I am struggling right now.
A visit with my oncologist last week revealed I have multiple cancerous tumors in my liver. I now have a fight on my hands. I will find out later this week just how this battle will be waged. It will not be easy. It will be a struggle. The fight will possibly involve robust chemo-therapy and radiation or a ground breaking new treatment where the cure will involve such strong medicine that the side effects will likely make me feel worse before I feel better. As is the case in all life experiences, this brings to light an undeniable spiritual truth.
Struggle is an indicator of life. It must be embraced and accepted as a symptom of being alive.
Seventeenth century philosopher Descartes coined the phrase, “I think, therefore, I am” which became one of many oft quoted maxims during the age of enlightenment. As foundational as thinking is to being human, I suggest that struggling is just as much an indicator of humanness as thinking. So I will state my own maxim with a hint of Descartes by saying, “I struggle, therefore, I am”.
In recent years I have observed that people often are disappointed in themselves that they have not been victorious over addictions, sins, bad habits, yearnings, tendencies etc. People tend to beat themselves up over the lack of a decisive, final victory over the thing with which they suffer. An example would be of a person who has struggled with alcohol abuse and who is making positive steps to correct bad behaviors but who still craves alcohol at times or believes he/she is weak because the desire is still there.
Many have been lead to believe that we must conquer, stamp out and vanquish even the desire or attraction to such behaviors and habits. I have even overheard well-intentioned people scold those who confess that there is still an appeal to take part in one of the aforementioned habits. This seems to suggest that their struggle doesn’t count for anything unless they have extinguished all flaming embers of this residual desire from their lives.
Let me say that I believe implicitly In the power of God. May I go on record saying I think it is absolutely possible that God can deliver us from evil behaviors and desires. God can remove completely the threat and temptation from even the most nagging addictions. If you think I am limiting God, you are misunderstanding my point. A thoughtful reading of the Bible will reveal that even the greatest of heroes and heroines of the Bible did not achieve a direct trajectory of faith advancement. They frequently had their set-backs and show clear evidence that they are strugglers.
Not only do I see this in scripture but I observe it in my own life. There are things in my life that used to be a great temptation, which now seem to have no appeal to me at all. Nonetheless, there are also things in my life with which I have struggled since a youth. Even though I would have preferred that God would have delivered me altogether from some of these attitudes, desires, habits, tendencies, I still find myself struggling.
No less than the apostle Paul expressed his own struggles with the flesh in Romans 7: 18ff (NASB)
For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Paul is stating in unmistakable language that he is a man who still struggles. Perhaps we think the phrase about being rescued from the body of death means that this is an ultimate, complete freedom from fleshly desires and temptations. Paul is speaking in terms of the present tense. He is talking about a continued struggle he has. He celebrates the final victory that will be ours as we overcome in Jesus Christ, all these temptations.
Not all struggles are about sins, addictions or moral failures. Some of our struggles are with maintaining a constant sense of God’s presence in our lives. We struggle to believe that God answers prayers. We struggle to understand how an all powerful, all knowing, all loving God could allow suffering in the world. Go ahead and add the list anything you struggle with. God’s shoulders are broad. He can bear up under any lament, any honest crying out you have. Just keep in mind that our comfort and ease are not part of the promise of God. In fact, in time of struggle, pain, hardship and suffering one can often come to an awareness of the immense love of God and appreciate His providential care in ways that only can be known in time of struggle.
We would do well to remember the beginnings of Israel, God’s chosen. When Jacob had wrestled with his heavenly visitor in Genesis 32, the outcome is an affirmation of the promise made to Abraham and his descendants. Jacob is given the assurance that God will be a constant presence and source of blessing to His people of promise. Then comes a part in the narrative where we get a glimpse of just how this will be played out. Jacob is given the name, Israel. “One who wrestles…..or struggles”.
Genesis 32: 28 (NIV) “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
It seems unmistakable. Struggle is not a sign of weakness or unfaithfulness.
Struggle is an indicator that we haven’t given up.
Let me recommend to you a few strategies in your encounter with struggles in its various forms.
Add these to your survival kit.
1) Seek fellow strugglers with whom you can be honest. Find people who will not enable your bad behaviors but who will help you find discipline to forge better habits. You need people who will be tough when you need it but who will stick by you as long as you are honestly trying/struggling for growth.
2) Read the Bible. Take a closer look at the stories and the people in them. Notice how they have feet of clay and struggle with getting right and staying right. Also take notice of how they are prone to a faith in God that can run white hot and then can grow cool and then get re-ignited again.
3) Talk to God. Pray. Many of the prayers which resonate with us as strugglers are the “crying out” prayers. Tell God where it hurts.
4) See Satan for the liar he is. Satan will do his best to dissuade you from seeking God and holy living. When you encounter a time of temptation or experience a lack of faith, ask yourself, “where is the lie in this?” Look closely and you will always find an untruth at the bottom of it.
I am a struggler. I hope to see you somewhere along the way on this path to holiness. I would love to walk together with you for a while and share our stories.
You’ll know me when you see me. I walk with a limp. People who have wrestled angels usually do.