Making Sense of Struggle

I’ve always struggled with a passage in the Bible claiming that if I can manage to persevere through my various trials, I’ll find hope.  I’d love to have more hope, we all know it changes everything, but the following’s always been tough for me:

“…we also rejoice in our struggles, because we know that struggling produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope…” (St. Paul in his letter to the Roman Christians 5:3-4).

I know many people who have courageously persevered through trials and difficult times and yet aren’t people who you would classify as “filled with hope.”  I’ve also had a few occasions where I managed to hold fast and did what was right (although not as many as I would like).  While my times of “successful” struggling have paid certain dividends, hope is usually not one of them.  I typically find myself relieved but looking over my shoulder for the next hard thing.

I think it all came together for me as I watched a scene from “The King’s Speech” a few days ago.  The scene has King George VI addressing his country with the news that Hitler has decided to conquer the world and that England’s in the way.  In addition, the King has struggled with a debilitating stammer – he can’t speak clearly, especially under pressure.  The movie portrays him as a good man, a great leader, but scared to death.   In this portrayal of his now famous speech he faces a fear that’s hounded him for the majority of his life, while fulfilling a duty that no leader desires, with Hell bearing down on him and Beethoven’s Symphony #7 in the background.  I dare you to watch it and not come close to tears.

At first I couldn’t figure out why this was so moving but a few days later it hit me.  This man’s decision to struggle through such a nightmare might not bring hope to him, but it brings hope to me.  It helps me to feel like the world isn’t such an impossible and overwhelming place, that I too can stand fast and make it through.  My understanding of St. Paul’s words (above) is now something like the following: “Perseverance in times of trial might not bring hope to me, but it almost always will bring hope to others.”

Oddly enough, this gives me hope that my life is about more than just making it through the next struggle.

I’m pretty sure I’ve missed Paul’s meaning here, but I’m now convinced that my struggles are not just about me and the consequences or dividends that might result from how I respond.   They are, at least in part, an opportunity to effect the lives of people around me – to usher in a measure of hope that otherwise wouldn’t be here.

Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92: II. Allegretto (Instrumental)

45 thoughts on “Making Sense of Struggle

  • Perseverance by faith is an act of bringing a bit of the hope of Heaven down to a hopeless world. I too have been struggling to persevere in some hopeless situations. Sorrows like crashing waves overwhelm me and I lose sight of my hope but even when I’m unable to see Him or feel Him He is there. In Jesus, all is well with my soul.

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  • This post is so timely for me. I’ve just come through an intense depressive bout; I managed to keep my head level enough to do the right things, but I cannot say I faced each day with a sense of grace and hope. All I could do at the time was just accept my situation until it improved. But, maybe that is okay…maybe if another person reads about my experience and as a result is able to accept a difficult situation, maybe that is the seed of hope they needed.

    Excellent post – thank you so much for sharing.

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  • Deep, thought provoking, and I appreciate the opportunity. I find hope each morning when my eyes open and perseverance comes after that. I guess it doesn’t matter in which order it arrives, just that you know what you’re looking for, and you certainly do. That is a great movie, and tissues are definitely needed. 🙂

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  • Two things, and by that I mean three:
    1. The King’s Speech is a masterpiece, and I love the point you draw from it.
    2. I’m not a huge fan of Paul, but I appreciate what you said, above.
    3. In my understanding of the bible, any lesson you draw from it out of your direct experience, which comes out of a place of love, mercy, and forgiveness, is a valid lesson to draw. So I would argue that whatever you drew from Paul you did not miss his meaning. 🙂

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  • I think what Paul was alluding to here is the method – or means by which God constructs us.

    We are a work in progress and just as it pleased Him to bring to perfection Jesus through suffering – and just as Christ tasted death for all men (the word for is important there. It’s not instead of it is because of and for us that he tasted death) – just so do we have to go through trials and death to become perfect.

    “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God” Romans 8:18

    Here the sufferings of the present time are place prior to the revealing of the sons of God amongst whom Paul was. I’d even go so far as to say they were the necessary means by which God brings about the sonship or maturity of His sons.

    Which brings me back to you quote. Our struggles produce perseverance – that perseverance character and so on. There is a progression here not entirely unlike that from infancy to adulthood.

