This has been a difficult year. My husband has had a series of body breakdowns leaving him *almost* unable to walk, with not many questions answered and very little hope. Our boat and camping trailer, that we usually live in throughout summer weekends, have sat unattended to and growing spider webs in the driveway. For a family that is used to being outside and active, we have come to know the Marvel Universe quite intimately from the comfort of our living room couches.
While we’ve made up for it with great family time, our spirits have plummeted. For my husband, it has been his pain and the anxiety over the unknown and lack of hope. My children have been plagued with worry and concern for their father (my 8 year-old actually cornered me in the kitchen the other day and asked if there was more going on than we were telling him….ugh). My own burden has been an overwhelming and unshakeable sadness due to the overall heaviness that has descended on our home.
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Through the difficulty, we have all been left with the question of what we are supposed to do, and how we are supposed to move forward, when life gets hard. It’s a common question to ask. If you haven’t experienced difficult times yet, be patient. Your time is coming. Nobody is exempt. Life is tough for everyone, just in different ways in different circumstances.
Why is my life so hard?
To answer this, we must go back to the beginning. If you haven’t heard the historical account of Adam and Eve, you can read it in Genesis 2-3. To summarize, God made Adam as a companion for Himself. He made Eve to be a companion and helper to Adam. God told Adam and Eve to enjoy everything in the garden except from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve was enticed by a snake to eat of the fruit, and then gave some to Adam to eat as well.
Through this act of defiance, the sinful nature of mankind was born, and was thus passed down as human nature to each generation. Because of sin, consequences and death entered the world.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned
There is not one of us that is exempt from the consequences of sin. Both the eternal consequences of separation from God, and the immediate consequences of sickness, pain and regret here on earth. It is because of these consequences that life gets hard.
But there is hope. God did not just leave us with the consequences of death and no way out. He provided a way for redemption.
For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Romans 5:17
God provided His own son to pay the consequence of death in our place. If we can accept his gift, and agree to surrender our lives to Him, allowing Him to then live through us, we can have the hope of a better life after earth.
Unfortunately, while we are still here, this might be as good as it gets. Troubles will still arise, pain will rear its ugly head, and relationships will remain tumultuous. But don’t worry, God is not solely in the “hope for tomorrow”. He is here with you today.
When life gets hard, and you feel alone
No matter who else has gone through what you are going through, they are not you and the circumstances are not the same. Everybody wants to be able to relate to you (like this will somehow help), but it always seems to fall short. And this can be an extremely lonely place to be.
David knew this loneliness and despair all too well in 1 Samuel 21:10-22:2. He was on the run from King Saul and, out of desperation, fled to the land of the Philistines (of whom he was an enemy for defeating their greatest warrior, Goliath, years before). Realizing his mistake, and in another desperate attempt to escape yet another king, he humiliated himself by pretending insanity. Not wanting anything to do with such a crazed man, they let him go. David fled for his life and hid in a dark cave located in the western foothills of Judah. It is believed by some that it was in this cave, alone and afraid, that he cried out to the Lord with these words:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me. Psalm 13
It is okay to cry to the Lord when you are upset. It’s okay to cry to the Lord with you are angry. And it is okay to cry to the Lord when you are lonely and don’t understand his silence.
But in your despair, remember that He is there. He has been there all along, and He will not leave you. Do not mistake His silence for absence. His timeline is not your timeline. His plan is not your plan. Sometimes He makes us wait when life gets hard because He wants us to learn to sit still and to trust.
What to do when life gets hard
So how do you deal with life when everything is falling apart? Well, personally my go-to is to hole myself away to some dark corner, binge-watch Netflix, and stuff my face with some sort of comfort food and coffee. But this is not healthy.
While this might comfort you for the moment, it is not lasting. And it will definitely do nothing to solve whatever issue you might be facing. The good news is there actually a healthy approach to managing when life gets hard.
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1. Feel your feels
The first thing that you need to understand is that it is absolutely okay to feel your feelings!! Turning to God in your hard times, does NOT mean that you are supposed to be happy always. Jesus most definitely wasn’t happy 100% of the time, so why would we think we would need to be?
Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” John 11:32-36
Jesus understands your pain, God understands your hurts. To be more specific, they can feel your feels right along with you.
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2. Reach out to others
We were never meant to go through life alone. We are not islands. God gave us community within the church so that we would have support when life gets hard.
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
If you do not have a church community, I strongly urge you to find one close by. This was Jesus’ model that He set forth after His death and resurrection. He did so because the life of a Christ follower is hard, and He knew we would need a place to find encouragement in the gospel.
