There is one thing for certain in this world. It is that we will all have struggles. Job 5:7 tells us “People are born for trouble as predictably as sparks fly upward from a fire.” Some of us will have struggles far greater than others (if there is even a spectrum to speak of). But the common fact is, we will all have struggles. And I am a believer that God does allow us to receive more than we can handle, because I have witnessed friends go through unspeakable struggle to only come out more faithful and stronger on the other side of it. I have seen that it was only possible through the grace of God – God showing up, using community as his hands and feet, and helping to restore the emotionally wounded and heal the physically broken. He is in the business of redemption.
Yes, friends, I am going there today. This is a tough one, and when I grapple with the word struggle, so many images and ideas start to percolate in my head. I consider friends who encountered unspeakable childhood trauma, friends and family who have lost children or spouses, friends and family who have experienced job loss, friends who have had relationships crumble before them, and the list goes on and on. We are all living in this temporary broken world, but a world that was designed to give us a glimpse of God’s kingdom. And I believe we sometimes see the clearest picture of that on the other side of struggle. Romans 5:3-5 tells us “… we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Rejoice in our sufferings? Ugh. That can be downright near impossible. But our heavenly father is in the business of carrying us through the “impossible”.
Still knowing all of this, I grapple and question why struggles, injustice, pain, suffering, and more exist. I know I’m not alone, in that 75 results come up on Amazon books when typing in “why do bad things happen to good people” (there were actually multiple books with that same title or a variation of that title). Google it and there is a lifetime’s worth of content. The question is one that is universal among believers and non-believers. And let’s face it; we are inundated now more than ever with messages of struggles. That is both a blessing and a curse of social media. The blessing is that we have the opportunity to pray for so many families and or individuals who are struggling in this world. But the curse is being so aware of all of those struggles – and the more aware we are of these troubles happening all around us – all around our world – the more we question why they happen.
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a solitude retreat with my husband who is on staff at a church here in Cincinnati. I was so excited to have this one day where I could spend more time with God. For those who read my last entry, spending more time with God is definitely something he has been prompting me to do. So, I knew this was something to which I had to say yes and attend.
The morning of the retreat, I received a phone call from a close friend who had some worrisome health news. We briefly talked and cried through it and reinforced in my head was the fact that the timing of this retreat could not be more perfect. I could specifically pray about this and hopefully even get an encouraging word for her.
Halfway through the retreat, I found myself struggling.
I was laying back in my lawn chair, feeling the warm breeze on my face and staring at the layers upon layers in the clouds, darting their way across the sky as if being chased by the sun. I literally felt in that moment like one of those clouds. Just wanting to run away from the struggles swirling in my head. And as I lay there, I found myself asking God the very question that I knew was a barrier to connecting to him that day. Now, as a Christian, I know the intellectual response to this. I know there is good and evil in this world. I know I don’t fully understand and comprehend why bad things happen, but I know of God’s promises, I have His encouragement tenfold in the Bible on my lap, and I know He reigns over evil. And I practically know that struggles are just a part of this life. Jesus covers much of this in John 16:33, I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
That said, I also know that in that moment, there still existed a barrier between God and me. It was a barrier of trust. I often feel that if I completely let go of every aspect of my life, including the worries that I have, things might just fall apart. Can anyone relate with this? Have any of us ever worried about something(s) because we are afraid if we stop worrying, we will lose control of it? Like worrying somehow gives us control over it all? It sounds twisted, but I have spoken to countless friends who relate, and it is a big part of my story. So think about this – the absence of worry could equal total dependence and faith in God. Sounds wonderful AND scary AND hard, doesn’t it? And where do we begin?
As I lay there looking at the sky, God gave me words that I knew were meant for me. And in the coming days, I have quickly learned they were also meant share and encourage others. It was the minute he shared this word with me, that the walls crumbled down and I was able to move along in my time of solitude, this time lighter and more encouraged. Here is what our Heavenly Father shared with me. (And trust me, I know this was God because I am simply not this wise!)
This is our temporary place. It’s when we act like this is our permanent residence that pain, loss, and struggles feel greater than they are. It’s when we act like this is our permanent residence that we give those things power instead of God, who has already declared victory over all of it (Deuteronomy 20:4) and we receive that that victorious prize in eternal life with Him. (James 1:12)
For me, receiving these words from God was reassurance of His presence. It was also reassurance of how vast and great He is and how small we are. How temporary this world is and how amazing life with Him can and will be. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)
The Bible itself is a story that has a through line of Struggle.
And the good news is that there is a happy ending that comes in the form of Redemption. And each of us plays a key role in the story. Struggle is the very reason God sent his Son to us. And God has proven time and time again to carry people through it. If ever there was a story of struggle and God carrying someone through it, is the book of Job. Or how about Sarah and Abraham? Or read anything Paul wrote. Paul drafted 2 Corinthians at a very vulnerable time in his life. The church at Corinth was struggling, and he sought to take action to preserve the unity of that local body of believers. The letter is riddled with personal comments as Paul revealed details about the persecution he had suffered for the sake of Christ, as well as about a mysterious thorn in the flesh that kept him reliant on God.* We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9) These were men and women who were appointed by God to do His work, yet they had mighty struggles – struggles many of us could not even comprehend.
At this moment in my life, I choose to seek God in my struggles, and I am expectant that I will feel his presence in them. And guess what, the more I seek Him, the more I see and feel and hear Him.
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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalms 23:4)
When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.(Psalms 34:17-18)