My oldest son was a wrestler in high school. Wrestling, to me, seems like the ultimate sport….no special equipment (just mouth and ear protectors), no big "kick off," no fancy uniforms, and no cheerleaders. It's just two athletes using their physical and mental strength and strategy to pin the other to the mat. It's a very physical sport, but also one that requires a strong mind and, less popularly, the ability and courage to know when to surrender. Sometimes in a wrestling match, surrender will save you from a serious injury…even as it bruises your pride.
My son is a fighter….I mean for real. Dude does NOT give up. He is as stubborn as the day is long and I can't think of more than one or two times I actually saw him surrender to his opponent. The vast majority of the time, he fought right to the end…and then, still refusing to give in, he would be angry at himself the rest of the meet for not pinning the other guy. He'd hold on to the struggle long after the match was over. I remember feeling so badly for him and wished he would cut himself some slack those times he lost a match, but he rarely surrenders, even to himself. I love my son's strong character and his incredible strength and courage….and sometimes I wish he would just allow himself to crumble a little.
I've never been in a wrestling match (those leotard thingies they wear are prohibitive, for sure!) where my physical strength was what kept me in the game. I have come to realize very recently, however, that I have been in a very long and arduous wrestling match with God…years long, actually.
I've heard people say that it's a good thing to wrestle with God…that real faith requires some struggle and questioning….that God can "take" it. In fact, I am sure I have said those things to other people. I believe those things…and I believe that wrestling with God on a cerebral level is very different from wrestling with God in your deepest, most private places…in your gut, where it gets messy and painful. Getting on the mat with God in those issues that REALLY matter…where something very real is on the line... is a whole different kind of wrestling match.
The thing about wrestling with God, though, is that God never gets tired…God never gets discouraged, never breaks a sweat…Dude does NOT give up. All the strategy and finesse in the world will do absolutely nothing to gain you leverage on the mat with God. I've tried. I have maneuvered myself around God's wrestling mat for years believing, I suppose, that I had a shot at…what? pinning God? I can't for the life of me think what I expected the outcome to be…how could it be anything other than what it is?
Finally…being completely out of clever maneuvers…having no "fight" left…I took the chance recently to look into the face of my opponent…and would you believe….God was smiling. As God held my shoulders to the mat…patiently waiting for me to stop writhing and struggling…to stop beating my fists against God's chest…to stop resisting God's unyielding power…to just stop….God gently, happily, lovingly reminded me that I can resist all day long if I want to. I can keep this match going for more years than it already has, if I want to. Or…I can just stop struggling and writhing and trying to find an outcome that is other than the inevitable outcome….God's outcome.
The only real outcome that can offer me any peace from the struggle is surrender. Surrender not to an opponent, but to the love that sustains me…the love that has held my struggling self to the mat for years waiting for me to find the courage to surrender. I've been keeping the match going well past its time by continuing to be angry with myself and to writhe around and strategize ways out of life's grief and pain rather than just surrendering and allowing God to pin me to the mat once and for all. As quickly as I thought the thought and prayed the prayer, it happened. The wrestling match ended. I could breathe again. And I could see that once I was able to stand up again, there was so much more going on than just what I could perceive from my position on the mat. I was so busy struggling against myself and God that I couldn't see anything else. Lying face down on a smelly wrestling mat is no way to go through life…that much I know for sure.
So, as I think of my beautiful son…so filled with strength and resolve…I can't help but offer up prayers for him to cut himself some slack now and then…he's hard on himself…poor kid, comes by it honest enough, hey?