In my quest to carve out a life in this world I have been driven, if not western-enculturated, to love achievement. First borns are notorious for that orientation to achievement. I always wanted the straight A’s. I wanted the degrees. I wanted the awards. And I wanted the satisfaction that comes from hard work. I wanted a noble career. I wanted the white picket fence. I also wanted independence…
I grew up plainly seeing God in His Word, in church, and in Christian high school. In the gentler ways, I knew heaven was a reality just like the Bethel experience in the Jacob’s Ladder story (Genesis 28). I believed. I saw Jesus Christ as the bridge to salvation. I understood the realities of heaven and earth. I accepted the gifts of faith and new birth.
But more frequently, I was assaulted by the countless hard places that were strewn in my path by God to invite greater dependence on Him. One great reckoning came in Canaan Valley, West Virginia, where my earth-shattering culture shock took place. “City girl” met a cocktail of remote (and I mean remote) geography, 200 inches of snow, new marriage, new job, and new baby. I asked myself, “WHAT have I done?” But Faithful God whispered to me, “Now it’s just you and Me. Depend on Me.” What else could I do? All my props had been yanked away. And independence sure wasn’t working…
My literal prayer for those two years was, “Get me out of here!” Life in Canaan Valley was a wakeup call, definitely one of my Mahanaim moments! (I like the name. Mahanaim is the place where Jacob wrestled with God, nothing gentle about it). For me, West Virginia was both an ardent struggle with God and a forced settling into my God-given roles as a wife and a mother in a beautiful, mountainous, but depressed economic location. No malls. No movie theaters. No grocery stores except one. No hospital (the nearest was 45 minutes away).
Since West Virginia, a chunk of my lifetime has passed by with many Mahanaim moments, the spiritual wrestling matches I have had with God along the way, although not as severe as Jacob’s experience in a place called Mahanaim. Mahanaim was a location given in the Bible (Genesis 32:2), likely about 10 miles east of the Jordan River. Here’s the story. Genesis 32:24-30 says, “And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ And he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then he said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.’ Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.’ “
Looking back, God provided me with a lifeboat of solid Christian girlfriends who helped start me on a journey of regular women’s Bible studies wherever I lived from then on. But, in the moment, prospects looked bleak. Like Jacob, God had to stop me in my tracks and realign my priorities. Only by His grace! I know He earnestly started a sanctifying work in stubborn me after my years of dodging Him while chasing my so-called dreams. No matter how intentionally I have tried to poke out of His providential bubble, in my college years especially, I seemed to be tethered to a divine plan that led to that one of several Mahanaim experiences. God certainly showed up and my life would definitely be “Canaan Valley different” from then on.
There is a lot of mystery in Jacob’s wrestling story, yet Jacob knows He has experienced God personally. There is mystery in my own story. But, I can say with certainty that there have been profound Mahanaim battles in my life between heaven and earth, God’s strength and my strength, God’s will and my will. These are two realities that often pull me apart. Thankfully, I don’t have a battle scar like a permanent limp. On the other hand, there are limp-like reminders of God’s painful sanctifying work in my life. Reminders left behind by a loving God.
I have always walked away from my Mahanaim moments not the same. I have walked away with a changed heart. There’s a lot of name changing in the Bible – have you noticed? And after Canaan Valley, I walked away with a different name. “Patient” is one of those new names. “Encouraged” is another. “Hopeful” another. “Content” another. Coincidentally, just about the time I was resigned to living in the mountains forever, God moved my family to Virginia.
And not because I earned a free pass. But because I went into the ring, engaged in all the punching and flailing, and wouldn’t let go until God was finished with His sanctifying outcome for me. His plan and His glory are all that is important. Sometimes holy outcomes in my life are temporary, but just the same, the Mahanaim repeats are worthwhile.
Photo credit: Twisty Road – US33 through the Virginias – Andrew Lavigne’s Website alavigne.net