Wrestling, not rest

Consider Jacob. He has just escaped from a very unpleasant situation with his brother. Before that, he’d narrowly escaped from his cheating in-law, Laban. He was not in a good place in his life. Everything seemed against him.

He and his brother Esau had not left on good terms. In fact Esau had threatened to kill him. Jacob had gotten away from him and years had passed by, but the feelings hadn’t softened much. Jacob was aware that Esau was coming and so he sent ahead a lot of gifts to him to butter him up. When they actually did meet face-to-face he was very concerned about how Esau would meet him and talk with him.

That makes perfect sense because Jacob himself wasn’t very trustworthy. He had stolen his birthright and his blessing from Esau. Yet notice that it was after their emotionally charged meeting that Jacob spent some time alone. While he was on the riverbank without any family or friends he had the famous encounter with the angel. Maybe he had intended on having some time to himself to recover from that potentially horrible encounter with his brother. Maybe he had hoped to rest a bit. But instead he spent the whole night awake wrestling with the angel. At the end, the angel blessed him and gave him a new name and made him equal to Abraham in importance to the Jews. If Abraham is the father of all the Jews, then Jacob (renamed Israel) gave them their family name.

Sometimes the biggest and most important events in our life don’t happen when we want them to happen. They certainly don’t happen the way that we expect them or even want them to happen.

Here is the text, starting with some of the difficulty Jacob had with Laban.

Genesis 31 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

31 Now Jacob heard what Laban’s sons were saying: “Jacob has taken all that was our father’s and has built this wealth from what belonged to our father.” 2 And Jacob saw from Laban’s face that his attitude toward him was not the same.
3 Then the LORD said to him, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you.”
4 Jacob had Rachel and Leah called to the field where his flocks were. 5 He said to them, “I can see from your father’s face that his attitude toward me is not the same, but the God of my father has been with me. 6 You know that I’ve worked hard[a] for your father 7 and that he has cheated me and changed my wages 10 times. But God has not let him harm me. 8 If he said, ‘The spotted sheep will be your wages,’ then all the sheep were born spotted. If he said, ‘The streaked sheep will be your wages,’ then all the sheep were born streaked. 9 God has taken away your father’s herds and given them to me.
10 “When the flocks were breeding, I saw in a dream that the streaked, spotted, and speckled males were mating with the females. 11 In that dream the Angel of God said to me, ‘Jacob!’ and I said, ‘Here I am.’ 12 And He said, ‘Look up and see: all the males that are mating with the flocks are streaked, spotted, and speckled, for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you poured oil on the stone marker and made a solemn vow to Me. Get up, leave this land, and return to your native land.’”
14 Then Rachel and Leah answered him, “Do we have any portion or inheritance in our father’s household? 15 Are we not regarded by him as outsiders? For he has sold us and has certainly spent our money. 16 In fact, all the wealth that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children. So do whatever God has said to you.”
17 Then Jacob got up and put his children and wives on the camels. 18 He took all the livestock and possessions he had acquired in Paddan-aram, and he drove his herds to go to the land of his father Isaac in Canaan. 19 When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father’s household idols. 20 And Jacob deceived[b] Laban the Aramean, not telling him that he was fleeing. 21 He fled with all his possessions, crossed the Euphrates, and headed for[c] the hill country of Gilead.
Laban Overtakes Jacob
22 On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. 23 So he took his relatives with him, pursued Jacob for seven days, and overtook him at Mount Gilead. 24 But God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream at night. “Watch yourself!” God warned him. “Don’t say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.”
25 When Laban overtook Jacob, Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban and his brothers also pitched their tents in the hill country of Gilead. 26 Then Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? You have deceived me and taken my daughters away like prisoners of war! 27 Why did you secretly flee from me, deceive me, and not tell me? I would have sent you away with joy and singing, with tambourines and lyres, 28 but you didn’t even let me kiss my grandchildren and my daughters. You have acted foolishly. 29 I could do you great harm, but last night the God of your father said to me: ‘Watch yourself. Don’t say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ 30 Now you have gone off because you long for your father—but why have you stolen my gods?”
31 Jacob answered, “I was afraid, for I thought you would take your daughters from me by force. 32 If you find your gods with anyone here, he will not live! Before our relatives, point out anything that is yours and take it.” Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the idols.
33 So Laban went into Jacob’s tent, then Leah’s tent, and then the tents of the two female slaves, but he found nothing. Then he left Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s. 34 Now Rachel had taken Laban’s household idols, put them in the saddlebag of the camel, and sat on them. Laban searched the whole tent but found nothing.
35 She said to her father, “Sir, don’t be angry that I cannot stand up in your presence; I am having my period.” So Laban searched, but could not find the household idols.
Jacob’s Covenant with Laban
36 Then Jacob became incensed and brought charges against Laban. “What is my crime?” he said to Laban. “What is my sin, that you have pursued me? 37 You’ve searched all my possessions! Have you found anything of yours? Put it here before my relatives and yours, and let them decide between the two of us. 38 I’ve been with you these 20 years. Your ewes and female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams from your flock. 39 I did not bring you any of the flock torn by wild beasts; I myself bore the loss. You demanded payment from me for what was stolen by day or by night. 40 There I was—the heat consumed me by day and the frost by night, and sleep fled from my eyes. 41 For 20 years I have worked in your household—14 years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks—and you have changed my wages 10 times! 42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham, the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, certainly now you would have sent me off empty-handed. But God has seen my affliction and my hard work,[d] and He issued His verdict last night.”
43 Then Laban answered Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters; the sons, my sons; and the flocks, my flocks! Everything you see is mine! But what can I do today for these daughters of mine or for the children they have borne? 44 Come now, let’s make a covenant, you and I. Let it be a witness between the two of us.”
45 So Jacob picked out a stone and set it up as a marker. 46 Then Jacob said to his relatives, “Gather stones.” And they took stones and made a mound, then ate there by the mound. 47 Laban named the mound Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob named it Galeed.
48 Then Laban said, “This mound is a witness between you and me today.” Therefore the place was called Galeed 49 and also Mizpah, for he said, “May the LORD watch between you and me when we are out of each other’s sight. 50 If you mistreat my daughters or take other wives, though no one is with us, understand that God will be a witness between you and me.” 51 Laban also said to Jacob, “Look at this mound and the marker I have set up between you and me. 52 This mound is a witness and the marker is a witness that I will not pass beyond this mound to you, and you will not pass beyond this mound and this marker to do me harm. 53 The God of Abraham, and the gods of Nahor—the gods of their father —will judge between us.” And Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac. 54 Then Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain and invited his relatives to eat a meal. So they ate a meal and spent the night on the mountain. 55 Laban got up early in the morning, kissed his grandchildren and daughters, and blessed them. Then Laban left to return home.

