"...back when I was a kid..."
When the story starts like this, it is almost certainly received behind rolling eyes and greeted with deep sighs. It usually describes some type of adversity experienced long ago that demonstrates how hard they had it back then and how much easier the listeners' circumstances are today.
"... we had to walk three miles to school each day in the snow, up hill, into the wind, both ways, with only a warm biscuit to keep our hands warm!"
"...during the Depression, mustard was only a nickel a jar, but no one had a nickel!"
But our interest in hardships of the past are quickly replaced by our desire for a more pleasant present.
Somewhere along the way, I sense we have become "struggle adverse." That is, we tend to want to strive for a stress-free life for us and for our children. Problems, pressure, and disappointment are to be avoided, and some even believe that experiencing such things is harmful to children!
A word of clarification...
There are many in our school family who are encountering severe struggles and life circumstances that are among the most extreme that human experience can bring. I in no way want to minimize the challenges involved when walking through those painful chapters of life. We want to do all we can to support and lift up those folks in every way possible.
My reflections today, however, are about the more minor daily irritations and disappointments that can easily be magnified and hold too much sway in our lives.
The paradox of struggle
"Back when I was a kid" stories tend to feature some adverse circumstance that the story teller survived and, in some cases, was better for it. We give cognitive assent to the necessity of our children experiencing difficulties, disappointments, injustices, and even cruelties at times as part of the process of maturity. We don't seek these out or try to bring them on, but they are sure to happen in this fallen world. As parents, it is easy to find ourselves trying to bear our children's burdens, right the wrongs, reverse the injustices and make the world a better place or at least a more friendly place for our child. It certainly makes our life easier not to have to watch them struggle! Yet we are forced to admit our "need" for the troubles of life, while we try to avoid them as much as possible!
The fruit of struggle
It seems that at least some aspects of character development include the temptation to move in the opposite direction.
Can one develop honesty without having to face situations when lying is more advantageous in the short term?
Can perseverance be cultivated without having to stick to it when quitting is so inviting?
Can courtesy be internalized without the experience of dealing with rude and demanding people?
Can academic integrity become inherent in a student without facing down the temptation to cheat and opting for the self denial and hard work required for mastery instead?
Can respect for authority be ingrained without learning submission to those (bosses, parents, teachers) with whom one disagrees?
Can faith be strengthened without circumstances that whisper questions of doubt?
Refections as we struggle in a fallen world
Brokenness characterizes the creation and all of us who live in it. Genesis 3 tells us what went wrong and the rest of scripture unfolds the story of redemption and the promise that one day it will all be made new (Revelation 21). In the meantime we will will struggle with suffering, adversity, injustice and difficulty.
Here's a few thoughts to keep in mind during our times of struggle:
Even injustice can be purposeful. The ultimate injustice of all time was the crucifixion. But it was effectual for atonement and salvation for God's people. If that event can be redemptive, certainly the lesser injustices we may experience can be used of God for good as well.
Deliverance for God's people sometimes takes a long time (Israel in Egypt for 400 years!) or a short time (Peter's jail break in Acts 12), but it happens in God's time for His glory.
We are wise to focus on His presence with us in the struggle not just our longing to be rid of the struggle. Hebrews 3:5, "I will never leave you or forsake you." Exodus 33:14, "...my presence will go with you and I will give you rest."
May God grant us His grace and peace as we learn to "struggle well" for His glory and our good.
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