We all have different struggles, different strengths, weaknesses, temptations.
I used to feel just a little bit smug when I was super slim that I didn’t struggle with food or weight. Three children, much sleeplessness and a penchant for writing late at night has changed that a bit. I’ve also gained a little insight into why people may fall into emotional eating when I found myself reaching for the junk food snacks after getting repeatedly narked or frustrated in one season. I can tell you why food is a tempting option for many: 100 per cent instant satisfaction guaranteed with your favourite item of indulgence. (Confession: my weakness is crisps.)
I used to feel just a little bit confident that I was emotionally balanced and not prone to bursts of anger or moany rants or impatience. Throw in aforementioned sons and I realised I wasn’t quite the saint I thought I was. In fact, thoughts and emotions emerged that I would have deemed totally incompatible with my persona a few years previously.
Circumstances and life change you, you see.
I didn’t even notice how I’d had quite a long stretch of things going pretty nicely for me between the ages of 14 and 25. Doors opened for me, opportunities came my way, friends were easy to come by. Even my health was great. I don’t remember visiting a doctor during my four-year degree. My sisters would say: “Hey, everything seems to work out great for you, Annie” (while they struggled with health problems or other stuff). The icing on the cake was when my husband was shortlisted for a top prize at work, and I was hopeful that he was in with a chance. He was: an all-expenses trip to San Francisco, to include me! (How ridiculously jammy is that?)
When a few years later, all the doors started closing and I didn’t get the things I’d hoped for, it was a major struggle. In the beginning, I was patient and pressed on. But as the disappointments accumulated, I started to really struggle and doubted God’s goodness. Yet I wouldn’t change those experiences, precisely because they have made me who I am and have enabled me to relate to all the various types of people I come across who may also be in a season of struggle.
Imagine you’re going through a really tough phase looking for a job opportunity and the person you talk to about it says breezily: “Oh, I’ve always got offered the jobs I’ve applied for.” Another scenario: perhaps you’ve struggled with infertility for years, and someone insensitively replies that they get pregnant easily, without even trying. Thoughts of punching may come to mind.
It’s often those who’ve walked your path who can better relate and comfort and listen well. If my life had continued on its happy trajectory I’m sure that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with or understand others so well. It was only via experiencing tough situations that my heart softened, and I became better equipped to see things from other people’s perspectives.
It sheds light on why God chose to come to earth in human form. He took on humanity and lived a regular kind of life, including pain and disappointment and betrayal, so that He could demonstrate the Father’s love for us. If Christ had avoided the cross, along with the heartache of rejection and loss in the years prior to that, the gospel would have lost most of its impact. It’s in His sacrifice that we see the ultimate expression of love. It’s in His humanity, where we see Him struggle with betrayal and bereavement, that we are drawn towards a God who interacts and understands our common troubles, who is present in our darkness.
One of the most beneficial life lessons to learn is that we’re all different. Just because you don’t have a major struggle with singleness, and you feel content at the prospect of retaining that status, doesn’t mean that another doesn’t feel the same way. Just because you’re someone who doesn’t struggle with pornography because you think it’s gross or stupid doesn’t mean that others can also easily drop the habit. Just because you don’t ever have any fears for the future or suffer from anxiety, doesn’t mean that everyone else should be able to easily overcome their fears.
We need to cut each other some slack and recognise that we all have different weaknesses, different struggles, different experiences, and be willing to show compassion over the extent to which some things are a major issue for some individuals. The art of listening is a huge and worthy pursuit, along with the art of biting one’s tongue before offering simplistic solutions or soundbites to someone’s problem or fear. I know I’ve been guilty of getting this wrong many times. But the years of walking through tough situations have been teaching me to go easy on others I encounter and to show compassion and love before anything else.
The world is watching how we react – to the people, situations and problems around us. Will the light of Christ shine through us in the way we respond – with love, with tact, with practical help? Or will we come across as the stereotypical judgemental, out-of-touch Christian who only provides identikit pat answers or a fluffy Bible verse that makes us feel clever, but the other feel totally alone in their struggle? Most days we have an opportunity to reflect hope and life to those around us, simply by being understanding. Perhaps the best response to offer a Christian friend who’s finding things tough is to confirm that you’ll be there to listen and offer to pray.