A week ago tonight, I was home alone. I felt great ambivalence about my situation: It’s always nice to get a little break: Motherhood can be a challenge, even for moms who absolutely love our jobs, so I had breathed a big deep breath of relief when I closed the garage door after Grandma packed the kids and headed for her house for a Monday-night slumber party. The same breath of relief caught in my throat: Now what? I have lots of hobbies. But still the house felt empty and hollow, and my mind felt unsettlingly full of anxious thoughts, fears, and all of the ghosts that seem to emerge when I take my “mommy hat” off. I fared well throughout the day. But when the clock struck eight that evening, my stomach churned and my mind started to go down some unwanted paths.
I had been resting most of the day, working on a crochet project–the kind that never seemed to end. Also, I had been binge-watching a crime show on Hulu. I had been working really hard on the art of distraction: a wonderful, terrible skill to develop. But when it is time to face an issue, and the Spirit is stirring your soul like a Ninja blender, one can only distract for so long before the issue at hand catches up.
The previous night, I spent the hours before sleep sobbing, trying to figure out what broken part of me was so pathetically desperate for the approval of the people who would never approve of me. I had come face-to-face with internal belief systems that were still rooted in lies of the enemy, and I had thrown up my hands in exhausted exasperation, begging God for some idea of how to heal from these obvious areas of brokenness. I went to sleep with no answers and foggy eyes.
Fast-forward back to my day on my own: I felt the fight-or-flight impulse in a much more powerful way than is typical for even my hyperadrenergic self. So with all of the freedom of a mom whose kids were with grandma, I decided to do my prescribed five minutes (and no more) on my recumbent bike, and when I stepped off my bike, my legs, though made of rubber, seemed to send some major alert signals to my brain. All of the sudden, I felt mind-searing rage. So I raced up to my prayer closet to duke it out on my knees. Once I reached my closet, a long string of angry words started spewing out of my mouth, and I took out all of my free-floating anger on my Creator (who can handle it, by the way). But it was good that I was alone in the house: I was quite noisy in my wailing. Before I knew it, I felt a distinct spiritual nudge to take my wrestling match with God outside. It was roughly 60 seconds from sunset according to my Apple Watch, and I felt the Spirit leading me out to the back patio. As I sank down onto our hand-me-down patio furniture, I felt a strange urge to walk around our fenced-in-backyard. It happened to be just in time for our sprinkler system to turn on. And so, I paced, back and forth, trying to dodge the spray of the sprinkler, cursing under my breath as a few stray water droplets assaulted me, and second-guessing any of the promptings I had just experienced.
As I paced the back yard, already fatigued from my allotted five minutes of recumbent bike, I felt like shaking my fist at heaven. I wondered where God was, I questioned the existence of God, and I decided that if He existed, I was furious with Him. How could He allow so much pain, so much suffering, layering emotional upon physical, upon relational, upon spiritual agony. It felt like my brain was going to explode with the layers and layers of pain, and I felt like there were no answers.
Did God really nudge me to come into the backyard this evening?
Surely He wasn’t the one that told me to walk through my sprinkler system at dusk.
I think I’m officially going crazy.
These were several of the thoughts coursing through my brain as I was wrestling with God in my backyard. This wrestling match reminds me of another really strange wrestling match that took place between mortal and the Divine in the New Testament. It’s a super-odd passage. Honestly, it leaves me with more questions than answers, kind of like my life:
Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thing was dislocated while he was wrestling with him. (Genesis 32:24-25)
So I am relieved to know that I’m not the only one who wrestles with God. Sometimes, I wish I could experience a Christophany, so that I could physically tackle Him to the ground. I’m sorry if that is sacrilegious or impious, but sometimes, I am madder than a hornet, and I just need to wrestle.
My four-year-old son manifests this nearly everyday. Sometimes he is so angry he just needs to wrestle for a while. Most of the time, I re-direct him to Jordan, because, well, I kinda break easily, but when it’s just me, I try to wrestle-it-out with him. And if it is a productive and cathartic wrestling match, he finally relaxes, red-faced, sweaty-headed in my arms, all 45 pounds of him. His rage settles, and he can go on with his day. And somehow, we both feel closer, like we know each other more intimately because we duked it out and emerged on the other side. It doesn’t always work this way. There are days when his rage is like a tidal wave, and nothing seems to stop it in its destructive path.
I felt that evening like my four-year-old rage-filled red-faced boy, and I just had no idea what to do with all of my anger. I’m not sure if Jacob felt this that night after he crossed the ford of the Jabbock on the edge of Penuel, but if he did, I totally get it.
Eventually, last week, after my tour of my backyard and railing against God, I settled back down on our patio chair, laced with tiny sparkling spider webs, and I waited. I just waited. I felt like God pressed a pause button and told me to be still until otherwise directed. Dusk was settling inch-by-inch over our patio, and I was feeling the slow, ominous oppression of the darkness slowly draping itself over my weary, over-exerted body (maybe my own version of a dislocated hip). As I felt the descent of darkness, my anger dissolved into dread. My stomach knotted, and I became a ten-year-old, embraced by the horror of sunset. While minutes before, I had been caught in the “fight” stage of flight-fight-freeze response, I quickly shifted into freeze as the eerie blanket of dusk settled on the horizon.
I have always hated twilight.
My eyes glazed over, unable to focus on any single thing, I felt my body go rigid, frozen. After allowing it to be in that place for a few seconds, I knew from years of therapy that it wasn’t the healthiest place to land. So I shook my head, forced my eyes to see our trampoline, our swing set, the table in front of me; to smell the freshly watered grass.
As quickly as I jumped into my rage thirty minutes earlier, I fell headlong into terror. It seemed important, so I sat with it long enough to acknowledge it, to greet the terrified child, and to recognize that God was calling me to recognize my fear: the fear that still cripples me in so many ways and writes the narratives that I had agonized over the night before. This whole backyard experience was an answer to prayer: The prayer that I had prayed the night before.
So this is why He called me out at sunset. Because my fear disguises itself as anger. This is how I move forward. This is where God wants to start bringing healing.
The anger was real. I needed to express it. But the anger was a corridor to a deeper, more primal fear. And I needed to remember the fear. I knew this was a vital point. I had actually stated to Jordan, “I need to find my anger,” less that 24 hours before this wrestling match with God.
While I thought that God was teasing me, or even worse, was absent, He was helping me find that anger. Not only was He helping me find the anger, but he was moving me through the anger to a deeper emotion underneath it: fear.
I thought He had abandoned me.
I questioned His existence.
All the while, He was, true to His nature, faithfully giving me exactly what I needed. He was moving me forward into my next step of healing.