The Struggle of Faith and Hope

Many years ago Brent Curtis, (friend, counselor, author of The Sacred Romance) told me that sometimes we are not motivated to seek help, healing, rescue or change despite the pain we are in until we realize the pain it’s causing others.

Sometimes the unhealthy, dark, depressed, isolated or resigned place that we occasionally find ourselves in can feel “at home,” familiar, deserved, comfortable.

We can settle into this place with thoughts like:

  • This is just the way it is; it’s never going to change.
  • I’m tired of trying to figure out what is true, how things are supposed to work and how I’m supposed to live – I’m just going with what life hands me.
  • It’s not working for me; either something is wrong with what I’ve believed or something is wrong with me – I’m not really trying any more.
  • I’m tired of the struggle – I give up.

I’m not so much talking about reoccurring sin as much as the struggle of faith and hope.

You and I know the weight and struggle of life: good and evil, right and wrong, the ways of the world and the Kingdom of God, spiritual warfare, pushing against the fall. The first great-commission implies this when God told us that we are to rule, subdue and bring to fruitfulness the things in our garden. (Gen. 1:28)

  • Rule: To make decisions about the development and destiny of a thing.
  • Subdue: To sustain an influential guidance by diligent maintenance.
  • Fruitfulness: To create value by multiplying, filling, expanding and developing God’s creation in every area of life.

We just get worn down over time.  It’s the ongoing, unrelenting nature of this life with its complexities, confusion, battles and trauma.

In essence, it’s Combat Stress Reaction.  CSR’s most common symptoms are fatigue, slower reaction times, indecision, disconnection from one’s surroundings, and inability to prioritize.  It is generally short-term, unlike PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

In non-warfare terms, it’s life-fatigue.  In the language of scripture, it’s losing heart.

This is why Jesus gives His standing-invitation: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)  This is not a one time hall-pass (for salvation) and then after that, if you get weary, it’s off to the principal’s office to be punished for this unacceptable behavior.  Jesus’ invitation to receive rest from Him is always there for you and me.

It’s quite easy to be at this point of depression, resignation, darkness, isolation and not fight our way out.  “After all,” you say, “it’s my problem, it’s just the way it is and who cares anyway.”  That’s the point – it’s not just your problem, it’s not the way it has to be and it matters to others that you get out of it for their sake.

We must remember that there are things that are TRUE and then there is TRUTH.  It may be true that:

  • Your finances are going in the wrong direction
  • Your marriage is not going well
  • You dislike your work
  • You’re not passionate about anything, including spiritual things
  • You’re living in a reoccurring sin
  • You’re physically not doing well

All and any of these (sub) realities are enough to deliver us to a dark place.

But then there is truth, which supersedes what is true.

  • I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Phil. 1:6)
  • I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. (Psalm 32:8)
  • Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. (Psalm 55:22)
  • Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)
  • He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. (Isa. 40:29)

What you are going through, so are many others.  They will need your hope and experience.  So, fight through and take note how God brought you back to Life.

God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. (2 Cor. 1:4)

You see, the place of depression, resignation, darkness, isolation that you sometimes get in is not just your problem, it’s not the way it has to be and it matters to others that you get out it for your sake and theirs.

We are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)

You are invaluable.  You bring something to the body of Christ, to His Kingdom that is needed and when you are “working properly” Christ’s body strengthens and increases.

We cannot afford for you to be “out of the game.”

A couple years ago I had an awful day in the middle of a horrible week in the midst of a bad month. A sniffle turned into post-nasal drip which turned into bronchitis—for the third time in five months. When I inhaled, it felt like shards of glass shredding my lungs.

I canceled everything so I could have some recovery time. But, later, that same day, I ended up with six hours of unexpected, unscheduled, and exhausting meetings.

Now I was both sick and tired.

That same night an organization I belong to sent out its weekly email. Hidden in the email was the description of a decision that I considered a tactical blunder. So I dashed off a short email to the leaders asking them to reconsider.

