Surviving Hardship, Thriving in Faith

As Christians, we are specifically called to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and “mourn with those who mourn,” as opposed to what most of us are typically tempted to do, i.e. run headlong into someone else’s pain with 1) an inappropriate rush to judgment, followed most often by 2) a hurried attempt to “fix it” or 3) offer well-meaning-but-inappropriate advice that is perhaps unwittingly designed more to alleviate our own discomfort at being around suffering than anything else (Romans 12:15). Generally, it takes a lot of wisdom to simply offer a suffering friend your faithful presence and leave the theologizing for another day.

Good theology and/or attempts to change a hurting person’s perspective are best offered when they are asked for. What would you say, for example, if you were in the middle of a great deal of emotional pain and I told you that living through a divorce might well be a good thing in your life? “What?! A good thing?!” You could hardly be blamed for hastily showing me the way to the door were I to open up with something like that. Most of us would probably respond the same way.

Hard truth has its time and place. Withholding truth “for another day” can often be the most merciful thing we can do for one another. But let me say it this way: As you go through divorce or any other form of suffering – if you will trust that God has not abandoned you, and if you’ll believe His promises in Scripture and if you’ll cooperate with Him as you live through a painful season of life – the experience of a season of suffering can be a good thing. There can hardly be a more biblical notion than saying that God often uses pain and setbacks to call His people back from wandering.

Few (if any) of us would ever choose to go through pain for the “benefit” it brings us. I’ve never had anyone, as they were going through divorce, tell me how glad they were that God set them on this particular path as a way of awakening them to deeper faith. But make no mistake, you will go through hard times. We all will. We live in a broken world, and our hearts and motives are hopelessly sin-stained as well.

Knowing, then, that a crisis or difficulty of some sort will undoubtedly be a part of your life at some point, have you thought much about how you are going to handle it?

You do have a choice.

Whether or not you are a believer, when hardship comes your way, you have at least two distinct paths.

I’ve watched people over the years go through all kinds of hardship, most commonly the life-altering experience of divorce. And I firmly believe that how we handle hardship has eternal consequences.

One choice is to respond angrily toward the hardship. Our modern tendency is to think and live as if life should always be easy and comfortable. When it becomes difficult, we cry “Foul!” Part of this response, then, includes deep resentment that life isn’t turning out the way you wanted, the way you planned. You might even accuse God of wrongdoing, of shortchanging you. Even if you attempt to live in denial of the hardship you’re experiencing, you are headed down this same path of resisting what God is doing in your life. The result of this choice is that you allow bitterness, cynicism, depression and/or anger to gain a foothold in your heart.

Another choice is to acknowledge that pain has arrived on your doorstep and to seek God in the midst of your pain.

While you may well cry out many times, “Why, oh Lord?”, your heart is not accusatory so much as it is beseeching the One who does, indeed, know the answer to that question, even if He never reveals that to you. The result of this choice is a bolstered faith, a strengthened character, a peace despite the circumstances you’re living through, and a shift in perspective when it comes to the purpose of your life this side of eternity.

The pain that comes with life’s trials can awaken lethargic hearts to God, and bring you to a place of relationship with God in a way that wouldn’t happen when life is sweet. I’ve seen it happen time and time again; individuals whose faith was tepid, or even non-existent, suddenly wake up to the reality that God is present, that life is not all about them and their agendas. This hard-won knowledge creates a paradigm shift in the way they think about life, both temporally and eternally, as they begin to see and know God in a way they hadn’t before.

God’s word says that He has a good and perfect plan for our lives (Jeremiah 29:11), that He isn’t surprised by anything that happens to us (Psalm 139:16), that He will never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6) and that He will use even this hard thing for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28-29). Those who believe these words will live through the hard times that are sure to come in a fundamentally different way than those who resist them.

Assuming you accept the idea that you are, in fact, going to suffer at some point, what kind of hardship-survivor do you want to be?

Romans 8:28-29
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Habakkuk 3:17-19 (ESV)
“Habakkuk Rejoices in the Lord”
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
   nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
   and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
   and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
   I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
   he makes my feet like the deer’s;
   he makes me tread on my high places.

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