With the uncertainties in the economy as well as political and natural crises throughout our world, many of us are concerned about tomorrow. Fear is a natural response to these uncertainties, but isn’t always the best response. How can we respond to life’s trials and struggles?
Remind myself that the trials of life bring more than frustration. They bring strength, maturity, and growth.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
A friend of mine routinely states, “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” That is a stretch, but it does hold some truth, but only if we have the right attitude toward life. The trials in our lives test and strengthen our faith.
Our circumstances are invitations to demonstrate what we have learned about faith and life. How we respond to each circumstance is an indicator of how our faith is growing and how we are changing through each day.
Remind myself that everyone has good experiences and bad experiences, sunshine and showers.
Jesus told his followers, “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44,45).
Primarily, a proper response to the trials of life recognizes what life is: a combination of experiences, good and bad, that form our character and who we will be in the future. Each day, whether the sun is shining or the sky is cloudy, whether the weather is perfect, too cold, or too hot, each day is an opportunity to look at life as a gift the can help us grow and mature.
But how can my trials help me grow? They just make me frustrated and tired? How can I stand in the midst of the bad things that happen to me? It isn’t easy, but it is possible.
On Sunday morning, I started the van to drive to Greenfield and realized I had no gas. Ten minutes behind, but I can still make it for Sunday school. Then I couldn’t find my debit card (I had left it at home), so I had to go inside and write a check. Negative 15 minutes. Then, as I pumped the gasoline, I realized someone before me had spilled fuel. The handle was covered with fuel, which meant my hands were, as were my shoes. Trudge in to the bathroom to get cleaned up. Negative 20 minutes and I could no longer make it on time for Sunday school.
As things piled on, my first temptation was to be angry, to complain. But then I remembered a phrase routinely uttered by another friend: “It’s all good.” To be honest, I don’t see how most of that morning could be “all good.” Yet, when I thought about how relatively small that portion of my life really was, I realized that even in the midst of frustration, I could share her sentiment: “It’s all good.” God is with me and, even when everything is a mess, God is still good.
Remind myself that God will weave all things in my life together for my good, and that may be for the good of others as well.
The Apostle Paul taught us this truth. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). All things, not just some things, not just pleasant things, not just the things we desire, but all things.
I often talk about Joni Eareckson Tada, a young woman who became quadriplegic in a diving accident. She found a vital relationship with Christ and began to serve Him, but even so, through the years as she had to be fed, dressed, and washed by others, she struggled with why she had to suffer so greatly, when others seemed to suffer so little.
She found one answer by watching her father cope with a tremendous loss of his own. Twice he stood and watched as his barn was lost to fire. After the first fire, her father didn’t whine and pout, but started rebuilding. Surely, two years later, when the barn burned once again, he would question God, become weary, but he didn’t. He picked through the rubble and rebuilt, once again.
“That my dad could encourage me at that point should teach us something. The financial and sentimental loss he suffered in those fires was very real. But it was less than what I suffered when I broke my neck. (If any of you doubt that, ask yourself, “Would I rather lose some material object of great financial and sentimental value or break my neck and be paralyzed for life?”) Dad has never been paralyzed and, therefore, cannot say to me, ‘I know what you’re going through.’ His trials measured lower on the scale of suffering than mine. But the way he handled them taught me a lot. His uncomplaining attitude and refusal to be angry at God convinced me that a Christian does not always have to suffer in the same manner, or to the same degree, as his fellow Christians to be a real help to them.” (From A Step Further, by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes.)
Our trials not only help us draw closer to God, they also give us the opportunity to help others in their struggles. Our responses become an example to others, just as Joni’s father encouraged her.
Responding to Life: A Song to Encourage You
Many years ago now, when I first read Joni’s book, I write a song expressing my struggles with my response to life’s struggles. I’d like to share that with you as I close this article. By the way, just after writing this song, I went on a bike ride, fell, and broke my jaw. God gave me the opportunity to put my song where my heart was!
“Bitterly complaining, as if everything’s gone wrong.
I know your grace is with me, Lord, but you know, it takes so long to see that
You are working deep within me, healing every wound and scar,
And only living in your Word can I see how close you are.
“My eyes are only human. They quite often fail to see
That when you let these conflicts come, they come to strengthen me.
I won’t pretend to comprehend why you do things the way you do,
But I’ll thank you and praise you, for I know one day,
That I’ll be just like you.”
“So, Lord, cause me to wait for you.
Lord, cause me to seek your face.
Lord, cause me to understand that my trials, my tests, my tribulations,
They only bring what’s best for me and help me understand your grace.”
Mary Kay Glunt, Pastor
Ebenezer Presbyterian Church