Why is the struggle so relentless? Because God wants to change us, and we don’t want to be changed. Not really, not the kind of change God wants. I mean really change. Not cosmetic surgery, but radical surgery – that’s what God’s after. He intends to reach down into the guts of our soul and rip the Jacob out of us… The first one [Jacob’s encounter with God at Bethel in Genesis 28] had been thrilling and ecstatic; this one is going to be frightening and painful. But Jacob will not walk away from this meeting unchanged. He will limp away, transformed, a prince. The secret of victory is losing the right battle.
Ron Dunn in When Heaven is Silent (emphasis in the last sentence mine).
We are not programmed to lose in this society. Some of us handle it better than others. I don’t include myself in that group, sadly. I am one of those who refuses to accept defeat, who always played everything to win even as a child, who usually manages to say the last word, who fights on until the victory is somehow snatched from what looked like sure defeat. I even passed my driving test first time, for goodness’ sake, and that is something you are virtually expected to fail first time. (Although my success on this one was perhaps more due to the fact that the examiner took pity on me and decided not to penalise me for driving a bit on the slow side throughout the entire test, rather than due to any actual driving skill on my part. He must have assumed that I was going so slow that I couldn’t possibly pose a danger to anyone!!)
I can laugh at myself in this, perhaps mostly because I know I’m not alone. I knew a lot of super-achievers at university ten years ago (hmm, actually it’s a bit longer than that now but what’s a few years between friends?!); these guys had four, five, even seven A-levels at grade A as well as a collection of Grade Eights on multiple instruments or experience playing sport at national level, rowed several times a week and still managed to get a Double First. (I married the one with three Grade Eights and, as much as any of us had one back then, a life; it was a more attractive option than Double First-achieving boaties who spent all their time talking about ergs, going Head of the river and drinking in one night more than I could drink in a week!)
Anyway, I digress: the main point is that these were work-hard, play-hard kind of people, so losing just wasn’t in their vocabulary! Yet, even in the years since I escaped the rarefied atmosphere of Ivory Towers Land, I’ve met many more of the same kind of people. In fact I would go so far as to say that I’ve never met anyone who likes losing. I think it’s a built-in part of our psyche. And, for this reason, I don’t feel quite so bad about my own pathological avoidance of anything remotely like losing!
I also don’t think that losing is something we’re meant to like. Losing has no intrinsic value of its own. It’s just that sometimes we have to lose in order to win. Even Jesus went to the cross, enduring its shame, because of the glory set before him rather than because there was something intrinsically good in losing his life. He lost in order to win. And what he won was not only for himself but for others.
So, perhaps there are battles that we need to lose in order to win. The secret of victory is, as Dunn says, losing the right battle. Ultimately, victory comes not in visions of angels going up and down ladders, enthralling though such moments are. No, victory comes in losing. Victory comes in fighting until the dawn and having your hip dislocated so that you cannot fight any longer. Victory comes when you reach the end of yourself, when there is no strength left in you to stand alone, when your only cry is for a blessing from the One who is stronger than you, the One who is somehow both your opponent and the arms which hold you safe even as you fight.
And, perhaps in that victory, the victory of losing the right battle to the right Opponent, perhaps there will be a blessing not only for you but also, as it was with Jesus, for others around you. Even as you fight to lose, as you fight a fight which is frightening and painful, as you experience radical surgery of your heart so much beyond all that you ever remember signing up for, pray that this blessing will be to you and, through you, to those whom he brings to you.