Wrestling with an Angel Review

November 7, 2012

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Matt Mitchell

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Matt Mitchell

Drenched in Grace; Forged in Suffering

“Gut-wrenching grace.”  That was my three-word-reaction to reading Wrestling with an Angel by Greg Lucas. This book is drenched in grace but was forged in suffering.

Wrestling with an Angel is a practical-theological reflection on lessons one dad has learned through fathering a severely disabled son.

Easy and Hard to Read

It is both easy and hard to read. It’s easy to read because it is fast-paced and filled to the brim with vivid stories. The chapters are short, tersely written, and come right out of the experiences of the author, a down-to-earth police officer. It’s easy to relate to Lucas and his family.

And that’s the hard part–because Lucas’s family has dealt with severe suffering as they’ve seen Greg’s son Jacob grow from a tiny toddler enduring unexplained seizures to a difficult-to-manage young man. And it doesn’t necessarily grow any easier.

It is hard to read because it is so real. I kept thinking, “This is what it is like.” Blood, guts, and feces all make an appropriate but dismally authentic appearance in the course of the story.

I found myself sobbing as I read it. Now, I’m a “softie,” but I don’t normally cry when just reading a book. This book is evocative while not being at all sentimental.  Lucas also finds humor in unlikely places. I didn’t just cry–I laughed and nodded through my tears.

A Story of Grace

Wrestling with an Angel is not simply an emotion-generating story. It’s a story that teaches truth as it unfolds. The subtitle is A Story of Love, Disability, and the Lessons of Grace.

Lucas develops ten grace-lessons as he tells his story. Here are the first five:

  • Grace breaks us with affliction in order to equip us with comfort and compassion.
  • Grace displays our sin as in a mirror, but reveals the cross as through a window.
  • Grace surprises us with God’s presence in the details of our daily routine.
  • Grace humbles us by crushing our pride through humiliation.
  • Grace saves us by freely and undeservingly giving what we need to be saved.

As you can see, Wrestling with an Angel is clearly not a “how-to” book. It’s more of a “how-come” book. It doesn’t give practical direction for caring for a disabled child, and it doesn’t answer all of the lingering questions that parents have. But it does give a fresh and biblical perspective on suffering and how God can use disability to mold Christians into the image of Christ.

Lucas says that he has realized that, in God’s plan, Jacob has been the teacher and he the student:

Jake has taught me much about strength by displaying my utmost weaknesses. I have learned greatness by recognizing smallness, and learned victory by experiencing defeat. The painful death of personal pride has, perhaps, given birth to a simple humility. My own disabilities have been revealed through Jake’s amazing life, and I have been shown that from disability God can create depend-ability, the strength that comes from admitting my own weakness and depending on Him who has all power.

All of these lessons have been studied in the shadow of the cross—the greatest display of victory over disability and weakness the universe has ever beheld.

But perhaps the sweetest discovery of all was learning more and more about the character of my heavenly Father through the struggles of my disabled son. It is one thing to read about His faithfulness, to talk about His mercy, and to write about His grace.

But to experience these things face to face requires a heavenly vision that can only be obtained by walking through the suffering of His providence and coming to the realization that the darkness I have experienced is actually the shadowing shelter of my ever-present Father (pp. 98-99)

Weaknesses

I’m not good at writing this kind of review. I have a hard time critiquing a book when I wholly loved it and profited from every page. What can I say? “It was too short! I didn’t want it to end.”

The title was a little confusing for me. I understood that the author was referencing the story of the patriarch Jacob at Peniel, but uninformed readers might assume that the angel being wrestled with in the title is the author’s son. Perhaps he had double meaning in mind as there is a lot of wrestling with Jacob in the book.

The book’s cover does not convey the content either, especially in relationship with the title. Stone angels in a graveyard is spooky enough but not gut-wrenching nor grace-filled. Once you open the first page, however, it is pure gold.

Some readers might struggle with Lucas’ Calvinism poking through in his storytelling, but I sure didn’t. I thought his connection between disability and sin was brilliant and beautiful.

Many mornings I leave Jake’s room dejected, hurt, and emotionally drained. Many evenings, in desperation, I find myself restraining his struggles by wrapping him in my arms against his will and gently whispering, “I love you. I love you. I love you—no matter what.”

How do you care for someone who resists your love with violence, who opposes your very presence even when that presence is necessary for his good? How do you keep on loving when the person you are devoted to seems incapable of affection? The only way to make any sense of this kind of relationship is to experience it through the truly unconditional love of the Father. . . .

In my son I see a picture of my own relationship with God. In Jake’s defiant refusal to be loved, cared for, and washed, I am reminded of the cross. There, the violence of divine love overpowered my rebellion and forced upon me a process of cleansing redemption that I did not want to undergo. In some ways the process is still ongoing, and most days, I still resist. In my persistent disability I fight against the transformation being worked in me. But I face a power greater than my own and a love stronger than my rebellion. It is as if a bloody, beaten, crucified Savior wraps me in His arms, subdues me with His affection, and whispers in my ear, “I love you. I love you. I love you—no matter what” (pp. 22-24).

Recommended

I highly recommend this book of gut-wrenching grace. All parents of disabled children should read Wrestling with an Angel. All pastors with disabled people in their flock should possess a copy. I read it in about two hours, but it is has stuck with me ever since and has better prepared me for life in a fallen and hurting world.