We’ve all heard it – “the struggle is so real!” A phrase often used today, normally to communicate the “struggles” of things like only sleeping six hours instead of eight, the death of an iPhone as your friends try to catch a Pikachu, or, my personal favourite, not knowing which filter to put on your insta-selfie.
All truly tragic events, all very real struggles.
If you are honest with your emotions, there is no doubt that you have seen tribulations that have made the World seem like an overwhelming cloud of misery, events that have made you look to heavens and ask “Why me?” Most of us have experienced one (or more) of the following; the passing of a loved one, the betrayal of a friend, a broken heart… Things that are all a very normal part of growing up but still make us feel completely alone, completely helpless, completely hopeless.
It is, therefore, no surprise that we have always associated negative connotations with the term we now use in our hashtags, but for thousands of years, man has faced much more serious internal conflict than what modern day society has coined to be a struggle. It is important to recognise that we, as 21st century Christians, have become complacent in our attitude towards spirituality – particularly here in the Western world. The reason we attribute such wholesome pessimism with any emotional strain is because we are spoiled, we don’t HAVE to struggle, so we don’t WANT to struggle. Biblically, however, this labour, these struggles, were not always such a bad thing.
The first example we will look at is a man named Jacob in Genesis 32, having already struggled for fourteen years after being deceived by his uncle and now under attack by his brother Esau, Jacob knew what it meant to be in the struggle. The night before his brother came to his camp, filled with fear, Jacob met the Lord in his camp.
“Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day.
“Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him.
And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!””
Genesis 32:24-26 NKJV
What I find interesting here, aside from the fact that a man physically wrestled with God (mind-blowing!) is the way Jacob deals with his tribulation. An attack by his brother is imminent, he has struggled through this grapple all night, his hip has been broken and still he refuses to view his struggle as a negative, focusing not on the pain and hardship, but only on the blessing that he is confident will emerge at the end of the tribulation. Surely instead of insisting to keep fighting, when given the chance to let go, he should have gone back to his tent, nursed his injury, gotten some sleep, prepared battle plans for the next day, he should have done anything but keep fighting, it’s what any rational person would have done. But Faith is not always rational.
Faith views these struggles as a chance to learn, an opportunity to gain fruits of patience, humility and a deepened relationship with his Creator instead of a chance to complain.
St James gives us an instruction “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
James 1:2-4 NKJV
Similarly, St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians states his own personal experience “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” II Corinthians 12:10
How can these people be so joyous about tribulation, about suffering, about weakness? How can they take “joy” and “pleasures” from the same feelings that drive us to lock our rooms, switch off our phones and isolate ourselves from everyone we know?
The difference is that they understand the necessity and underlying beauty of tribulation. Just as a seed cannot sprout without first struggling through the layer of soil, spiritually, we cannot grow without struggle. Tribulation is an essential part of development and, for many people; it becomes the turning point in their relationships with God, finally bringing them closer to Him.
“The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” Psalm 34:18-19
It is easy to distance yourself from your support network when things are going well, when you begin to develop a sense of independence and pride. Perhaps the allowing of tribulations is a reminder that you cannot control the World around you alone, a gentle push towards the Father, the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) being a perfect example.
In understanding the necessity of struggle for personal and spiritual growth, one can begin to embrace the tribulations that emerge in their lives, looking towards the potential reward of this struggle. Jacob wrestled with God and had his hip broken but refused to tap out. Instead, he insisted on struggling until he received what he knew comes at the end of every trial, blessing.
“And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.””Genesis 32:28 NKJV
As a result of his persistence, Jacobs entire life was reshaped, he was given a new identity and named Israel, which means “Triumphant with God.” What a beautiful and powerful transformation, all because he understood the power of struggle, insisting to persevere until he received blessings.
Finally, we will look at our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ Himself, in the garden of Gethsemane. “He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Matthew 26:39 NKJV
Even Christ struggled in his humanity. If the Creator of all things felt overwhelmed with the burden he would bear for the sake of mankind, how can we, as humans, expect not to be faced with similar emotional experiences. However, Christ also showed us how to deal with these struggles, and bore the crucifixion for the sake of us all, enduring the struggle and yielding the most precious reward, your salvation.
The next time life gives you lemons, don’t waste your time trying to make lemonade, or uploading cheesy hashtags for that matter. Instead, wrestle with God, struggle in prayer, look to the end result, insist on receiving the blessings which the Lord has promised to those who love him in Romans 5:3.
So, yes, #thestruggleisreal, nothing can make that go away, but it is important to remember, so are the #blessings.
SAYG ~ Arsanie Sawiers.