment angle, it’s actually in the aftermath where I really fall in love with what God did. He left Jacob (now Israel) with a limp. In what initially seems like an unkind end to a long night, God blessed Israel with remembering. That limp served as a constant reminder of the journey he went through with God. And…oh how I love this…that limp also made it so he was unable to keep the story to himself. Every time Israel hobbled along, others would notice his limp, maybe ask what happened, and he would have yet another chance to share his story. To bless others by the telling of his battle and glorify God by sharing how his life was changed. The chance to be real with folks.
While Jacob had to acknowledge what happened to him, what about us? We usually have the choice of whether or not to share our stories. Most of our battles are on the inside or in our past and often we work hard to keep them there. We do not like for people to know we had to wrestle “all night” with God over something. We don’t want them to see the scars left behind from facing hard things. We create false narratives and present something other than the truth because we feel like it protects us, or protects others, or isn’t anyone’s business.
Let me say this gently, but bluntly. Our stories do not belong to us. They belong to God.
Now before you go into vulnerability shock, let me say this. I don’t know what this looks like for you. Being real with other people requires discernment, and prayer, and guidance on who and what is safe to share with other people. The last thing I am doing is suggesting that you share all of who you are with everyone. That’s not sharing, that’s vomiting. However, it may be that there is a part of your story God wants you to share because it is going to help someone draw strength from you and gain the permission to be real and vulnerable because you did it first. It is sometimes by talking about the limp in our own story that we help someone else walk stronger.
My fellow sojourner, it’s a hard thing to get through this life without having to limp a time or two. We may as well walk it out authentically together as we head the same Direction.
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