Gen 32

Preparing to Meet Esau
32 Jacob went on his way, and God’s angels met him. 2 When he saw them, Jacob said, “This is God’s camp.” So he called that place Mahanaim.
3 Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4 He commanded them, “You are to say to my lord Esau, ‘This is what your servant Jacob says. I have been staying with Laban and have been delayed until now. 5 I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male and female slaves. I have sent this message to inform my lord, in order to seek your favor.’”
6 When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau; he is coming to meet you—and he has 400 men with him.” 7 Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; he divided the people with him into two camps, along with the flocks, cattle, and camels. 8 He thought, “If Esau comes to one camp and attacks it, the remaining one can escape.”
9 Then Jacob said, “God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the LORD who said to me, ‘Go back to your land and to your family, and I will cause you to prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness You have shown Your servant. Indeed, I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two camps. 11 Please rescue me from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid of him; otherwise, he may come and attack me, the mothers, and their children. 12 You have said, ‘I will cause you to prosper, and I will make your offspring like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”
13 He spent the night there and took part of what he had brought with him as a gift for his brother Esau: 14 200 female goats, 20 male goats, 200 ewes, 20 rams, 15 30 milk camels with their young, 40 cows, 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys, and 10 male donkeys. 16 He entrusted them to his slaves as separate herds and said to them, “Go on ahead of me, and leave some distance between the herds.”
17 And he told the first one: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who do you belong to? Where are you going? And whose animals are these ahead of you?’ 18 then tell him, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau. And look, he is behind us.’”
19 He also told the second one, the third, and everyone who was walking behind the animals, “Say the same thing to Esau when you find him.20 You are also to say, ‘Look, your servant Jacob is right behind us.’” For he thought, “I want to appease Esau with the gift that is going ahead of me. After that, I can face him, and perhaps he will forgive me.”
21 So the gift was sent on ahead of him while he remained in the camp that night. 22 During the night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female slaves, and his 11 sons, and crossed the ford of Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, along with all his possessions.
Jacob Wrestles with God
24 Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that He could not defeat him, He struck Jacob’s hip socket as they wrestled and dislocated his hip. 26 Then He said to Jacob, “Let Me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me.”
27 “What is your name?” the man asked.
“Jacob,” he replied.
28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” He said. “It will be Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed.”
29 Then Jacob asked Him, “Please tell me Your name.”
But He answered, “Why do you ask My name?” And He blessed him there.
30 Jacob then named the place Peniel, “For I have seen God face to face,” he said, “and I have been delivered.” 31 The sun shone on him as he passed by Penuel—limping because of his hip. 32 That is why, to this day, the Israelites don’t eat the thigh muscle that is at the hip socket: because He struck Jacob’s hip socket at the thigh muscle.