Alas! I ended the email by shooting off a nasty, sarcastic barb:

“Why don’t we think first? For a change.”

The next morning several people emailed back, correcting me for my caustic comment.

My initial response was self-defense: I was sick. And their decision made little sense. And my day of recovery had been stolen. By one of those leaders. And besides, in their haste they had failed to consider a crucial element.

But that was just defensiveness. The truth was I had been a jerk. No one forced me to pen those final words.  They were unnecessary and inflammatory. And no one had a gun pointed at me when I hit “send.” The gun was in my hand, pointed at others.

Why didn’t I just think first? For a change.

Well, why?

I took the question to God: Why had I acted like a jerk? The answer I heard back was,

“That was no act.”

Now, of course, God didn’t call me a jerk. Not exactly. But as I prayed about my nasty response—and when I asked myself the “why” question—I saw myself anew.

Most days I keep my inner-jerk hidden. The sun is shining, the bills are paid, and the dog hasn’t pooped on the carpet. Life is good. I smile sweetly when a car cuts me off.

I even keep my inner-jerk at bay on bad days. The internet is down, I get sick, and the dogdoes poop on the carpet. I mix a dash of will-power with a touch of piety, and I say, “God works out all things for the good.

The day comes when my inner-jerk explodes. An extended illness, a prolonged sleep deficiency, a disappointingly ruined day, and a minor decision that I think is silly. I snap. The thing is, the circumstances didn’t create my inner-jerk. They only revealed it.

I simply didn’t have the energy or will-power or piety to fake it anymore.

What we’d all like to think…

I’d like to think of myself as a direct and reasonably gracious guy. I’d like to think that I was just having a bad day. I’d like to think that I was disarmed by the drawn-out illness coupled with a week thrown out the window and exacerbated by tiredness.

(I’d especially like YOU to think I’m a gracious guy confronted by bad circumstances!)

But it would be a lie. I can be a jerk more easily than I care to admit. I may not be a jerk through and through (the jury is still out), but there is certainly a bit of a jerk in there.

When our comforts are removed, our inner reality is exposed. We may not like what it reveals (I don’t!); but we need to deal with reality, not with our illusion of reality.

As for sending that email: Why didn’t I think first? For a change.

On that revealing evening—when my inner-jerk was exposed to the world—I felt bad about myself. I was late on projects. My body ached. My recovery time had been raided.

What do we do when we feel bad about ourselves? We do something to feel good about ourselves.

We react. Now, each of us reacts in different ways. Some of us are irritable; some anxious; some scared. We say something harsh; we sulk; we throw a pity party. We visit the bar or a porn site. We cope in different ways, none of which work.

We tend to look for solutions in the world; but it is only God who can fill the void.

Someone else once had a really bad day

Jesus had the worst day a human has ever experienced. He was betrayed by a friend and abandoned by others; he was the victim of a kangaroo court and unjustly beaten. Then he was tacked to a tree like a bug on a board, displayed naked for the world to see. Finally, all the sins of the world were thrust on his shoulders.

When every worldly comfort was taken from Jesus—when his true inner self was revealed—what did Jesus do to “snap”? His visceral, instinctive reaction was to love us more. He said, “Father forgive them, they have no idea what they are doing.

The true inner Jesus was revealed for all the world to see. Jesus literally bled love.

And here is what we most need on our worst days. The only healing that will ever silence the inner-jerk in all of us is this: We need to see Jesus (in his very worst moment) loving us in our very worst moments. We need to hear him saying, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

When we are at our weakest, we look for something to sooth that ache of feeling bad about ourselves. The only cure that will really satisfy our throbbing pain is the love of someone who sees us to the bottom and loves us to the top.

Next time I have a bad day in the middle of a painful week in the midst of an awful month—and then someone does something stupid—I hope to remember his love.

Hopefully I’ll think about that first. For a change.

Sam