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Finding grace when restrictions chafe

In many ways, this pandemic has shrunk our lives. We can’t visit loved ones, can’t go to church, can’t cross borders. We’re spending more time at home or in a safe bubble with one other household. Life has become smaller. 

Yet perhaps in other ways this pandemic is inviting us to expand our lives. We’re becoming more aware than ever how interwoven we are with the rest of the world. We depend on each other—and on God—for essential goods. We can access Sunday services from across the country and around the globe. We’re being asked to forego some of our freedoms out of love for others – not just to protect ourselves, or our own families, but our whole regions, not just for an evening or a week, but for many months. And in the midst of all this, an awakening to systemic injustice in one nation leads (rightly!) to an examining of our own countries and neighbourhoods and hearts.

We’re being invited to grow in the midst of smaller lives. But the invitation to inner growth isn’t easy. In some ways, the longer the restrictions last, the harder they feel. As someone living on my own, I could really use a hug. I’m not sure how to navigate August when I can’t spend it with my family on the other coast. We are made for connection and closeness, and when we’re deprived of it, we hurt.

But then, sometimes, I’m given the grace to remember that, though she doesn’t know it, a baby passing through the birth canal is entering a fuller, freer life on the other side. All her body knows during the process is that her comfortable, predictable life is being disrupted, and her body responds to the discomfort of contractions with changes in heart rate.

Change, even good change that opens us up into a larger life, doesn’t occur without an unsettling. And being unsettled, though uncomfortable, is grace, for without it, there is no growth.

Andrea Tisher takes this thought a step further. Referring to Jacob’s wrestling match with God in Genesis 32 after which his name was changed to Israel, meaning “one who wrestles with God,” she says:

“The new name cannot be separated from the new crippling, for the crippling is the substance of the name. His prevailing is a defeat as well as a victory.” (Walter Brueggemann) When we wrestle with God, victory and defeat are hard to differentiate. Our deficiencies and our new identities are somehow all wrapped up together, no longer easy to separate. Our strengths and our weaknesses are far more connected than we realized. And so we limp away with a blessing.

Unsettling, wrestling, leads to blessing. Even when it also leads to a limp. And so Andrea continues,

If you’re limping, you’re not doing it wrong. If you’ve lost, you might have won. To be human is to wrestle. . . . Wrestling with God can result in us being sent limping back to the same old life but with a new name, a new identity. God has promised, and God is faithful. God has made us, and God meets us in our waiting. God is making us, and all things, new.

(Andrea Tisher, “What Does it Mean to be Human?” (Part 3: Wrestling). Sept 22, 2019, Southwest Community Church)

God who rebirths us through suffering 

And renames us through wrestling,

Meet us again in this place.

In the shrinking of our outer lives, 

may our souls expand

as you make us, and all things, new.


(Want more? Here’s a sung prayer and sung encouragement for the places of wrestling: Gungor – Please be my strength; Oasischorale – We are not alone)

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Tena

    Thank you Carolyn for the fresh reminder of (one of) the point(s) of enduring the challenges of change. Funny, but it’s a similar topic our pastor spoke on this week. He encouraged us to remember that the pain we suffer is not always about us, but could be meant (in its resulting effect) for another/others. May we bear with each other in the burdens of separation and loss of freedoms so that others can experience health and life and may we share love no matter what the limitations of our environment. Bless you!

  2. Andrea

    Oh Carolyn! This is beautiful. And it’s so easy for me to lose track of the “good news” I’ve spoken even though it was only months ago. Thanks for this reminder and for sharing it with me. The image of the baby being constricted in the birth canal is a really good one. I’ve been sitting with the image of feeling like I’m in labour and am at that “I can’t do it” moment … which in both of my birth experiences seemed to be the moment before I indeed did do it after all. 🙂

    1. Carolyn Watts

      Yes, isn’t it easy to lose track of the good news we ourselves have spoken or written, Andrea?! I often smile at the same thing when someone comments on a past post and I go back and read it and discover it’s exactly what I needed to hear all over again. May you be given special grace in this “I can’t do it” moment as you discover yourself accompanied by the One who is our strength in our greatest moments of weakness. Big hug to you!

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