Honor the Sabbath

I’m really trying to get into the idea of making rest of part of my day. In fact, making rest of part of my life would be a good idea. Just like with the mental health days that I schedule at work, if I schedule in time to rest then it won’t have to sneak up on me and force me to rest.

In yoga there is always at the end of a practice the corpse pose. It is 10 or 15 minutes of just laying there and receiving everything that is happened to you. Mozart says that the music is the space between the notes. Rest isn’t a new idea, space isn’t a bad thing. It is rest and space and time off that gives shape and meaning to everything else.

I have a new devotional that I’m using. It incorporates rest into it. Every seven days it has a time of reflection. On the seventh day you’re supposed to think about all the things that you’ve learned the week before from that devotional. You are supposed to reflect on all that that God has shared with you in those past six days. I feel very fortunate that I happened to start reading this devotional on a Sunday, so that means that the seventh day is Saturday. While I am not Jewish, I am trying to incorporate the Jewish idea of the Sabbath being Saturday into my religious life. By not doing some of my routine on Saturday mornings now, it means that they are a lot more peaceful and restful.

I have to be at work every other Saturday at 8:30 in the morning. This is earlier by 30 minutes than any other time I have to be at work. By taking out my devotional time and turning it into reflection time, I actually have a little more rest on Saturday morning.

I’ve also decided that I can skip putting out a blog post on the Sabbath. While I don’t want to get in the habit of skipping I also don’t want to be worn out by this. It’s important for me to remember that I am not being paid to produce this blog. And also the Sabbath ends at sundown. When I get off of work on Saturday I can write a post if I want, therefore I have still fulfilled my goal of posting one thing every day. That way I am obedient to God and to my own desire to observe the Sabbath at the same time.

There is something very freeing about seeing rest as a commandment. It means I’m not goofing off or not being a good steward of my time. If God says I have to rest, then I’m not being mindless with my life. I’m doing what is best and healthy for my body, mind, and spirit.

Rest period.

You know you need to take time off when you start to seriously contemplate calling in sick and then you realize that it is your day off. I’ve crammed so much stuff into my days off that they aren’t days off. I still do just as much work – I just don’t get paid for it.

Now, I’ve come to realize how important momentum is for me. If I laze about all day, then I tend to keep doing that. I’m a binge lazy person. Doing nothing is the same to me as eating sugar is to some people. Once I start, I can’t stop.

Well, I can, but I don’t want to.

I think the trick is to set limits. I have to allow myself time to do nothing. From this time to this – say from 12 until 3, I’ll do nothing on my day off. Nothing at all. Lay on the couch and read, or make jewelry. Something for me. Something fun. That sounds like a good plan. Maybe I’ll do it someday.

Right now, I’m playing a bit of catch up. I decided to skip going to my yoga class. The teacher is more challenging than the first one, but she needs to change things up to keep it interesting. I really get bored if nothing changes. I need to be challenged. I need to try different moves. If nothing else, I need to hear different music. I’d like to think that a yoga class with a real live person is different than watching a videorecorded one.

However, even though it is dull sometimes, I need the discipline of getting up and going. I need to be out of the house early on a Friday, otherwise I’ll stay in my pajamas all afternoon long and not get any of my chores done. And then I start to think – is that so bad? Is it bad to rest? Is it bad to actually take a day off?

It is for me. I feel guilty if I rest.

I have a bad relationship with rest. I really am starting to like the idea of the Jewish Sabbath. One whole day where you are commanded to do as much nothing as possible. You can’t feel guilty about doing nothing – you are supposed to do nothing. You are supposed to feel guilty if you do something. You are to rest and recharge and refuel.

