Wrestling and Renaming 

Transformation is never easy. But as Jacob of the Old Testament reminds us, embracing a wrestling match head-on can help us redefine our identities in whole new ways.

What does wrestling look like for you?

My dad was a wrestling coach when I was a child. Actually – he was a middle school science, math, and history teacher by day, and wrestling coach by late afternoon and night. I have a lot of memories of sitting just outside our Pre-K through eighth-grade school’s gym working on my homework pile of the day while my dad corralled small singlet-clad individuals from one wrestling mat to the other. When I was six or seven, he explained Half Nelsons and Full Nelsons during our after-dinner roughhousing. He taught me there was a unique etiquette to this type of sport.

In short, I grew up in a home where I knew what it was like to physically battle with another individual without fists or bruises, or blood. While wrestling can result in these conclusions, the goal of a fair match is to wiggle out of an opponent’s hold while constantly trying to gain the upper ground.

Throughout my life, wrestling has taken many forms, most often as a conflict in response to change. Transformation is never easy. But as Jacob of the Old Testament reminds us, embracing a wrestling match head-on can help us redefine our identities in whole new ways.

Wrestling for a name

Jacob was a wrestler of both mind and body throughout his life, quite literally from the moment he was born. When he slipped from his mother’s womb holding onto his brother’s ankle (Genesis 25:26), his parents gave him a name that meant “supplanter” or someone whose goal is to always overpower their adversary. His life was defined by battles of wit, as he deceived his parents to steal his brother’s inheritance and worked for years to marry one woman before ending up with two sisters as wives instead.

And then, when he was nearly 100 years old, he wrestled an angel in exchange for a blessing (Genesis 32:22-32).

That’s really all we’re told. Jacob chooses to join in battle with a man he recognized as a messenger of God. He is left alone in the middle of the night, and then he joins in a physical altercation with a strange man into the early hours of the morning. The only thing that slows him down is when the angel pops Jacob’s hip out of joint, leaving him with a limp for the rest of his life. And when Jacob still won’t let go, the angel finally gives Jacob a new name – Israel, literally meaning “God wrestler.”

Wrestling in our modern world

Wrestling in my daily life as an adult is more often cerebral and social. As a woman of faith, I wrestle to find a God of grace in the words of corrupt leaders. As a new mother, I wrestle to be seen as an individual and not just the parent of my infant child. As a teacher over the past two years, I have wrestled to help my students navigate the landscape of our ever-changing world.

My modern wrestling is still relational, two people placed in a circle together, where someone will ultimately be declared the champion. But the winner is now based on how we relate to and define each other. I am a champion because of the words I choose and how they are received, not because I can physically best my worldly opponents.

Wrestling as a form of faith

The word “wrestle” comes from the Old English words for twisting and bending and pulling. As I learned early on from my dad, it is often the individuals who are long-legged and quick-minded who will come out on top. They need to be able to study their rival and name their weaknesses in a matter of seconds.

Jacob never had to be stronger than God. As an old man who was fatigued after hours of fighting, he never was going to be. But because he chose not to give up through the pain and discomfort, he came out stronger than his previous self.

In my life, faith has become a form of wrestling. Like Jacob, I meet God most often when I am faced with unexpected change. I am someone who likes routine and predictability because then I can be in control. But I know I am made a better person when I embrace the unanticipated and seek God through my discomfort.

Jacob reminds me daily that spiritual wrestling is not about power and victory, but rather about vulnerability and relationship.

That’s where you come in, dear reader. Thred has been an online space for hard faith conversations for five years now. And after these past few years of international cultural transformation, we are choosing this time for redefinition and renewal. You will still find our blog under the same name, but our intentions have shifted to better equip us all for the wrestling ahead.

These are the goals we will be working toward with our new version of Thred:

  1. Through our content, we hope to be relevant. This means talking about real-world topics in vulnerable and personal dialogue.
  2. We are committed to authentic conversations, where we admit we are all fallible individuals who are struggling through life together.
  3. We will not seek to belittle others and people who do not agree with us. Instead, out of respect for each other, we will make every attempt to listen before responding.

No matter where you’re coming from, your spiritual journey matters. 

I look forward to our wrestling together.

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