Monday, September 22, 2008

Honest in the Struggle

Being engaged is a stressful period for anyone. At least that was the case for me and my man, Steve. As our wedding day approached, I began to struggle with doubt. Was I really ready to promise forever?

We were traveling to CT about a month before the wedding and stopped off for an overnight with friends. The wife of this happily married couple asked how things were between me and Steve. Confessing to my frequent periods of doubt, I confided, “You know, how you see things about the other person and say, ‘Do I want to live the rest of my life with that?’”

She shook her head, puzzled. “Oh no,” she sincerely replied. “I never had one doubt.” Her response shook me more than I cared to admit. Was this a sign that we were making a big mistake? Not knowing what was normal in a healthy engagement, I was afraid that maybe my struggle indicated our incompatibility. So over the next few weeks, I talked with other young couples who were already successfully navigating the waters of marriage. I found to my relief that doubts were a very normal part of the engagement experience.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is when Paul shares his struggle in living for Christ. “There was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me-- to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)

The older and wiser I get, the more I understand my own inadequacy for ministry. My weaknesses and shortcomings often threaten to overwhelm me as I stand to address an audience. I am such a sinner. I certainly don’t have it all together. Why should anyone listen to me? The above passage is what I cling to in moments like this. Then I remember: Yes, in my own strength, I am weak and inadequate. That is precisely how God is going to use me. His glory will be revealed through the cracks in my armor.

It would have been a sad thing had Paul not made his struggle public as he did. Millions of Christians would have tried to follow in his apparently perfect footsteps, and they would have failed miserably. The simple reason is there is no perfect Christian. Not even the great apostle Paul! To present a good face is to set up a phantom standard. The worst thing is, as others observe us, they might believe the façade. Then they will look at themselves and lose heart. They will never be as spiritual as that guy.

Jesus shared His struggle with others. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He told Peter, James, and John: “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” He moved a short distance away from them, fell on His face, and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” Why did Jesus include His friends in that private moment, allowing them to see Him in His agony? Why didn’t He just show them a stiff upper lip and paste on a brave face?

I think the disciples needed to know that this event was going to cost Jesus dearly. They also needed to see it was OK to struggle. Most of all, they needed to understand that in the struggle, our most necessary response is to pray. So Jesus struggled in front of them. It would give them a memorable lesson, more than any teaching He could have verbally imparted to them.

We are grateful when we see we are not alone in the struggle. The perseverance of others against difficult circumstances serves to keep us moving in a positive direction. Only when we determine to be genuine with each other about our struggles, failures, and victories are we able to be an encouragement to the Body of Christ. Conversely, to act as though we never have doubts or problems only feeds our own selfish pride. Putting up a false façade may temporarily boost our own self-image, but we are setting others up for a fall when we do.

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Galatians 6:1-3

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