    It’s set forth even more clearly here in this prophecy in Isaiah concerning Christ:

    “His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. 10But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. 11As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied;” Isaiah 53

    Again we see that “As a result of the anguish of His soul he will see it and be satisfied”.

    Again in Hebrews “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings” Hebrews 2:10

    We see that suffering is the tool in the hands of the loving Father to bring to perfection His children. Paul refers to this process in himself and others in the quote you used and very explicitly here:

    “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” Colossians 1:24

    “and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; 6FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.” Hebrews 12:5

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  • I think hope is sometimes barely holding on and at other times is a huge crescendo. What’s important is to know that we can hope and that God’s not measuring how big or small our hope is – we’re the ones who do that. What He is doing is seeing that we are trying. You really need to read Romans 5:5 along with v 3-4. The hope will not disappoint us BECAUSE God has given us His Spirit who fills, floods our hearts with His love.

    We aren’t isolated from each other so your thought that you give hope to others is correct I think. We are one body and should encourage each other to hope, love, be joyful etc.

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  • Romans 8:20-21 (NIV) conveys similar feelings for me … “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” In that one, it sounds like the hope belongs to God – and we along with the rest of all creation, get the frustration.

    Concerning Romans 5:3-4, the ABP+ translation** is interesting:

    [not only that And], but also we boast G2744 in the afflictions,G2347 knowing that the affliction G2347 [endurance G5281 manufactures];G2716 and the endurance G5281 proof; G1382 and the proof G1382 hope; (Rom 5:3-4)

    I’m mostly struck by the word “proof”, which for me brings to mind Romans 8:28 … “and we KNOW all things work together for the good”, even those things that are frustrating and trying. How do we know? The proof of God’s love, help, grace in showing up for us in the midst of our trials and frustrations.

    Nevertheless, I’m not keen on a steady diet of trials and frustrations. 😉

    **Apostolic Bible Polyglot Annotated (ABP+) is a free translation recently made available through the (also) free eSword Bible software at http://www.e-sword.net/

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  • There can be no growth without hard times. I view hard times as God’s discipline for me. Just as I have to make my toddler go through hard times, like not playing with things that are dangerous even though he wants to, which results in a temporary meltdown, God gives us challenges, so we can learn life lessons from them. We may not enjoy them whilst in the midst of them, but afterwards, we may be able to look back and pull a lesson or two out of them. And hopefully, the realization that every situation is put in front of us for a divine reason can give us hope to get through the more challenging of those situations.

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  • Thanks for raising the subject.. I have a favourite saying from Churchill; when you’re going through hell, keep going.
    Simple yet powerful.. if things tough what else can we do? Throwing up our arms or running away will not help. A deep breath and a set jawline will 🙂 now, I just need to find a way to get my 6 year old to realise this

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  • I agree with you in looking at all the components as one whole. Often times I find myself upset with people for not willing to face a struggle; they believe it is just about them and cannot see the repricusions of their actions. Well done, nice piece.

    It is a great movie as well

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  • Neither hope nor struggle are necessary parts of life. The path to peace is letting go of struggle, or resistance. Letting go of resistance is like a miniature crucifixion. Jesus had a major crucifixion where he let go of all resistance by relinquishing his own life. As a result he experienced permanent peace and eternal life. We can experience a proportional amount of peace and freedom according to the amount we let go in our own times of crucifixion. Letting go of struggle always feels better than struggling. ❤

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      • Not advocating checking out at all. In my experience, letting go of struggle has helped me to become more engaged, present, and beneficial to those around me. This includes in my work life and with my wife and family 🙂

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      • To me letting go of struggle is an internal thing, it’s mental. You let go of thinking that things should be other than the way they are. As an example, I tutor elementary aged students in reading and writing for a living. I was working with one second grade student who was especially challenging (not following directions, being disrespectful, etc.) I was getting very frustrated and didn’t know what to do. Then before one of our sessions I realized, “I can’t control him. I can’t make him follow directions and learn. I can’t make him do it my way.” Internally I came to peace with the situation, and I no longer felt upset. During the session I felt a lot of love for him, because I was accepting him for who he was, not trying to change him at all. And, amazingly, the session went well! Ever since then the student and I have made a connection with each other, and now he follows directions well. His classroom teacher commented on how his confidence in reading has improved, and during one session the student was going on and on saying things like, “I’m a good reader!” and “You know, reading is actually really important. You can learn all kinds of stuff!” ❤

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  • I really like your perspective here. I can definitely appreciate that, through our struggles, we are able to inspire hope in others as well.
    I also think Paul’s words are emblematic of a bigger message of Christianity: we can do an action (in this case, undergo hardship and struggle; in the broader message, perhaps attend church services) but in many ways it can feel meaningless or empty if we do not allow ourselves to be transformed by the experience. To me, that is at the heart of Christianity: allowing ourselves to be transformed through our experiences, allowing us to grow in greater communion in relationship with God.