We just don’t have that in Christian culture. Sure, we sometimes refer to the day we go to church as the Sabbath, but we don’t treat it with anywhere near the preparation and seriousness the Jews approach their Sabbath. And I think we suffer because of it. Imagine how cool it would be to have a holiday once a week. Once a week you take a vacation from the world, and enter into a special time where there is nothing you have to do except rest. Sounds just like heaven to me.

I have a bit of the “get things done” feeling in part because my parents died young. I feel like it is important to not waste time. I see how quickly time slips by and then you are either too old to do something with your life, or too feeble. Some things take time to get going. Better start now.

But then I am starting to understand that I need to rest too. There are rest periods build into yoga. It isn’t go go go. The human body just can’t handle that. The space between the notes is what makes the music, so says Claude Debussy.

This is why I’ve signed up for another retreat. It is a time of silence and rest. All my physical needs are taken care of. There is a place to sleep, and food is prepared for me. All I have to do is show up and be present. The only electronic device I use is my Kindle – and I use it to write. I don’t check email. I don’t check Facebook. The only input is from God.

I think that I need to do this more than just four times a year. I need to set aside a chunk of time to just listen, and by that I don’t mean little snatches of time. The more I pack into my day, the more God can’t get a word in edgewise. I pray throughout the day, but it all seems to be in five minute pieces.

Sure, bills have to be paid. Sure, the housework needs to be done. But if I don’t take time off, time to just be, then I’ve become something other than a human. I’ve become an automaton, a robot, a thing. I’ve become a human doing, and not a human being.

So I still wrestle with this. I feel like I’m in overeaters anonymous. Having a bad relationship with food isn’t like having a drug addiction – you have to eat food. You can give up heroin. You can’t give up food. So how to you create a healthy relationship with something you have to have in your life? I think boundaries are part of it. I can allow this, but not this. I can allow this time to be work and this time to be free. I think it is important to self-police too. I think it is important to not allow my free time to become work time.

I’ll report back on whether this works or not. As of right now, I’m still in my jammies and it is 1:30. I think I have to wrench myself free and go out for a bit, just so I can say I’ve done something. My head gets a little fuzzy with too much nothing.

Stillness

We are afraid of the stillness, the quiet time. We pack our days with things to do. We are terrible about allowing our bodies and minds to rest.

We can’t sit still. We have our phones out, checking in with the news, with friends whenever we have a spare moment. In reality we are checking out. We are divorcing ourselves from what is going on right there, right then.

When was the last time you just stood in line, just stood there?

So much for the mantra “Be Here Now”. We are nowhere and everywhere and timeless. We are either running late or planning ahead, but we are rarely right here and right now.

Stillness is healing.

Seeds have to be in darkness for a while before they can grow. The sun isn’t always shining. The rain helps plants to grow.

Stillness is a time of quiet energy. Look around you at nature. We have so divorced ourselves from the cycles of nature that we don’t even know what our own nature is. We sit inside, where we can adjust the temperature and light to our liking. We have confused ourselves, thinking that we are something separate from nature.

So when the crash comes, we fall hard. We fight against it, seeing it as a weakness. It is the simple inevitable result of not taking time out.

Our brains, our bodies, our souls must have rest.

We forget to schedule this. We work and push and stretch so much we wear out sooner than we should. Depression sinks in. Lethargy. Doldrums. We feel adrift in an empty sea.

We can fight it, or we can see the rocking of the sea as the gentle rocking of a mother, holding us in her arms, helping guide us to nourishing, healing sleep.

Children are often resistant to go to sleep. They feel they are going to miss something. We are the same way, for the same reason, as adults.

Now, there is also something to the idea of not being adrift too long. It is all too easy to stay out there forever and never get anywhere. I’ve written a lot about how to jumpstart your creative self, how to get past the self censor that lurks in all of us.

But it is also important to not see the down time as an enemy. You need some of it to regroup, recommit, restore. Balance is essential. So it is important to plan for quiet times. Schedule them in.

I’ve discovered that physical group exercise is a time out for my head. I don’t think about what is going on for 75 minutes. Someone tells me what to do and I do it, and meanwhile I get a workout. I also know that creative time is good. It is quiet yet productive. Sometimes it isn’t about making a specific thing so much as letting the Spirit work through me. In those times I step aside, taking a mental break.

If music is the space between the notes as Mozart says, then “down time” is more important than the up time. It shapes it. It gives it meaning. It provides content.

Try this meditation. It was provided to me in a recent class. Say each phrase out loud, or have someone do it for you. Breathe for several moments after each phrase. Let it sink in.

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know.

Be still.

Be.