I never was on the wrestling team in high school, nor did I delve into martial arts much as a kid, but I did get together with some buddies of mine when I was younger once a week to wrestle and spar. I distinctly remember one of the first times attending having to get used to being hit in the face. I was scared. It was grossly uncomfortable being that vulnerable, and my insecurity skyrocketed even more than it usually did. I couldn’t seem to see the punches coming and was continually on the verge of tears from sheer embarrassment. I remember going to the bathroom, looking at myself in the mirror, and asking who I wanted to be when I returned. While it was uncomfortable and sometimes painful, I knew there was value in the experience. I knew that learning to be uncomfortable had some benefits; I knew that learning to endure pain was good occasionally. I also learned that I was not always in control, which could feel like my inner secure world was rupturing from the inside out, and that some other people had skills that I didn’t, which would be revealed when we wrestled.
There are many times in which this lesson feels relevant in seminary. We often come to seminary with preconceived ideas about certain theological positions, what our ministry context will look like when we are finished, and how we will make a difference in the world with our newly minted diploma. We often look to the finish line and bypass the road, because the glory and the joy is often thought to be found in the completion. However, I would posit that the joy can often be found in the midst of wrestling. It’s easy to go through each class clinching to specific ideas and refusing to even consider any other idea presented, but I think refusing to wrestle, converse, or even think about a different approach or a different idea then what you are used to is passing up an opportunity to spiritually grow. Being presented with a new way of interpreting a specific biblical text or being given a passage to read by a previously unknown author who is saying things that are perhaps a little more provocative may well be an opportunity to sit and ruminate on what is being given to us. It’s easy to feel vulnerable in that moment, to feel as though wrestling with different theological ideas is a waste of time, a threat to our secure faith, or an embarrassment. It can feel frustrating and uncomfortable and can even lead to probing more questions than desired; it can feel like our inner world is cracking. However, it ultimately leads to growth and increased strength. Many of the positions I have come to hold have been through years of wrestling. They’ve been difficult and uncomfortable, but I have grown through the process of wrestling with different ideas, and the most important element has been wrestling within the arms of community.
The beauty of being at a seminary is that we are not alone amid our wrestling. Not only do we have a community to lean on and converse with, but we also have a faculty that seeks to walk with us, shoulder to shoulder, during our wrestling. As Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” I pray that our hearts will be open to wrestling, ultimately knowing that we are doing so in the community of the body of Christ, where love and truth abound.