Sometimes, life goes horribly wrong. It’s not something we can avoid or dance around. You work and toil and struggle to reach your goals. You sacrifice and labor just to push yourself that much closer to your dreams. You do everything right, and still it somehow comes crashing down around you. Because the fact of the matter is that sometimes life just goes heartbreakingly wrong. To make matters worse, life might go horribly wrong for us more than once. For some really unlucky people, life seems to be on a perpetual cycle of everything falling to bits.
I won’t pretend for a second to have all the answers on hardship and pain. I simply can’t offer that considering that I’m all too often the one doing the asking. However, if I’ve learned anything from hardship and pain it’s that it is an absolutely critical time.
Not just because you feel you’re in a dire situation and you’re desperate to get out of it (although, let’s be honest that definitely plays a part), but because the decisions you make now have incredibly lasting consequences. You have to stay sharp and you have to stay alert. And of course, to make the situation more painful, you have to go against your very nature itself.
You have to convince yourself that this pain is good. It means you are still in the fight. It wakes you up and tells you you still have something left. By all means, you can be absolutely exhausted, but shaking fists can still throw a punch. It’s in this moment of pain, when all you want to do is lie down and cry, that you have to do anything but that. You have to fight harder than ever. Why?
Because who you are when you are in pain matters.
It matters. Whether or not you like it, this pain and hardship is going to become part of your story and then in turn part of your legacy. It’s not a chapter you can erase, so now is the time to live it well. Why? Because someone is always watching.
People admire you when you have everything, but they watch you when you lose it. They watch for how you react. They watch for a hint of foul attitude. They watch for some semblance that your smile and claims that “you can do it!” and “hard work pays off” are nothing more than whimsical captions on an instagram post. Bloated with likes one day, and gone in cyberspace the next. It’s not because they delight in your failure, but because they know hardship might come for them next and we’re all looking for hope and clues on how to handle it. Prosperity offers only fleeting encouragement. Perseverance offers a rallying point.
When life comes crashing down, the last thing we want is someone who doesn’t have anything to worry about telling us that it will be ok. We tend to find that perseverance offers a better lasting promise. Prosperity may give people something to strive towards, but perseverance gives you a starting point. It looks at a person and says “Here. Start right here. Dig in.” And there’s no better testing ground for your perseverance than pain.
Nothing speaks quite as loudly as pain.
Pain is a megaphone to tell the world not just how to dig deep, but who you follow. If we truly believe that God is big enough to see us through our pain, then now is the time to live like it. I won’t tell you that you have to enjoy your struggles and hardship and I won’t tell you to lie about just how hard they really are. But I will tell you to make them count. You have people’s attention, now show them who you follow. Show them why it’s different.
Because God does not waste any chapter of your story. He is not taken by surprise or thrown off course. If you’re following Jesus and walk into a chapter where your life falls down around your ears, you are exactly where you need to be. This is not a mistake, nor is it some horrifying accident. It is purpose, and purpose is worth living for.
God does not waste hardship and struggle.
Paul knew this intimately. He lived it constantly. His letters to early churches are filled with reminders that some of our greatest opportunities to glorify God come from our lowest moments. As he said in a letter to the church in Corinth, “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.” (2 Corinthians 12:10) He understood that wild Christian principle that flips life and priorities upside down. With God at the helm, pain is a megaphone to draw others to Christ.
Praising God from a place of prosperity is loud, but praising God from a place of perseverance is louder. I’m not suggesting we all go looking for hardship, but merely that we weather it with confidence and, more importantly, awareness when it comes. We don’t have to like it, we just have to bear it. If not for ourselves, then for the sake of others who may use our faithfulness to make decisions about the one we follow. Perseverance over prosperity, always.
Let’s find some joy,