The Night my Wrestling Match Ended with God

Today’s post deals with winding down from a 5 year faith crisis and Dee Parson’s thoughts on what happened to me. She thought I never left whereas I was convinced I did. After working with the homeless in the middle of the night in a quiet chapel with an air conditioner blowing I come to a realization that my 5 year faith crisis is over. I had my limp it was time to move forward and continue seeking forgiveness.

“We all have life storms, and when we get the rough times and we recover from them, we should celebrate that we got through it. No matter how bad it may seem, there’s always something beautiful that you can find.”

Mattie Stepanek

“My wrestling match is over. I have my limp its time to move forward.”

Eagle June 15, 2013 on Facebook

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 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. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,[f] because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

Genesis 32: 24:28 NIV

 

On  Friday morning February 1, 2013 I was wrestling as I slowly came out of a faith crisis that had consumed half my thirties. I sent Dee Parson’s a text as I wanted to get her insight. I had several questions for Dee to include the following.  How do you asses me? Do you think I left the faith or that I strayed? How do you look at the greater situation? I liked her insight and knowledge even though we had clashed a few times but she was one of the few people that could engage me intellectually. So I wanted to get her insight. Dee texted me back and said she wanted to think and ponder the questions I asked.  Later that afternoon the following email popped up in my box. I remember reading it for the first time and I want to open today’s post with it. This is how Dee responded to my text message.

Dear Eagle

I have been thinking about you all day. Here is how I would answer your question.

You have never left God even though you think you have. Instead, you are like Jacob in Genesis 32. You have wrestled with God.

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.
23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions.
24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 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.
26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”“Jacob,” he answered.
28 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.”
29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
31 The sun rose above him as he passed Penieland he was limping because of his hip.

You are further along and far deeper than many Christians. You confront the issues of pain, suffering and evil and you do not let go in your questions.  Others just blow it off. There is a reason you are loved at TWW and Internet Monk. You are the man who questions and feels the pain of the difficulties. You make all of us understand your quest and we love your raw honesty.

You freely share your love and concern for the wounded and hurting. Your anger is for them. You demand honesty and humility from others and you make us want to strive to be better.

In Mark 29 a father asks Jesus to heal his son.
Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”From childhood,” he answered.
22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

If that day should come, perhaps that should be your prayer. “Lord, I believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” Because that is the prayer of all of us who pursue the faith.

You have never been away from Him. He has pursued you as much as you have pursued answers from Him. This poem, The Hound of Heaven, captures this. As you thought you were fleeing Him, he was right behind-steadily keeping up with you.

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; 
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;       
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways 
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears       
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.     
      Up vistaed hopes I sped; 
      And shot, precipitated,   
A down Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.   
      But with unhurrying chase,       
      And unperturbèd pace,     
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,   
      They beat—and a Voice beat       
      More instant than the Feet—     

Here is a short explanation of the poem

The name is strange. It startles one at first. It is so bold, so new, so fearless. It does not attract, rather the reverse. But when one reads the poem this strangeness disappears. The meaning is understood. As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and imperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by His Divine grace. And though in sin or in human love, away from God it seeks to hide itself, Divine grace follows after, unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to Him alone in that never ending pursuit. The Neumann Press Book of Verse, 1988

My thoughts and prayers are with you in this grand adventure.

Dee

 

