A universally relevant word. A word no one wants to experience. At times even a dirty word. But we all know it. We all feel it. We all pretend we aren’t doing it.
I don’t know about you but I’m quick to say things like, “I struggled with that but it’s better now.” Notice the past tense. It’s ok to say I’ve been there but somehow it’s not always ok to say I’m still there. We hesitate to admit current struggles.
Struggling, at least in my life experience, has always been something hazy. Pioneers and trail blazers, medical or academic pursuits, these are struggles of noble fashion. Stories with heroic and progressive outcomes, albeit tragic sometimes, are well loved tales. But to speak in terms of real time struggling, deep or dark struggling; this is somehow not as acceptable.
The answer to that is layered and undoubtedly complicated. Might I suggest my own thoughts?
We don’t like struggle because we think we were never meant to struggle.
Struggling is wrong! At least that is the internal conversation we have with ourselves. We must be a loser if we keep struggling. We must have made some great mistake in the cosmos of life and now we are subject to struggle. Our struggle is a sign of sin. Sound familiar?
A few years back I was struggling to believe that God wouldn’t fail me. I didn’t know if I could trust Him completely. The odds I was up against were so big. I didn’t see how I would make it through. I struggled to trust God. My emotions were all over the place. A very well meaning loved one said to me one day, “You say you trust God, then why are you so afraid? Why do you doubt? You’re not acting like someone who trusts God.” Ouch. They had a hard time dealing with my struggle.
I was really angry and hurt at first. But then I realized that my struggle was too big for them too and they didn’t know what to do with it, or me.
Where struggle can often be a result of our own mistakes it isn’t the only reason we struggle.
To struggle means you are a human being. To struggle means you don’t know everything and it’s uncomfortable. To struggle means you’ve smacked against this broken world.
For some reason we believe that struggle is something we shouldn’t feel after a certain age. Once we jump through various life hoops like; graduating high school or college, buying a home, losing weight, getting engaged, getting a promotion, starting a family etc., we should never struggle again. And when we do, we feel like a failure. But struggle isn’t quarantined to a certain season of life. So we do what we do best.
Cover it up.
Guilt settles in when we struggle. We don’t want anyone to know about it. It’s so hard to talk because we don’t know how to talk about it. Shame shadows us and impairs our ability to see truth or friendship.
We don’t want to be seen. We don’t want to see others. Struggle will do that.
Messages the world sends are; you are living right if you are struggle-free. Don’t get me wrong, avoiding mistakes, treating people well and lovingly to avoid unnecessary struggle, is wise. I’m not talking about being careless or stupid. But to lump all struggle in the mistake or “sin” category is naive. We will never learn to move through struggle if we do not realize struggle is normal. Not something to hastily judge or ridicule. That just makes us want to hide more. Regardless of why we struggle it can make us feel like a prisoner.
Nobody wants to feel this way.
Struggle is a symptom that everything is not as right as it could be. It’s a signal that something needs attention or loving care. It’s a catalyst to exercise faith in a very uncertain and confusing world.
Just because I wanted to believe God would help me didn’t mean I was able to believe. That’s what struggle is. Not being able to do something you want to do.
It’s easy to get lost living in the struggle. We begin telling ourselves, “Struggling is a sign of weakness. We shouldn’t struggle. Why do I feel this way? I shouldn’t have to deal with this. Nobody else deals with this. Nobody wants one likes to be around me.” Have you caught yourselves thinking this way?
I’ll admit. I cave when I struggle. I give in too quickly. Then, the struggle usually gets bigger. But I’m learning to practice. Practicing what it means to be a human being. Flawed, unsure but growing and learning. Mistake ridden, wanting to believe but looking to God for answers. When you and I accept that we will struggle we actually have a shot at getting through our struggles. When we ignore them, they grow.
Struggle can be an invitation to more. More learning, more practicing truth even when it doesn’t feel good, more grace, more conversation, more prayer, more patience, more encouragement.
Struggling doesn’t have to define us but it can design us.
Paul was a man in the Bible who understood the nature of struggle. He writes of his struggles with himself and with a condition that wouldn’t go away. (Click on the links to read for yourself.) He chose to let his struggle design the kind of man he wanted to be. His struggles were real and he spoke openly about them. With the admission of his struggle he incorporated a perspective that helped him get through:
- He shared his struggle openly. He doesn’t hide it. To struggle is NORMAL and no one is immune.
- He points to God. He recognizes that God sees and knows exactly what he is going through and hasn’t left him to struggle pointlessly. God will not leave us alone in our struggle either.
- He surrenders his struggle to God. He puts his faith into practice. He activates belief that God loves him and doesn’t allow the struggle to define him. We can follow God, even when it’s really hard. Our character can define us instead of our struggle.
Struggling does not have to be the end of us. It can be a beginning of something new and transforming. No, it’s not fun to live with. There are no quick fixes. Yes, we should avoid unnecessary struggle. There still isn’t a good reason to be stupid. Will others be ok with our struggle? Probably not all the time. But struggle doesn’t have to define us. It can be a beginning to “more”.
Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. ~Psalm 51:6