I often find myself feeling immense guilt for not loving the hard phases of life. I suppose I think that if I were spiritually mature, I would revel in the tough times and thrive the most when things are the worst. The fact is, I don’t. I don’t like struggle. I don’t look forward to tough times or tears or going through hard seasons.
The other day I saw a photo of a couple of friends of mine who look like they’re having the time of their lives. According to social media, they are living it up in every (wholesome) way possible, while I am over here riding a continual loop around town on the struggle bus. Now, I know enough to know that a picture on social media doesn’t even start to tell a tiny part of the story, so I tried not to put too much stock in it. But as I compared my struggles to their picture perfect millisecond of time, I realized that the main feeling that is overwhelming me right now is guilt. After all, shouldn’t I be overjoyed that God is teaching me intense lessons right now? And then I judge myself harshly for thinking that hard times are actually hard and not much fun.
The reality of the Christian life, though, is that God generally does teach us the most valuable lessons in periods of lament, periods of weakness, periods of fear, periods of doubt. While we tread this narrow road, at times we will crawl. At times we’ll hide in the ditch to try to wait for the worst of it to pass. At times we’ll look at other people’s lives and long for a certain simplicity that just isn’t available to us at the moment. Obeying Jesus is sometimes so, so difficult–a fact that didn’t escape Him, of course. He did tell His followers that it would look like carrying around an instrument of torture and death all the time. Ease isn’t exactly a mark of this narrow road experience.
It’s ok to acknowledge that things can get really tough. It’s ok to struggle. It’s ok to sport an achy heart and red-rimmed eyes that tend to leak. It’s not just my imagination: it’s a struggle to live through the struggle. And that isn’t necessarily a mark of weak faith or stunted growth.
Sanctification often hurts. We don’t have to hate ourselves for saying ouch. We do, after all, have a Savior who can identify with our weaknesses. He understands pain. He understands disappointment, heartache, and struggle. We can trust Him with this process, and we can trust Him with our feelings about this process.
Jesus may have talked about cross-carrying, but He also offered us rest. He said that He wants the weary, the ones who are walking around with the heaviest burdens. He spoke of abundant life, of joy despite pain, of peace despite fear, of comfort despite that broken heart. In God’s kingdom, we can live with the tension of great difficulty in one hand and great joy in the other, not by our own power, but by His. He isn’t afraid of our struggle. He isn’t threatened by it or annoyed by it. He knows that through struggle we come to know Him more, little by little, and He understands that we won’t always love the process of learning to lean on Him. The struggle is real. So is the struggle with the struggle. And He is sufficient to see us through all of it.