All my friends and family would attest that I feel most comfortable and confident in the arena of all things girl. With a sister three years younger as a lifelong best friend, almost a decade of discipling and counseling young women, and a firstborn daughter I couldn't imagine loving or kissing anymore than I do, it's no wonder my first response was utter shock when the ultrasound tech announced, "You're having a boy!"
In an effort to find some semblance of control over this unexpected news, I searched high and low for a name to give our son. Finding a name became essential. It became my hope, promising to deliver me from the undercurrent of anxiety rising over having no idea on how to mother a boy. The Spirit convicted and brought me to rest as I interacted with God and took hold of the promises of Psalm 139 that He ingrained on my soul during my first two years of motherhood: I know and I am with you.
I surrendered my fears as I caught sight of them and relinquished the façade of control that came with identifying the perfect name for this unexpected boy. After my soul stopped wrestling, the name came. We didn't force it, and we had other names that we heartily considered. But as the Lord continued to lead us, we began to understand the reason our little boy’s name never left us.
Wrestling has been vital to the strengthening of my faith in the last several years. There comes a time when our lives bear witness to our lack of belief in God. When we have eyes to recognize our unbelief—when we indulge in temporary comfort, when we despair with anxiety and hopelessness, when we numb our pain and aches, when we nurse bitterness and harbor unforgiveness—we're often tempted to shame ourselves into believing the gospel again. We've read the Word. We've heard the Truth. We've even learned how to preach the gospel to ourselves. So we reprimand our sinful hearts, laying the burden of law down on our consciences, trying our hardest to force change.
Slavery creeps in and settles like depression, letting us see the person we wish we were but know we're not. Our unbelief promises to protect us and deliver us, all the while mocking us and keeping us distant from the God who loves us.
In John 11, Jesus receives word from his dear friends, Martha and Mary, that their brother Lazarus, another personal friend of Jesus, is ill. Instead of traveling to Bethany, Jesus stays where He is, certain of a greater glory to be accomplished in His waiting and timing. When He arrives, Martha is ready to talk. She attributes her brother's death to Jesus' absence: "Martha said to Jesus, 'Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died'" (John 11:21). Perhaps a statement of faith, perhaps a statement of bottled pain, or even perhaps both, we do not know. But what we do know is that Martha quickly comforted herself with a statement of what she does know: "But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you" (John 11:22).
Without a second in between, Martha expresses her heart and closes it off with a quick recitation of what she knows she is supposed to believe. But Jesus longs to enter in. He doesn't belittle pain, but grieves it. He knows who we are, finite creatures with limited understanding, and welcomes our humble questions and confusion with mercy and comfort. Jesus responds to her with a truth that is meant to make space for her grief, for her questions, for her faith to grow. "Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again'" (John 11:23). But Martha does it a second time; she says, "I know."
We do it, too. We mask our control with what looks like surrender, keeping others at arms length with our fake smiles and rehearsed Scriptures. We close off our hearts with knowledge too familiar to awaken them. We refuse to be comforted by a personal God and instead console ourselves with facts. Because to express our hearts and leave them open—especially to One we deem responsible for our present situation—is an interaction too unpredictable, too unnerving, too vulnerable.
If you know the rest of John 11, you know that Jesus raises Lazarus from the grave. Jesus could have bypassed Martha and Mary and walked straight to the tomb to resurrect their beloved brother, but He didn't. His patient presence with each of the sisters tell us that this place is vital. This place of pain and questions. This place of grief and confusion. This place of hurt and unrest and need is the place where unbelief is ready to take a seat if wrestling is not done and faith is not strengthened.
After Martha shields her heart with a second I know statement, Jesus presses in, giving her what she needs in this place: an encounter with the living God. "Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life'" (John 11:25a). He does not intend to console her with what she should know. In fact, what He intends to give is new knowledge—a new glimpse of Himself, a revelation of who He is and why that matters for this present circumstance.
The word believe is used four times in the remaining conversation between the two of them. Jesus invites Martha to do battle with her potential unbelief by opening her heart and seeing Him in new light. He doesn't want her stagnant, rote faith in facts she's known. He wants her to know Him. Because only faith in Jesus Christ has the power to grieve without despair, to question without pride, to move forward into the unknown with robust trust and pervading peace.
Wrestling. Recognizing those places where unbelief threatens to take up residence as holy ground for an encounter with God Himself. Releasing our white-knuckled grip on what we've known and letting Him humble us with new, experiential knowledge of Himself through His powerful Word. Making ourselves unwilling to leave the ring, unwilling to let go of God until He leaves a new mark on us.
This is the concept that has radically shaped my faith in Christ these last years. A concept my husband and I will find impossible to forget through the naming of our son. In Genesis 33, Jacob wrestled with God in the night. Jacob was changed by his personal encounter—by his wrestling—walking with a limp that showcased the mark of God in his life. The name of our son will bear witness to this privilege and responsibility—to this holy work of wrestling.
As I walk down roads I've never encountered before with a son entrusted to me, I will face these places of questions, confusion, need, and pain. I will need to do battle with my unbelief through encountering the living God time and time again. I will need to fight to surrender, not to the reprimands of my legalistic conscience, nor to the false promises of despair, anxiety, bitterness, or numbness, but to the God who invites me ever deeper into the knowledge of Him. An invitation worthy of wholehearted surrender.
Meet Jacob Stephen Weir
(Stephen after his paternal grandfather, whom we desire he’d emulate in his living and faithfulness)
grace & peace,
*ps. more to come on his birth story