"Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good."
1 Peter 4:19
A common expression among my students and peers. I think you'd have to search long and hard to find someone not willing to agree that sometimes life is a struggle. In life, more often than not, things don't go the way you hoped. During the truly difficult times, we experience deep losses and painful hurts. People disappoint us, leave us, give up, move on, hurt us in ways we never imagined they would. Simultaneously, we let ourselves down. We perceive our faults and failures more than any outsider could. We focus in on all the ways we are not living the life we want to be. Our struggles can be crushing.
Consequently, we occasionally want to keep our hurts and struggles to ourselves. I think the hardest thing about having deep burdens… these wounds that fester and attack our souls from the inside out... is when we choose to face them alone. I experienced a heartbreaking rejection recently, and while I was trying to give it to Jesus, no matter how much I prayed or cried or got on my knees and begged, the hurt continued to be a deep one. It was a pain that I think needed to be out in the open. A sadness that needed to be shared with sister-in-Christ. Not some dark, somber secret that the enemy could twist into all sorts of self-loathing and hurt. I spoke to a friend and it was such a relief to release this weight and let the burdened be shared by another Christian. She said to me, "Even physical infections don’t heal when they are trapped or encapsulated. They have to be opened and drained to heal. While that is a gross example, the concept is the same when speaking of emotional hurts." How true of a thought that is. I walked away from our conversation, not necessarily with the situation solved, but the comforted by the struggled shared.
What I didn't expect in the days following, was the embarrassment I felt over having revealed this struggle. I had poured out my loss, pain, and my personal struggle to overcome the hurt... and I was mortified. I felt foolish and embarrassed to have let this friend see my feelings stripped of any sort of guard. I hate being seen as weak… as a failure… as someone who falls short of perfection. It’s been an issue for years. I’m terrified of people seeing the real me, the HUMAN-mess me, because I’m worried that it will give them a reason to “walk out”. Listen I know the drill... I know that everyone is a sinner and messed up. Everyone struggles. No one is perfect, but I have some tapes that continually are fearful of being seen in the fullness of my depravity. My weaknesses and sensitivities. I began to get so angry with myself for revealing the truth of my struggles to this friend.
For two Sundays this month, two separate pastors in different churches have shared on Romans 3:7-8, “I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” One pastor presented "the open door" as an opportunity for action and growth. He said something that stuck with me for many days after, “We need to reject the myth that choosing the wrong door means Plan B for life.” So everything that has happened this past year... my losses, my gains, my hurts, my struggles, my growth, etc... None of the hard or difficult parts of this year were punishment because I couldn’t “control my emotions”, “make better choices”, "be a stronger Christian" or “be more like someone else”... all of this was a part of God’s plan. His beautiful, wonderful plan for my life… because he loves me.
The other pastor took this passage and pointed out that "the open door" often leads to suffering. He said, “how we respond to [suffering] depends on what we love and what we want out of life.” All the hurt and loss I’ve experienced this semester are an opportunity to grow in the Lord, if I respond in a way that honors him. So I asked myself, "What do I love? What do I desire out of life? Is is Jesus? Is it happiness? Is it love? How do I respond to suffering, struggles, and hardships? Do I see them as opportunities… or burdens?" The second pastor read in Acts 14 where Paul is stoned, dragged outside the city, and left there believed to be dead. Miraculously he lives, and right after that experience he preaches a message and says this: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Stoning? Almost dying? Yeah, I think that qualifies as a hardship. I’m guessing that was not the reaction Paul was praying for when it came to his preaching.
Here’s what it comes down to. What’s been on my mind recently. I think I’ve been living for years with this false sense that a good Christian doesn’t struggle. A good Christian should be able to let go of hurts and disappointments and never struggle in their faith. Hello, wake up call! No where in the Bible does God say good Christians don’t struggle! Jesus struggled just as much as any other man, he struggled with temptation, loss, betrayal, abandonment by both men and God, he struggled in his life and in his death… AND HE’S GOD. I’m suddenly remembering that verse in Matthew 16:24 “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” That image would not have been lost on those listening. Unlike today where the cross is an image of hope and salvation, in those days it was a sign of suffering, humiliation, death, pain, loss, and 100% struggle. Jesus said that we are to follow him… and in following, we will struggle. For too many years, I have had these tapes telling me that as long as I struggled in my faith, as long as I fell short of who God wanted to me, as long as I struggled with loss, disappointment, hurt, and weariness… I was a crap Christian. Today, I realized it is not so.
I’ve always known that God uses struggles... What I never realized was that he doesn’t reject the process of struggling. It’s not like he curses struggling in hopes of fast-forwarding to the part where we overcome the struggle and come out better for it. Struggles in life are divinely ordained. I haven’t failed in my faith because of my struggles.
The pastor said, “God creates and manages all circumstances”... therefore he creates and manages all my struggles. That is why scripture reads, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Suddenly, I see that “weakness” in a different light. My weaknesses are not the fact that I struggle, not even close, my weaknesses are my human nature. My sinful, wicked heart, but his strength is what pulls me through those struggles in order to overcome those weaknesses.
"Yet, if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name" (1 Peter 4:16)
*mind blown* Haha.
I hope that makes sense. I’m trying to learn… and love… and not let a painful rejection determine who I am in Christ. It’s so easy for the enemy to discourage me. Sometimes my attitude, my feelings, my own doubts and pain invite the devil in willingly. One thought and he’s already throwing a full-fledged pity party in there, I’m talking open bar, pool, dance extravaganza. It’s not until the party is full underway that I realize the bar is full of toxic poisons, the pool is a slimy green, and the angry dancing results in painful bleeding and scarring.
This is why daily meditation with God is so important. Everyday I need to spend time in God’s word so that I can go through the day with a sense of his presence. It’s about obedience. It’s about proclaiming truth...both to myself and others. It’s about following God’s teaching. It’s about letting the Lord lead me in some, at times difficult, soul-searching. It’s about embracing hardships and struggles as sweet and beautiful opportunities. One pastor said, “If you’re not dead, you’re not done.” I am in NO WAY dead. These struggles I face are NOT killing blows… and they don't have to be something I'm ashamed of...
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”