“The Refuge” and the End of a Faith Crisis

At Fairfax Community Church (FCC) I had signed up to work at an event called The Refuge. It was at another Church of God in Anderson, Indiana in NW Washington, D.C. within the same denomination. This was the first time I would be working with the homeless in years. Years prior I had gotten my hands dirty working with the homeless at National Community Church. The kick off event was called “Grace in the City” with the goal of working with the homeless and then spending a night in the church.  Before “Grace in the City” we had a team meeting at FCC  in which people met,  introduced themselves, and explained their story. To this day I remember being asked to introduce  and explain myself. I wondered did they want me to tell my full fledged faith crisis for 5 years? How I explored atheism, and participated in the largest atheist rally in United States history?  Did they want to hear my theological background and how I once thought highly of John Piper and my experience in being burned by fundamentalism? I told a brief condensed version and it was uncomfortable. I remember people just staring at me just blinking. It probably wasn’t what they expected to hear. The actual event called “Grace in the City” took place one week later if I recall at Northwest Community Church on June 15, 2013. That morning I was scheduled to attend, my glasses broke and it turned into a wild goose chase just to get them fixed. I was frustrated of all times to deal with this…why today? That was compounded by going to Len Crafters and them telling me I needed a new eye exam before glasses could be given. That was how the afternoon was spent. Afterward I finally made it to the church and saw the homeless being helped. I participated in the feeding, talking, and helping where I could. This was the first time I worked with Jeremy Kuhelenbeck extensively and it was cool to get to know him. We were having a conversation about inner city poverty and Jeremy made a comment as to how my face had changed and how relieved I looked when I spoke about forgiveness. I was stunned and like “really?” When I hear of stuff like this it reminds of what Proverbs 27:2 says. In all honesty I have to say those who give juicy testimonies or who brag of their sanctification give me great pause. I’ve seen so much over the years and some of it raises red flags. I would rather have someone speak about my character than to boast personally as I feel that is not right. In another post I would like to explore problems with evangelical testimonies.

Afterward at Northwest Community Church we were hanging around in the kitchen processing food donations from local restaurants. Knowing that Jeremy was from Milwaukee, I was curious and asked him, “What church did you attend in Milwaukee?” Jeremy didn’t think I heard of it and said it was in the Germantown area. When I heard this my interest rose significantly. I told Jeremy I was a member of Wooded Hills Bible and he says “I heard of that place…”  He then asked me if I knew Kevin Byron, I laughed and started to explain how he was my worship leader when I was at Wooded Hills. Jeremy lit up and said, “I can’t believe this!” He was amazed that I knew Kevin. Truly it was fascinating for me that a couple of guys who had roots in Milwaukee would happen to know the same person and cross paths in a small kitchen in a church in Washington, D.C. really stunned me. Today as I reflect back I don’t think it was a coincidence. I think it was God using my broken and scared past to try and help me heal. Shortly afterward that night Jeremy called Kevin and I spoke with my old worship leader for the first time in 8 years. With this incident at the time I began to realize that as much as I struggled with my evangelical Christian past it could be used by the Lord to redeem the present. With this event and the ongoing reconciliation going on I began to feel more and more at peace. Gaining peace was a process that happened over the course of time.

That night while Jeremy and others were in the kitchen talking I retreated into the sanctuary of Northwest Community Church. It’s an old style church with stained glass windows and wooden carvings that was built prior to World War II. I sat there in the dark – alone just reflecting on everything. I though of the mess I created with Andrew White, some of the words that left my mouth as a  militant agnostic/atheist. I thought how I hurt Andrew and how I wanted to help him heal. I thought of all the other people I wanted to reach, and I couldn’t believe some of what had already transpired.  As I sat there in the dark sanctuary with not a lot of light Jeremy walks in. He sat down in the pew opposite from me and said something to the effect of “Is there something you want to talk about?” So in a condensed version I told him what happened. Things I had said, mistakes I had made and the troubled relationship with Andrew White. I also expressed how ashamed I was over my mistakes in the process. If possible I wanted to take back all I had done to Andrew. The pain was raw and I was hurting. Jeremy listened and he said something to the effect, “Do you know that you are taking responsibility for your part of this mess…and God will honor that…that is significant.” Jeremy said the situation presented a lot of opportunities for redemption. In many ways that was already under way. I so wanted to redeem the mess.  So in this darkened chapel two guys just prayed that this mess could somehow resolve itself. There was something I was beginning to realize and I sadly think much of Christianity in the United States has forgotten. Mistakes, moral failures, and messes are opportunities for redemption and grace. They can also reveal one’s character and who a person truly is in the end. In the end you will learn more about a person from a mistake then when their life is going well. Many churches and evangelicals have transformed the Gospel into nothing but moral living, and the reality is you don’t need God to be a moral person. Many atheists can be upstanding members of society who can have impeccable moral character. On the flip side many churches use moral failures and mistakes as a means to take someone and execute them. Evangelical Christians do a superb job in executing their wounded.  This is amplified with the way many churches have made church discipline into an idol and worship that idol instead of God.