    Awesome post; thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!

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  • I love this passage of scripture. Along with the first few verses of James 1 – they certainly are words to think about!

    I am curious what your definition of hope is? Is what you are hoping for that the trial pass and life get on to how it seems it ought to go? To me, hope seems to imply that we persevere through a trial, or perhaps we don’t even make it through — but, through all of it we hold onto the promises of God — that we will one day get to spend eternity with him. Ultimately that is the only thing we can hold onto, that after death we will be dressed in His righteousness alone and be able to stand before His throne! I am reminded of the song “My hope is built”

    1. My hope is built on nothing less
    than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
    I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
    but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
    Refrain:
    On Christ the solid rock I stand,
    all other ground is sinking sand;
    all other ground is sinking sand.

    2. When Darkness veils his lovely face,
    I rest on his unchanging grace.
    In every high and stormy gale,
    my anchor holds within the veil.
    (Refrain)

    3. His oath, his covenant, his blood
    supports me in the whelming flood.
    When all around my soul gives way,
    he then is all my hope and stay.
    (Refrain)

    4. When he shall come with trumpet sound,
    O may I then in him be found!
    Dressed in his righteousness alone,
    faultless to stand before the throne!
    (Refrain)

    And, I think you are absolutely right about how persevering through a trial can give others hope – we are certainly not meant to live life alone! Being in community and sharing in Christ seems to give the soul a little lift 🙂

    Our church is currently going through the book of 1 Peter. I found incredible hope in the message from last week, which I am sharing with you here. . .
    http://thejourney.org/media/intersection/reward-suffering-well

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  • First, I love the name of your page’s heading; I literally laughed out loud with all due respect (my first time visiting). Second, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your perspective and conclusions related to perseverance, struggle, and hope. While I agree that holding on for the purpose of giving hope to others is a token of good grace and character, I also believe there is room to improve in approach. Rather than hold on for others to hope despite lacking hope oneself and perceiving or indoctrinating the self with the negative labels associated with the struggle or suffering, I offer for consideration how an individual may walk, even run, toward his struggle and challenge in order to acquire the lessons related to it that may manifest and add to mastering the self and progress towards understanding an idea related to living and thriving in the world as it is. Struggle and suffering are inevitable in living, but finding understanding and enlightenment may abolish its perceived and expected effects by replacing them with transcendental delivery. Great post.

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  • Another “oh Wowza” from this poet–thank you, thank you. You’ve got it, exactly!! I’m not enjoying at all, not feeling particularly hopeful about my continuing struggle/battle with Depression–but you’re so right: it’s not all about me. My best friend’s mom is dying–and much as I’d gladly trade places with the mom, that’s not how it works–so what I am doing is replying to my “sis”‘s emails every night with affirmations led by the Holy Spirit that she’s doing everything right (little Sis is a saint, truly–I can only pray I’m eventually transformed to be more like her). I share bits of whatever God and I have been chatting about, stay supportive of the challenges she’s facing with her mom (and she has a special needs daughter too)–and add any of my wacky humor to make us both laugh!! She’s been listening to that song with the line, “You’re a good, good Father”–and this has become our current anthem. Sometimes when we’re under the pile, struggles too much to bear, it’s great to have just a few key words–and not feel pressed to remember the entire Bible. So, “Trust God”–and “He’s a good, good Father” are workin’ for me today.

    Thank you for messages that make sense–gentle reminders, no condemnation. Hope, and whatever we receive from God is for sharing and blessing others. And I loved how you said on another post that, yes God hates sin–but He SO Loves the sinners, those redeemed and those still hanging out in the foyer. God bless you, pressed down and overflowing. Azul

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