As I sat and listened to my friend Jim while we sipped our early morning coffee, I was reminded that second-half-of-life struggles were different than the first-half-of-life struggles. Not easier, just different.
We build our container in the first half of life – and all the struggles that go along with it. In the second half of life, we find the contents for that container – and all the struggles that go along with it.
Jim and I were finding the contents – we struggle with relationships, uncertainty, change, boredom and failures. We even struggle with our successes.
Sometimes we move toward these struggles; other times, we go around, above, below, near, past, anything to avoid them. There are times when we get close only to turn back.
Struggling or wrestling with something or someone is difficult, so it is not surprising that we turn back. As we struggle, we often encounter fear. Fear is part of being alive. It is said that fear is the natural reaction as we move toward the truth.
While struggling or wrestling can be difficult, it can also move us through and toward something. This something can be a deeper understanding of ourselves and our relationship with God.
In his books “The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality” and “Prayer: Our Deepest Longing,” Ronald Rolheiser shares a story to help us see that wrestling and struggling with God is part of our journey.
The story refers to Nikos Kazantzakis, the author of “Zorba the Greek,” who was a deeply religious man. Kazantzakis was an artist, a seeker and ferociously independent. He was often referred to as mystical. Kazantzakis had deep interior struggles in his relationship with God. At times, he found himself obedient and at other times, he found himself resistant.
In his memoir, “Report to Greco,” Kazantzakis reveals a personal story about a summer he spent in a monastery as a young man. While in the monastery, he has a series of conversations with an old monk. During one of these conversations, he asks the monk if he still wrestles with the devil.
The monk tells Kazantzakis that he no longer wrestles with the devil – he has grown old and the devil has grown old – and the devil no longer has any strength. The monk reveals that he now wrestles with God. Kazantzakis asks the monk: You wrestle with God and hope to win? The monk replied: No, I wrestle with God and hope to lose.
Struggling with God can move us into a deeper and more mature kind of relationship. In the end, our real struggle is with God. In the book of Genesis, we see that Jacob wrestles for an entire night with a Spirit. In the morning, it is revealed that the Spirit is God.
Rolhesier shares: “What a perfect icon for prayer. A human being and God, wrestling in the dust of this earth.”
In the end Jacob confronts his weaknesses and his failures while facing God. It is in his wrestling and struggling with God that he is able to receive God’s blessings. We learn that Jacob’s life, like our life, is not easy.
Richard Rohr writes: “Wrestling with God, with life, and with ourselves is necessary. The blessing usually comes in a wounding of some sort and for most of us it is an entire life of limping along to finally see the true and real blessing of our life.”
We may see our wounds, our challenges, and our weaknesses as defeats. Yet our perseverance through them can bless us, and we may, like Jacob, encounter God in the struggle.
As Jim and I get up to leave, I rally for a second round of iced coffee to fill my empty container as I move toward the day, searching for other contents.
Teresa Schulz is a spiritual director, author, retreat facilitator and health care chaplain. She is the founder of Tools for Intentional Living and Transformation and co-founder of MaineSpiritus. She can be reached at: [email protected] blog: taschulz56.wordpress.com.