After praying with Jeremy, I went to bed that night and I realized that in many ways this felt like a church retreat, and the first one I had in 6 years. I woke up early in the morning about 4 or 5 AM. I headed back into the sanctuary. It was dark, and mostly quiet. The only thing I heard was the air conditioner blowing in the background. In the dark I sat there and spent a lot of time praying for Andrew White and for where I was at. The situation was changing daily as more and more people were responding to my efforts at forgiveness. The tables were turning on me and names were dropping off my list and I was becoming amazed as to where things were going. People were responding in incredible ways…in the beginning I thought most people would tell me to get lost. Instead people were amazed I was asking for their forgiveness.  But my soul was so bruised and tortured over the conflict with Andrew, and a couple of other people especially Archie Griffin. And I so desperately wanted Andrew and those other key people to be a part of the process.  In a dark chapel it was quite beautiful and as I sat in the chapel the sun slowly started to rise, and come through the stained glass. During this time in the early morning I realized that my struggle – my faith crisis that had gone on since 2008 and consumed my life had finally come to a close. It wasn’t elaborate, dramatic and profound. It was quiet, peaceful and private. In a few moments I had realized that a dark season of my life that lasted 5 years was finally over. After realizing what happened on Facebook I wrote the following:

“My wrestling match is over. I have my limp its time to move forward.”

In response someone I knew in Wisconsin who I reconciled with and who prayed for me for a few years posted the following response on my comment:

“Just remember, He was always behind you, all you had to do was turn around. No matter what was said, what was done, He loves you and forgives completely. And if you ever doubt the power of prayer again, just remember this moment, because I’ve been praying for it since I saw you again on Facebook.”

Now that my faith crisis was over (note I consider my baptism to be my formal end) it was time to move on and figure out a way forward. All I had to do was keep walking one step at a time but I was moving in the right direction. After being up for a while and reflecting on what had happened I resumed praying for Andrew. I prayed for his heart and his mind and for him to know that if he fully repented of what he did I’d love him and shower him with grace. That said I headed back to bed and got some more sleep.  Later that morning a group of us attended another evangelical church and I listened to a guy expanding on a thought by Tim Keller. During the sermon I had forgotten that I left my Android on and it went off notifying me of another message. It turned out to be an old co-worker from Milwaukee, Wisconsin who I approached and asked for forgiveness. He had forgiven me and said that we were at peace.  I was released from one more person. And I felt a little lighter. All of these requests for forgiveness…they just kept coming. What had been set in motion continued to play out, and I was grateful and amazed.

9 thoughts on “The Night my Wrestling Match Ended with God

  1. While I disagree with the conclusion you came to, I’m glad you found a measure of peace at the end of your faith crisis, Eagle. It feels so good to finally be able to know that it’s done, doesn’t it? There’s that measure of rest you get when you finally realize you’ve answered the crisis the best you can, a moment of clarity and peace. Thank you for sharing this.

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    • Blue I don’t know why it went the way it did. I ponder about this from time to time. Believe me when I say this…I have more questions than answers. Each and every faith system has pluses and minuses. Atheism and secularism has pluses and minuses. Christianity has pluses and minuses. Its also about finding one and learning to deal with the problems as well. There are no easy answers. Life is complex, so is faith – in any form.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Agree with you on every faith systems having their pluses and minuses. I really enjoyed being a Wiccan, even though I was agnostic about it being real. Heck I’d love to reconnect with my ancestry and participate in some Asatru blots. At least with atheism you don’t have a faith system, just a shared view of one aspect of the human experience. Which is why it can be like herding cats to get atheists to do anything as a group. ^_^ Though with the internet making communities easier to form that seems to finally be changing a bit.

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