We each face challenges in this life. Did you know? I think this is important to recognize.
You know that girl who never seems to have any problems? Well. She’s not being real with you. That guy who always has a joke to tell and a smile on their face? Just statistically speaking, most comedic personalities actually struggle with depression. That person or even professor who is always giving you authoritative advice and seems to have it all together? They don’t, they’re just good at hiding their flaws.
I’m not trying to make you uncomfortable. Am I? I’m just stating the facts. I just want you to know.
Currently I’m standing behind a podium at the front of an 11am lecture class, writing, peering out from behind my laptop occasionally to check for stragglers. As a graduate assistant for the art department, it’s my job in this class to mark the students’ presence. In this larger section, the kidz are more awake since it’s later in the day. They chat amongst themselves before the class begins, and I watch the body language of a million tiny social interactions.
Some days I look and I’m overwhelmed by how much God knows and loves them each, set in contrast to my own ignorance and admittedly at times, indifference. They are each valuable souls, and just because I don’t always see that, it doesn’t make it untrue. Today, I’m keenly aware that they are each struggling with something. I see their backpacks swooshing to the ground, seats being taken, notes being made. Bobbing heads, grinning faces, eyes glued to phones and scrolling fingers. I think of the quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I look out and I mark them each. What are the hard battles here, the ones in these lives? I will never know why the guy in the third row looks so tired, or how the girl in the back row feels about the person she is texting beneath her desk. I don’t know why the dude who always wears a hat has missed seven days of class, or why the chick with the nose ring broke her perfect attendance record by being absent today. But I know that they are each feeling a lot of things, are struggling with some unwanted discrepancy between their mind and their heart, have precise reasons for their behavior, and it’s all part of the big conglomeration of daily challenges that each person is navigating, stopping and starting, awkwardly wriggling their way through.
There are different brands of challenge in this world, too. Let’s see.
There are challenges that you give yourself and accept with excitement, like training for a half marathon or learning a new language. Those are the “light and fun” challenges. Not every moment of the process is fun, but they are felt as positive things.
On the other end of the spectrum there are the intense hardships that come swiftly and suddenly. Someone you know passes away, or a friend is in a critical state either mentally or physically. Life has a tendency to get very real very quickly, and in those situations, all you can do is adapt. As hard as these challenges are, they tend to wake us up. They remind us of the fragility of life, and simultaneously of how much strength can be found inside one human.
Yesterday Rachel Brathen (@yoga_girl) instagrammed a long paragraph about heart break. So real and devastating but necessary.
“Your heart needs to break open from time to time. It’s how we transform and grow as human beings. If you’ve never had your heart broken open by loss and despair, if you’ve never truly been in pain, if you haven’t walked through the fire and back… You haven’t truly lived. You won’t know what it feels like to be alive until you’ve walked out onto a ledge called Giving Up, wiggled your toes across the brim, looked down at the infinite fall below and then very carefully, taken a step back. You won’t know. You can’t know.
[…] Tragedy makes us warriors. Light bearers. We light up the path for others and together, we stop fumbling through the darkness and start remembering what it truly means to be alive. Life is a gift, and this pain… It’s all for something. It’s all for something. Don’t you ever forget it.”
If you’re going through this type of challenge and are caught in a reality check, you’re not alone, and it’s never without reason.
The last category of challenge, encompassing the whole middle of the two extremes, are those that characterize the “daily grind.” You know what I’m talking about. Those difficulties that you intellectually recognize are “not THAT hard” in the grand scheme of things, but still feel incredibly steep to you. You may beat yourself up sometimes for struggling with these. I know I do. Things as small and common as dragging yourself out of your comfy bed in the morning or navigating your social life. But varying in intensity, since getting through the semester/month/week and all the decisions and effort that entails can include very frightening “small” challenges. Life is fraught with these type of challenges… these are often the ones, en masse, that threaten to undo us.
Each person has experience with challenge. Did you know? I think you should recognize.
It equalizes us.
My own struggle this semester has made me feel like Peter in the gospel of Matthew, when he got out of the boat and walked on the water. Every day Jesus calls me back out onto the glassy, modulating surface of rigorous academia and a new, adult life. Some days I walk, and some days I sink.
Some days I look at him with wide, fear filled eyes as He stands with arm outstretched, beckoning me toward him. “No,” I whimper from inside the boat. “Please. Just let me have the day off. I don’t feel like adventuring today.”
I have to get out anyway.
Other days I get excited and fly out of the boat before I even attempt to make eye contact with Him, pumped up on my can-do attitude, and I sink about as fast as you can say, “Lord, save me”.
And still other days I walk. Those are the best days, for obvious reasons. I am never quite sure what I did differently, or how exactly to repeat it. It’s not a matter of special rules that I finally followed or taking the process slow enough. All I know is that the days when I realize I’m walking on water, I started out looking at Jesus, and did my best to not look away. The rest is just grace, and the mysterious, adventurous peaks of exhilaration that come with living a life led by God.
As I’ve faced steeper “daily grind” challenges in this season than I may have ever before in my life, the thing that God keeps reminding me is that because I’m His child, and because I walk with Him, I am an Overcomer. I’m somehow victorious. In spite of the fact that I’m not really smart enough (on my own) to get myself through grad school. That I’m never going to suddenly, someday find and maintain perfect balance in my life. This just won’t happen. But when things go well in spite of my mistakes, when I have greater joy than ever before in my life at the same time that I’m having the greatest struggles, there’s something up.
“I have told you these things so you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have OVERCOME the world.” [John 16:33]
“Yet in all these things, we are MORE THAN CONQUERERS through Him who loved us.” [Romans 8:37]
Dunno about you, but seems to me that the “something up” is Jesus. And He is always up to something. Rachel Brathen said, “Tragedy makes us warriors. Light bearers.” Something happens in the midst of your brokenness. He finds his way in.
What’s more, HE says you’re an Overcomer… so will you choose to believe it? I struggle to believe it when I feel paralyzed by the standards I’m held to daily, or look at the requirements for my masters thesis. But thankfully, that doesn’t make it less true.
Jesus knows you and I will have trouble. He knows what trouble you have now, today, in this moment. He sits with you in that challenge. He is cheering you on. Did you know? I think you should recognize. He wants to see you walk upon the water.
He knows our obstacles, and our limitations. Out of all these paint samples I look at each day, this is the one that floats around in my mind day in and day out — I am an Overcomer. What does that mean? If we picked that up and clung to it for real, how would we live?
When I feel the pressure, I look up to the sky and remember I’m a tiny dot on a comparably small planet in one galaxy among billions. I remember that God feeds the birds and clothes the flowers, and that He will provide for me also. I remember that I have the Spirit of the one true God inside of me, the Spirit that heals, gives rest, and raises from the dead. I remember that getting on my knees is always a course of action. And I remember that because I am a child of God, I am more than a conquerer.
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” – 2 Corinthians 4:8.
It doesn’t mean that I can sit back, relax, and not do werk. I still have to do those things. It means trying at some things, but ceasing striving in others. For me, He’s made the goals pretty clear: I’m trying to stop trying so hard to walk, and trying to start trying harder to listen for and watch Him. Getting out of the boat each day. Setting my eyes above the waves. Greater love, greater gratitude, and above all, greater surrender.
We each face challenge in this life. Did you know? I hope you can recognize. He’s made a way for us to rise up from under it. ❤
See series intro here.