What does it mean to live a sheltered life? It’s a question I’ve often pondered. As a young person I was accused of being a sheltered person, as if it were this great offense. As a mother I worry that I shelter my kids too much. What is a sheltered life, and is it a bad thing or a good thing? Maybe it just is what it is.

I’ve been reading through The Business of Heaven by C.S. Lewis. Lewis is talking about how you don’t know the strength of something until you go against that strength and find out. He then transitions into talking about temptation. He says Christ came against temptation fully, knew exactly the full strength of temptation and overcame it. On the other hand, someone who gives in to temptation over and over knows very little about temptation because that person has never stood against it. It is at this point that Lewis says the following, “They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.” That is, the person is sheltered from the struggle with temptation.

Here is a totally new way of thinking about the sheltered life. My background causes me to assume someone who gives into every temptation has lived the opposite of a sheltered life, because that someone has been exposed to every vice. Yet Lewis argues they are the one who is sheltered and the person who resisted temptation is living a full life because they have known the struggle.

According to Lewis I never lived a sheltered life, because I have always struggled and wrestled with life at every phase. He has turned the whole question upside down. Which is the true meaning of sheltered? Shelter from vice, or shelter from struggle? Perhaps this is a Hebrew moment and the answer is, “Both.” We are both sheltered from each other’s heart ache, whether it is the ache that comes from the consequences of vice or the ache that comes from struggle.

Jacob experienced both aches, which perhaps makes him the least sheltered out of all the patriarchs of Israel. As a young man Jacob was the Deceiver, who stole the birthright and the blessing of Isaac from his twin brother Esau. He ran away when Esau threatened to kill him and ended up working for his uncle Laban. While he was there he brokered many deals that sounded like good news for Laban, but were in fact good news for himself because he knew a thing or two about genetics and how to manipulate the flocks to breed the sort that were under his claim. Jacob tried to find loopholes in tradition to allow him to marry Rachel the second daughter of Laban before Leah, the first daughter. But Laban didn’t fall for that one. Jacob always found a way to get what he wanted at whatever cost to those around him. He always gave into the temptation to manipulate and suffered consequences from those actions. There was a lot of heartache.

When things started to sour between Jacob and Laban, Jacob ran away from his problems and returned home to see if his old problems had dissipated. On the way back to Canaan, he hears word that his brother Esau heard of his return and was on his way to meet Jacob. Jacob is worried, he might not be able to get out of this one, so he tries some of his old tricks by sending his servants, his wealth, his wives and children before him to flatter Esau and incite mercy. Once everything and everyone is sent on ahead Jacob is alone in the wilderness.

It is in this wilderness, this midnight hour in Jacob’s life that he meet’s a stranger and they wrestle. Some say the man is an angel of the Lord, some say it is a pre-incarnation of Jesus, others are altogether vague about how this person is connected to God. Either way, the stranger is considered to be some facsimile of the Lord. So Jacob wrestles with the Lord through the night and almost wins. The sun is about to rise and the man realizes Jacob might win so he touches Jacobs hip and the hip came out of the socket. Jacob kept wrestling, so the man asked Jacob to let him go. Jacob said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” The man asks Jacob his name and says this, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” They stop wrestling, Jacob tries to find out who the man is, but gets no answer. He decides he saw God and is content that the encounter didn’t kill him on the spot. Jacob never fully heals from his injury and he is indeed called Israel from that point on. (Genesis 25:20-32:30, quoted: Gen. 32:26,28 NKJV)

The point is Jacob knew giving in to temptation, and he knew wrestling. He wrestled with more than just temptation, he wrestled with God. I think in the end he learned that the better ache to live with is the ache from struggle, and the better shelter is shelter from vice. From that point on he lived with the ache in his hip from the literal struggle and he moved forward under a new name and a new blessing, a blessing from his heavenly Father and that blessing was his shelter.

With this example we can make an intentional decision about our lives. We can decide which ache we want to live with and which shelter we want to live beneath. I used to struggle out of blind obedience, but now I struggle with assurance. I feel blessed to have lived a sheltered life under the blessing of my heavenly Father, and I ache from the struggle with sin and darkness but I know in Christ I have prevailed and I will prevail.

Which shelter will you choose? That of giving in or that of the blessing of the Father? Which ache will you live with? That of consequence or that of the struggle? Will you come under a new name in Christ, and His blessing? Will you prevail as Israel prevailed? It’s not too late to change shelter. Jacob was not a young man when he wrestled with God, he had two wives, two female servants (unofficial wives) and 12 sons when he encountered God in the midnight wilderness. It’s not too late to choose the blessing and struggle that leads to life rather than the shelter of non-struggle that ultimately leads to emptiness.

-Etta Woods

The Beloved Works of C.S. Lewis: Surprised by Joy, Reflections on the Psalms, The Four Loves, The Business of Heaven. C.S. Lewis. Harcourt Brace & Company. Inspirational Press, a division of BBS Publishing Corporation. 252 W. 38th St, New York, NY, 10018. 1984. Page 338.

Quotation originally found in:

Mere Christianity. C. S. Lewis. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. 866 Third Avenue, New York, NY, 10022. 1952. Page 125.

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