This has been a very tough quarter in school. I didn’t know how difficult it would be, but managing full-time ministry, full-time gradschool and a counseling practicum has been nuts….but I have been learning tons. And though this quarter has been difficult I really feel that God has been stretching and teaching me a lot in the process…..it has been a refining process and I feel that I am growing and maturing.
Tonight was the last college night of the school year for us before we transition into our summer program. It was a great night but also very hard as we said goodbye to some seniors that we have been with for four years. These are students and friends that entered into the ministry in my first year as full-time director. I feel that we have all been growing together and that they are very much responsible for who I am today as a person and pastor. I think students often feel that it is the pastor that is supposed to do all the influencing and teaching and mentoring, but that is not always true, and ministry is a two-way relationship where both pastor and student grow and struggle and learn and mature together.
I am very thankful for those students who were the freshmen class of 2002. They have been a wonderful example to me and to our ministry of what it means to be in community…to care for one another…to love one another. It has truly been an amazing journey.
As I closed the service tonight I gave a devotional, sort of charge to the students. I wanted to leave them with a Biblical image that has been powerful in shaping my own life and that I think would be helpful to them where they find themselves now and on their journey. In Genesis 32:30-31 we read of the wrestling match between Jacob and a man (i.e. angel of the LORD; GOD). The text says, “So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.” I love this passage. It is a beautiful image of man wrestling with God….a beautiful image of the encounter between the divine and human. This embodies I believe the struggle that we all face, especially some of my students who are seniors and who are wondering where life is leading them next. In this encounter with God we often walk away with a limp, just as Jacob did. A limp, or a weakness, or a flaw or some failure is often a symbol to us of life not turning out right, or a reminder of mistakes, and hopes not fulfilled. But maybe a limp is really a reminder of our encounter with God….for who can truly walk away from an encounter with God and walk away without marks or scars…our life is preserved, yet an encounter with God is a life transforming process, and we are reminded of it.
We catch up in the following passage with Jacob who is in fear of his encounter with Esau. And we read this in 33:10: “Jacob said, “No, please; if I find favor with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God.” This reoccurring theme of “face” is a fascinating one in the Hebrew text and it is especially eloquent here. After seeing God face to face, Jacob responds to Esau that seeing him is like seeing the face of God. The student’s wrestlings with God plays out in their wrestling and encounter with others in their life. Wrestling with God is a transformative process that helps us see God in the face of those that we encounter in our daily lives. There is this correlation between Jacob’s wrestling with God and his wrestling with his brother. So too there is this correlation of our wrestling with God and our wrestling with those in our lives…with those people, those circumstances. Both of these encounters prepare us for one another and help make whole and complete the refining process.
To my students: May you continue to wrestle with God and with one another. And in this wrestling, may you be refined and grow more intimate. And may your encounter with the Divine prepare you for your encounter with the human…..and vice-versa.
I love you guys and gals……