I’ve been slowly making my way through the Old Testament. I say slowly because if there is one thing I’ve learned about this whole parenting thing is that everything has a way of changing especially those precious few moments of quiet available (or should I say not so available). So, reading smaller chunks it is. But, maybe that is not such a bad thing because I find that I take a bit more time to really process what I am reading and do more meditating as opposed to just getting through the reading and on to the next part of the day.
One theme that continues to jump to the forefront as I have been reading is the idea of struggling. It first hit me with the meaning of the name Israel. The name given to Jacob after he physically wrestled with God. “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, (which means he struggles with God) because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome” (Genesis 32:28 NIV). As a society, it seems that we frequently shy away from struggle. We love to overcome, but we don’t often want the struggle that goes with it. I remember hearing a pastor preach once and saying, “don’t pray for me to have more patience because I don’t want the trails that I will have to go through in order to be more patient.” He was joking, but was he really? Why is it that the minute that hard things come into our lives there is a tendency to pull back from God, to feel that we are being treated unfairly, to wish that we were not walking the rough path. It reminds me of a quote from the movie Fiddler on the Roof when Tevye says to God, “I know, I know we are your chosen people, But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”
“Please, God, choose someone else.” We might not admit it freely, but I think many of us think that in the back of our minds when it comes to walking a painful road. We often don’t care that it will make us a kinder, more compassionate, more understanding, more mature, more patient person. We would rather just stick to the soft grass. But, the Old Testament is full of story after story of struggling—Abraham and Sarah’s struggle to have a child, Leah and Rachel two sisters struggling one because she did not feel loved by her husband and the other because she desperately wanted children and she wanted them now. Joseph was sold into slavery and then thrown into jail all because of a lie. Then, the growing nation of Israel struggled in slavery to the Egyptians for over 400 years. Clearly, struggle is a necessary ingredient for growth and character development.
But, we live in an Instagram, instant messenger society where we want the abs without the sweat of exercise, a magic pill to lose weight instead of the hard work of diet change. We want to be able to potty train a toddler in a day. We think we should have an amazing marriage but would rather walk away when things get hard instead of struggling through the hard work of learning to communicate properly, working through our own selfishness and learning to love when it is not easy. The idea of the importance of struggling is just not valued enough in modern society. But, any Olympic athlete will tell you that triumph does not come without struggle.
Maybe it is time to welcome more struggle into your life. I say this as much to myself as to anyone else. Instead of avoiding the hard stuff or camping out where you feel comfortable maybe God has something to teach in the midst of the struggles that come. The purpose of struggle is not to destroy or to overwhelm, but to take you to that next level in life that can only be reached through hardship. As the psalmist so eloquently puts it in Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (NIV). God promises not to leave us alone in those valleys. He does not want to bring us to a point of breaking or shutting down emotionally when those hard days come. Instead, He longs to comfort, to lead, to bring us through the struggle stronger and triumphant.