“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4
The last 4 months or so have been a hard ride. We have gone through some crazy stuff in regards to work situations resulting in my wife leaving her position at work. We have had to make decisions about our future that have required us to let go of a few dreams, or at least postpone them. As wonderful as our kids are, we are experiencing those normal family growing pains that are going to result in an empty nest in a couple of years. We have had some hard talks with some people about some things that have been uncomfortable. We have had to choose a path or two that lead us into unknown territory.
Struggles. I am probably not going to rock anyone’s stream of consciousness by saying that they are just not that fun. I know. Shocker! Amazing Discovery! We go deep here! Struggles are a part of every day in some way, and sometimes we can’t understand why we are going through them. What purpose do they hold? Why me?
James tells us some things that might be hard for us to hear, but ultimately, they answer the question, “Why me?”
- Struggles are gonna happen, but they don’t need to bring us down. – We can keep a good attitude when things are rough around us. It isn’t too hard to keep a good attitude when things are going well, but when the stuff hits the air circulation device it can get a little harder to keep that smile on our faces. We have a choice though. James encourages us to make that choice by “counting it as joy“. Is it a joyful moment when the microwave doesn’t work? No, but you can be thankful in the moment that you still have a stovetop to use, and you have food to eat. People hurt and struggle for so many things, in the world, and we are very fortunate in comparison.
- There is a process that needs to be realized. – James says “you know“. Well, sometimes we forget! When the stuff gets tough, we need to look at it and really think about where this could be going. Consider all kinds of options because choices multiply themselves into various outcomes as we make more choices! Don’t let yourself be stuck in the moment. Look past the moment toward an outcome.
- The process builds on itself. Don’t jump out early. – There are steps that MUST be done in order. If you have not done the work for lesson 3, you simply cannot jump ahead to lesson 8. There is a reason Trigonometry is not taught in the first grade. Sometimes you have to go through one thing to get to the next. If you decide to step out of something before you get your takeaway, you might miss out on the real prize at the end. Only by staying in until that understanding takes place can you get to that “graduation” point.
- Struggles can result in a better you. – My wife and I experienced some self-imposed financial struggles several years ago that were exacerbated by a job loss. Through the process of that struggle, we have learned the important lesson of living on a budget and getting by with more of what we need and less of what we might want. It was not easy, but it has made us appreciate what we have a lot more than we used to. We are more content. Are we perfect? No. Are we able to say that we are better than we were because of that struggle? Definitely! There would have been a lot of easier choices, but we decided to knuckle under, and now we can speak to people struggling in this way with an understanding and encourage them in their own struggle and help them understand that there is an end to it!
Right now I can easily count a double handful of people who are struggling in different areas, and they are not trivial matters either. I have shed tears with some of them, and I know they have shed many more on their own. Job problems, family issues, financial problems, health concerns, spiritual abuse, anxiety, and the list goes on and on. They are hurting, and they are looking for encouragement and relief.
Recently I heard a young man tell his life story. As an 8 year-old boy he came home from school one day and found out that his father had left and he and his mom were on their own from that moment on. Six months later his mother was killed in a car accident and he was placed in foster care because he had no family that wanted him. He said he grew up feeling bitter and angry about what happened to him, and he was jealous of the other kids he saw that had both parents and all the opportunities available to a family.
In his high school years he had a mentor that came alongside him and took him under his wing. For the first time he was shown that as he had grown, he had developed an ability to set goals for himself and focus his attention on what it took to achieve those goals. He also had developed an ability to relate to people who had experienced loss. He took those abilities and has now finished college with two degrees and is making a positive impact with people everywhere he goes.
The most memorable thing he said was, “Trust your struggle.” That stayed with me because he was not saying that you need to give up to a struggle or be a martyr in your struggle, nor was he saying that you should just laugh foolishly at struggles and not take them seriously. He said to trust it. Look at the struggle as an avenue to a better thing. There is an end to it, and if you don’t trust it, you might end up on the other side without having learned anything. The struggle is there for a reason.
This young man summed up what James was saying very well. A Relentless life is one that sees struggles as building blocks. A Relentless person looks to where a struggle can lead rather than focusing on the discomfort of getting there. A Relentless life trusts the struggle because they believe the God is taking them to a better place and will create a better them as a result of it.
One more thing to remember. Like that young man who was willing to share his struggle, a Relentless person will share theirs too. It isn’t to make them feel better or to get glory for coming through the other side. The purpose is the same as Christ’s purpose in being human. To truly be an encouragement to someone, you need to be able to relate to them. The struggles we have been through should be shown to those in the same struggles. Look for those people and don’t be afraid to re-live your struggle with them. You never know, your sharing of pain may lead to them sharing their victory with you!