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. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 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. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
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.” – Genesis 32:22-28
Disagreements, arguments and even fights can be a part of fatherhood. Our children are different from us, growing up in a different world than we did. These encounters range from the common battles over eating vegetables to the more prolonged wars over who they hang out with and how they are doing in school. It is easy, especially when these tussles are more frequent, to mistake contention for wrestling.
Children need to work things out about themselves, the world, their understanding of God and how it all fits together in their head and heart. This is no easy task. Jacob found himself in a struggle with God and pushed through to achieve something – a new self. Jacob became Israel. It wasn’t something he earned, but something he was rewarded with. Jacob probably discovered more about himself and his God in that encounter that much of what he had experienced to that point in his life. That is the blessing of the struggle.
We need to recognize the moments when our children are struggling. We need eyes to see the difference between contention and grappling with life’s hard questions. When our children are disrespectful, disobedient or hurtful, we need to answer with discipline, mercy and wisdom in appropriate measure, but when they are wrestling we need to wrestle with them. In those moments we can lead our children into a new sense of self. When they wrestle with us, it prepares them for wrestling with God. When they wrestle with us they learn about themselves, building mental and emotional strength and self-control.
Lord, help us to see our children’s struggles clearly through your eyes. Give us wisdom and insight into their needs so we can meet them in those moments prepared and equipped. Let us struggle with them for their sake and Your glory. Amen.