I’m not sure what defines a struggle as long-term.
But when I look at the course of my life, the struggles I see are more often then not “long-term”; the latest being the imprisonment of my ex-husband.
I do not want these struggles. I selfishly would like them to have never been. And to currently go away. A fairy tale ending. And yet the struggles drag on, day by day.
It’s amazing how fast and how slow time goes; there never seems to be a medium pace to time.
In 1 Corinthians 12, we are introduced to a long-term struggle of Paul’s. You can read of it below:
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
This story has always bugged me. What was the thorn in the flesh? Why was it put there? Why did God not remove it? Why did Paul only pray three times for it to be removed?
But there are things that we can learn from this passage. In verse 7, Paul tells us he believes the thorn was placed there to keep him from being conceited. I am a very prideful person…sinfully prideful. My long-term struggle has done some serious damage to my pride. And I’ll admit, I don’t like it. But I needed to be humbled, though sometimes that humbling feels so much more like humiliation. Particularly with struggles that are offshoots of the current main long-term struggle: struggles such as being unable to pay the bills or provide lunch money for my crew. Struggles with my weight and my mental health. Humiliating struggles that have shot my pride all to pieces.
But I think it’s important that we focus much more on what God says in this passage. Here is where the real value of long-term struggle comes from: “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” Without long-term struggle, would there truly be weakness? Short-term struggle may produce weakness for a period of time (think “broken leg”); but one who is facing-experiencing-long term struggle (disease, chronic pain, divorce, incarceration, single parenting, and so many more examples) get beat down by that struggle. Beat down to weakness. Beat down to a place where there is no where else to turn except to God. And His power is made perfect in that weakness. I’ve seen it time and time again in the life of my crew. A simple example: Today the ladies in the missions group at church brought by a fruit basket. Now, my heart breaks to need to be on the list for Thanksgiving fruit baskets. But that fruit basket brought much needed fruit into this house. My weakness in being able to provide for my crew is overridden time and time again by the gracious provision of my Lord: for His power is made perfect in weakness.
I’ve also noticed that Paul’s last statement is truth as well. “When I am weak, then I am strong.” At some of my most weakest points—-points where I find myself on the verge of breaking; of my soul shattering—in those moments there sometimes comes a strength that is inexplainable. It is not of me, for there is no strength in me. It is strength generated by the God that is in me. And with that strength comes joy–real joy, even in the midst of terrific fear and failings.
My friends. It’s not easy. But scripture doesn’t say it’s going to be easy. Scripture is truth. I know some of you are going through some terribly long-term struggles right now. What I can tell you is this: Hang. On. To each other, to scripture, to God, to my Jesus. Grasp the glimpses of hope that you may see, for they are gifts from God. Rejoice in your weakness, because only when we are weak, can God work through his strength and power in the midst of the struggle.
Tonight I go to bed struggling. Struggling with the “D” word (divorce). Struggling over finances. Struggling over fear concerning contracts and my job. Struggling but oh, so grateful for this journey I am on. You may ask “Shelly, how can you be grateful for this road you’ve been given.” My answer to you would be that God has shown Himself to be so very real to me in ways that I don’t think I ever would have seen apart from the struggle. Do I enjoy the struggle? Heavens, no. I’d give anything–anything–for our lives (mine and my crew’s) to be ‘normal’, with out the tragedy and struggle. But even so, I wouldn’t change a thing if it meant seeing less of my Savior’s work in the lives of my crew and in my own life.
For that is gold. And Joy.