I’m scrunched up in the backseat of my Jeep (it’s the closest thing I’m going to get to a recliner anytime soon). Three or four flies keep me company as they buzz through the open car windows into the late summer morning. I’m tired. I’m hungry. I could use a shower. I’m sitting here trying to kill time, waiting for two long days of manual labor remodeling a friend’s house to start.
If that was all that was going on, I’d be a little grumpy, but I’d get over it. But I’m also wrestling with Jesus over a couple deep-seated struggles. It feels like I have questions only, no answers …
Maybe you’re walking through some kind of struggle right now. If not, someday you will. I’m not talking about a bad day. But a string of bad days, a season of bad days. When desires and dreams go unmet, when heaven seems silent, and when your heart feels heavy.
And yes, while having the proper perspective is helpful—knowing that your struggle isn’t nearly as challenging as those of somebody else you know—simply dismissing your pain and saying, “Suck it up, it could be worse,” hasn’t been very helpful for me historically.
So what do we do? How do we keep pressing on when life kinda just sucks?
Get Real with Jesus
We can start by bringing our frustrations to Jesus. Peter reminds us: “Give all your worries to him, because he cares about you.” (1 Pet 5:7).
Complain to Jesus. Vent. You’re tired of being single? Same. You’re tired of waiting for your full calling to be revealed? Same. You’re just tired of feeling tired and busy with school and work and all the things? Same. We should make matching T-shirts.
Bring these things to Jesus. Get it out. All of it. Too often, we fear hurting God’s feelings or being bad Christians, so we hold back and pretend everything’s fine. But if we can’t be real with God, the one who made us and died to redeem us, who can we be real with? So just let it out. God cares. And he knows how we feel already.
Sometimes I do this by journalling like I’m writing a long, long text to Jesus. Other times I have to walk while I’m talking to him. Whatever works for you. But it’s in talking through these things, in courageously facing up to the pains and frustrations and longings in our hearts, that we start finding a way forward through the struggle.
And God didn’t make us to face our hard seasons on our own. He gave us the Church, a whole family of other people to connect with, to walk alongside through the good times and bad. I know without my core group of friends, guys who I can share anything with, my life would be a whole lot harder, a whole lot lonelier, and I would have never grown into the man I am today.
Whether it’s the last few days before finals or the last few meters of a race, we’ve all had those moments right before the end of a struggle where everything just seems to stall out. We hit a wall and just can’t seem to push through. That’s when remembering the reward that lies on the other side of the struggle becomes so important, the boost we need to take those last few faltering steps.
The author of Hebrews puts it this way: “Endure hardship as discipline. … No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb 12:7, 11).
On the surface, righteousness and peace might not sound that exciting to you.I honestly don't care about that right now, you might be thinking. I just want to figure out my major, Lord! Or All that stuff’s great, but I just want friends, God!
But here’s the thing: we were made to live in righteousness and peace, to be fully united with God with all the fruits of his Spirit enlivening us at every moment. But in our broken world, we end up misusing the good gifts and opportunities we’re given. Without peace, we might say no to the calling God is leading us to because we’re scared and instead opt for a safer career trajectory. Without righteousness, we won’t be able to love the people around us well and will miss out on what it means to be truly seen and truly known by someone else.
So in your current struggle, or struggles to come, trust that Jesus is at work. You probably won’t see it. It will hurt. But on the other side of it, you will be better, stronger, more human and more whole as God made you to be. You’ll be able to more deeply appreciate the gifts, opportunities, life God has given you.
Focusing on What Lasts
Remember my story about sitting in the Jeep? In some ways, that’s become an apt metaphor for my life recently. Worn down, trying to fit in a little rest and relaxation where I can before rushing onto the next thing. The deeper questions I was wrestling with then are still confronting me now, a month later, and I don’t feel like I’m much closer to answers.
And yet, I’m okay. Really I am. I’m at peace. Jesus hasn’t laid out the whole game plan for how to move forward and put all the struggles behind me. I kinda wish he would.
But instead he’s given me the next step. I need rest. Not a nap. Not a long weekend. Not a Netflix binge. But rest for my heart. I need to set my sights back on Jesus (Heb 12:1-3). I need to continue to get real with him about all the turmoil inside me. I need to be willing to keep being open to my closest friends and not just withdraw, no matter how tempting it is. And I need to remember the rewards that lie ahead on the other side of this struggle.
Ultimately, through this season, I've come to see that suffering (whether big or small), struggle, and pain are realities in the Christian life. They just are. It’s no fun to hear, but you can see it all over Scripture (1 Pet 4,2 Cor 4, Jas 1:2-4). Jesus, the cornerstone and culmination of all we could ever hope to be, suffered more than we'll ever know. So we wouldn't have to.
But you know what else is a reality in the Christian life? Joy. Beauty. Breakthrough. Healing. Celebration. Hope. Freedom. And these things, these things will reach on into eternity.
Suffering and struggle and pain—no matter how intense—will not last. They will not last.
Anxiety drove me into the arms of Jesus. And over the years, I began to see patterns of how some ways of prayer mirror psychotherapy techniques that help reduce anxiety. Going further and studying spiritual formation, I was exposed to even more ways to pray in ways that are helpful. I was intrigued that the little bit of neuroscience that had informed my early graduate work helped me make sense of new discoveries about the brain and how it’s shaped by anxiety and reshaped by various forms of prayer.