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3. Wrestle and pray
Talk to God. A lot. If you don’t feel like talking to Him, yell at Him! He can handle it. He can handle you. If you are angry with Him, let Him know. If you don’t understand His plan, work it out with Him verbally. Let Him know when you feel alone. Wrestle with Him like Jacob did in Genesis 32:22-32:
He took his brother by the heel in the womb, And in his strength he struggled with God. Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed; He wept, and sought favor from Him. He found Him in Bethel, And there He spoke to us— That is, the Lord God of hosts. The Lord is His memorable name. So you, by the help of your God, return; Observe mercy and justice, And wait on your God continually. Hosea 12:3-6 (NKJV)
The important thing is to reach out to Him and recognize that you are not alone. Whether you are happy with Him or not, He is there for you. He is solid, and ultimately, once you understand His heart, He will not let you down.
The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. Nahum 1:7
God wants to be your refuge. He wants to walk through hard times with you. Acknowledge His presence and lean on Him. He loves you more than you will ever begin to understand.
casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7
4. Read His word and LISTEN
The only way that God can help you through rough times, is if you listen to His word. Simply reading it isn’t enough. You must open your heart to what He is trying to tell you. Not that God causes all hard things for the purpose of teaching us. But He will use our trials for His glory, and many times that means using them to refine our hearts to be more like His.
My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. Proverbs 2:1-5
Ask Him for help in understanding the why! Tell Him you need your eyes opened to see clearly. And then open up your heart to willingly accept all He has to say to you. Faith and trust in Him are not always easy, but the first step towards obtaining these is in reading His word for the purpose of understanding God’s heart.
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17
And finally, obedience. You can pray and read all you want, but you will not see growth in hard times unless you obey. You must put into practice all that you are reading. This may mean trusting in His plan, or stepping out in faith. It may mean taking the lead amongst others, or simply choosing contentment when life is less than ideal.
Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. 1 John 3:24
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The struggle comes with our emotions when life gets hard. If we allow our emotions and feelings to dictate our actions, we will find ourselves off course and living a harder life than we need to be. God is the only one who knows best for us, and His path will always lead us in a healthy direction.
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13-16
All sin has consequences. And reacting poorly to hard situations will have consequences too. Some of those consequences will make the hard situations even harder. Obedience to Christ will only bring healing and renewal. By obeying Him and His word, you will be allowing Him to take the burden from you.
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? Romans 6:16
God will not always be quick to change your circumstances, or to make life easier for you. But He will be quick to walk with you through the muck and mire, if you are willing to first reach out. You are not alone. He does not expect you to manage things by yourself when life gets hard. He’s got you.
How to help someone who is struggling emotionally?
So what if it’s not you, but someone you care about who is experiencing difficulty in life? What can you do? This one is hard. We all tend to go in one of two directions – silence because we don’t know what to do or say, or action because we want something tangible to do.
But if someone is struggling emotionally, neither of those are great options. Sometimes help with the physical can be better than nothing. And sometimes there really are needs that need to be met. But emotional pain, is such a different beast.
The Bible gives us a couple of great examples of what to do in these situations. The first is back to David where he is once again running for his life from King Saul:
And Jonathan, Saul's son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Saul my father also knows this.” And the two of them made a covenant before the Lord. 1 Samuel 23:16-18a
Jonathan and David were the best of friends. In another one of David’s darkest moments, Jonathan runs out to meet him and encourage him as only a friend can. He reminded him of God’s promise and then returned to his home.
He didn’t need to fix it for him, or step in and take control. And he didn’t need to be the one to find him a place to go or hide. His job was to encourage and to strengthen him in the Lord.
The second example is one of my favorites, and we find it with our pal, Job. The man had just lost everything he held dear – his children, his home, his wealth, and his health. He was a man who was in the pit of despair. Nothing was left. His own wife told him to curse God and die!! But then, his friends:
Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. Job 2:11-13
They sat with him in silence for seven days. This is significant. Sometimes we don’t need the right thing spoken, or the biggest task accomplished. Sometimes we just need a friend to check in, or a friend to come and sit. That is all.
This has been a lesson that I have needed to learn as I reach out to others who may be experiencing an even tougher time than me. I pray that the next time I can be ready to just be silent, and to sit.
So, is life tough for everyone at times? Absolutely. Can we show a little grace and understanding, knowing that our time is coming? Most definitely. And we can remember to encourage each other toward a strengthening in God, and when warranted, to sit and be silent.
Beyond all, turn to God. He will hold you up when you are down. He will hold you up with others around you are down. Life is hard. It is even harder when we choose to follow and obey the Lord. But God’s got us no matter what. He is our strength and our refuge.
And David spoke to the Lord the words of this song on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. “For the waves of death encompassed me, the torrents of destruction assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me. “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I called. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry came to his ears. He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters. He rescued me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me. 2 Samuel 22:1-7,17-20