When We Struggle Well, We Give God Room To Work
For his whole life, Brad has struggled with two subtle yet pervasive issues – anxiety and anger. Both quietly lie just below the surface and quickly flare up when given the right opportunity. Yesterday, his wife Jackie pushed all the trigger buttons. First, she called him at work going on about how they needed to have a talk when he got home. He could hardly focus on his work worrying about what might happen when he walked in the door. Then, some dipwad decided it would be best if everyone took the scenic route home by ramming into the back of an 18-wheeler on Rt. 28 bottling up traffic for hours. Jackie refused to answer her cell when he called to explain the situation. By the time he got home, he was a wreck, too. But that didn’t stop his lovely bride from laying into him about a suspicious email she’d discovered on their home computer. Any kind of logical explanation made him look defensive and made her even madder. Accusing, yelling, cussing, berating until…kablooey! Blood pressure sky-rocketed. Doors slammed. He never wanted to speak to her again. She never wanted to see him again.[featured-image single_newwindow=”false”]
Brad fidgeted at his workbench in the garage dazed at what just happened. Unanswerable questions and thoughts pin-balled in his head. Why does this happen all the time? Why am I always the bad guy? What am I supposed to do now? She pushes the hot buttons. I explode. I don’t want to get angry but I do. 10 years of this crap! Nothing ever seems to change. I hate my marriage. I hate Jackie. I hate myself. And, I hate God for letting this all happen to me.
Our modern brand of Christianity doesn’t quite know what to do with struggles. Our advise to Brad would be to seek counseling to fix his marriage. Or, he should go to counseling to deal with his anxiety and anger issues. Jackie, too, needs counseling to solve her issues. Applied to any relationship, struggle is an indication that something is wrong and needs to be fixed.
Is it possible that God might have something completely different for them other than seeing everything fixed? Could the struggle be for their good? Could a painful marriage involving broken people be a place where God shows Himself in mercy and goodness? Is that even possible?
A psychologized Christianity says that all difficulty must be eliminated. Every problem settled. Every obstacle cleared away. Every pain medicated.
A theologized Christianity says that all questions must be answered. Every dilemma figured out. Every mystery solved. Every issue explained.
A genuine Christianity says that God dwells in the dusk as well as the dawn. As the “Divine suffering” (1 Pt. 3.20), God knows the value of struggle. As a “man of sorrows,” He knows our afflictions and meets us in them. Our Shepherd often leads us through the “valley of the shadow of death” that we might experience Him more fully (Psalm 23).
The Good Struggle…
- Strengthens our resolve. How else do we learn perseverance (a fruit of the Spirit) unless we struggle? When in a battle we can quit, learn to negotiate, or fight on.
- Gives room for God to create, shape, and form us. So many spiritual realities and valuable character issues are developed as we struggle with God in our messed up life. As with weightlifting, our spiritual muscles grow stronger as they meet resistance and are challenged to endure.
- Gets at our pride. Hardship humbles us. There’s nothing more humbling than grasping the reality that we can’t handle something (think prodigal son) resulting in a cry for help.
- Forces us to consider others differently. Struggle, when understood properly, strikes at our judgmentalism and criticism of others. We see others as broken people on a journey. We’re more sympathetic and patient with them.
- Challenges our self-image. If we’re self-assured, struggles show our weaknesses. If we’re timid, struggles teach us courage. Struggles highlight the worst or best in us. They cause us to examine ourselves.
How Does God Act In Our Struggles?
Here are a few (from hundreds) of examples:
God looks for his children after they fail/fall in the garden. “God, far from arms folded and brow furrowed in disgust, went looking for his children after their rebellion.” Yet, they were hiding (thought from Fr. John Oliver). Could we say God most pursues us when we’re in trouble, even trouble of our own making? There is no need to hide from Him when we are messed up. That’s when we need Him the most and when we find Him most accessible, actually.
“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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (Psalm 23.4-5). God is right there in the darkness, evil and battle with strength, courage, comfort, nourishment, and blessing. The Shepherd does not rid our lives of death, evil or enemies. He meets us in them, showing us His mercy, love, and goodness if we have the eyes to see.
The Shepherd lovingly searches for the lost lamb leaving his flock of ninety-nine. When He finds it He does not punish it or express anger. He tenderly places it on his shoulder and carries it home (Matthew 18.12-14; Luke 15.3-7). God meets us in our lostness, fear, and hunger.
See 1 Peter 2.21-25 where St. Peter describes Christ’s suffering as an example to us of how to deal with it.
The knowledge of God’s presence and mercy in the midst of our lousy, messed-up Christian lives needs to be experienced and proclaimed. That’s why I’m launching a new website called the Motley Christian at https://motleychristian.com/.
Whereas The UnCommon Journey is a blog site, the Motley Christian is a website filled with hope and witty reminders that God is in our mess.
His mercies are new every morning even when you wake up “out of sorts” with a hangover or are still angry with your spouse from the argument yesterday.
Truth is, we’re all lousy Christians. God meets us in our crap or He’ll never be with us at all.
Click on this link and take a good look at the Motley Christian. Subscribe to the gnarliest blog on the web. Become a member of the Motley Christian web community.
Discover God in the muck called “my Christian life.”
P.S. Click HERE for a look at the Motley Christian website