Name What You’re Wrestling With

By Michaela O’Donnell

November 14, 2021

Make Work Matter

Scripture—Genesis 32:24-25 (NRSV)

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.


Seasons of wrestling in our work and life are often opportunities to make meaning and be transformed by God. What are you wresting with in this season?

This is part one of a five-part devotional series adapted from my new book, Make Work Matter: Your Guide to Meaningful Work in a Changing World.


I have sat with hundreds of people over the past few years that have something in common: they are in a season of wrestling with their work. Some are explicitly in transition while others are just feeling all the effects of change around them. As a whole, we’re dealing with a lot. We’re working through all that we notice that’s broken, and all that we hope for going forward. I’m thinking of the new mom wrestling with the work of motherhood, and the executive thinking about a professional change, and about the small business owner wrestling with the gap between what their business looks like and what they wished it looked like.

The Vision After the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel), Paul Gaugin, 1888

The Vision After the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel), Paul Gaugin, 1888

I’ve come to believe that wrestling is core to what it means to be human. And, that wrestling is often the breeding ground for God’s transformation. And for that, we need to recognize how holy the process of wrestling might be.

When I think of wrestling, I can’t help but think of Jacob. Jacob has always felt to me like such a beautifully complex person. On the one hand, God calls him to a life of leadership before he’s even born. On the other hand, Jacob lives a life of conflict, especially with his brother. In a way, Jacob’s entire story seems to be marked by wrestling, a theme that comes into focus when he literally wrestles a stranger in the middle of the night (Genesis 32). There are many theories on who that stranger might be.

Just before daylight, Jacob seems to have the upper hand on the stranger and literally demands a blessing in order to let his sparring partner free (again, Jacob is a beautifully complicated human being). But the stranger does not bless him—at least not in the way Jacob might have been hoping for. Instead, the stranger gives Jacob a new name. No longer will he be called Jacob, which means “trickster.” His new name is Israel, which means “God rules or preserves.” God’s presence in the holy wrestling transforms Jacob’s identity and quite literally how he walks through the world. His assurance on the way forward is that God is with him, naming him and calling him into the future.

We too can expect that holy wrestling might transform us. It might change how we think about our work or our leadership, or even how we understand God. What we learn in seasons of wrestling will likely change how we “walk” through the world as leaders and workers and friends. For in wrestling, just like with Jacob, God names us and calls us and promises to be with us on the road forward. We are changed by God’s with-ness.

I wonder what you’re wrestling with, whether it is at work or at home, or somewhere else. We’re usually always wrestling with something. Maybe you’re having a hard time with a colleague or trying to encourage a spouse in their own work. Maybe you’re wrestling with how to start something new just as other folks are thinking about retiring, or worried about your kids. Whatever it is, what if you saw it as an opportunity to focus on how God might be forming you, and transforming you for the way forward?


When in your life have you felt like you were in a season of wrestling?

How did that season transform you?

Large or small—what are you wrestling with in this season of your life and work?


Ask someone you respect and/or love about what seasons of wrestling have looked like for them and how they have been transformed by them. Share with them about your own journey.


Oh God, thank you that you help us to know that wrestling can indeed be a holy act of worship. Meet me in my own wrestling, helping me to know what it is I need to let go of and how I might emerge from this season more dependent on your direction and guidance. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Jacob’s Transformation and Reconciliation with Esau (Genesis 32-33)

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Michaela O’Donnell

Mary and Dale Andringa Executive Director

Michaela is the Mary and Dale Andringa Executive Director Chair at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership. She is also an assistant professor of marketplace leadership and the lead professor for Fuller Seminary’s Doctor of Global Leadership, Redemptive Imagination in the Marketplace progr...

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