Learning from Struggles

“The greatest battles we fight are the ones within us.”

Recently, I attended a Global Leadership Summit, where I heard Erwin McManus, cancer survivor and author of a recent book, “The Last Arrow,” utter these words.  In a powerful, emotional testament of survival (from many challenges, not just medical ones), he repeatedly spoke of the demons we must confront, which threaten to remove joy and peace from our life.  In speaking to the role of faith, he proclaimed that “faith doesn’t make life easier.  It makes you stronger.”

In the days that followed, I found myself reflecting on his message.  As someone who literally, not just figuratively, “feels the weight on my chest”, I can easily find myself bemoaning internal challenges that come even when so much good surrounds me.  All of this has led me to consider ten primary spiritual challenges that I believe we all must confront, which I include below.

  •  I must come to grips with the inevitability of my own death, and the possibility of an early one, and not let fear of either restrict missionary work on all fronts.  As McManus noted, when “you’re afraid of death, you’re afraid of rejection, uncertainty.  You’re paralyzed with fear.”
  • There is no guarantee that my efforts will be rewarded, no matter how fervent or steadfast.  Yet I must find the resolve to continue the mission with the understanding that my role, and the mission itself, could end tomorrow.
  • I must let go of what failures or death would do to compromise the mission, and other’s perception of it, realizing that this is God’s domain.  All that I can control is what my free will allows.
  • I need to let go of concerns of embarrassment or disappointment at the thought or reality of missionary failure even when good efforts are being taken.  Again, this is God’s domain.  He is responsible for what goes wrong if my good efforts seem to go in vain.
  • My pain and struggles provide amazing opportunities to increase my empathy for people in all situations, whether that be of physical infirmity, constant uncertainty, unremitting anxiety, or repeated failure and rejection. 
  • I must plan for the future, be aware of the past, but put my heart in today.  Anything else but embracing and engaging in present opportunities can be both overwhelming and unproductive.  As McManus noted, “you don’t get this day again.”
  • I must constantly look for ways in which the God that created the complexity of the cosmos and human body is not only present throughout His creations, but also present with me.  I need to not only see God in the sunrise and the synapses, but also in the midst of my circumstances and my strife.  Believing that I am valued by Him even when horrible atrocities towards others challenge this notion remains a constant pursuit.
  • Harnessing joy in all that I do only becomes more necessary as my life becomes busier.  Not allowing anxiety and freneticism to remove constant opportunities for joy and meaning is critical for me in finding contentment in an otherwise busy life.
  • I must die to myself so that what rises up is infinitely better than could be imagined.  But in dying to self, I must strive to recognize the difference between what I can’t let go because of my pride and what God is calling me toward.
  • Ultimately, as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said, I must remember that “I am not a human being having a spiritual experience, but rather a spiritual being having a human experience.”  And in doing so, I hope that my life will reflect who I am.

Dear Lord,

I often find myself afraid of death and failure in my daily life.  I know that no matter how hard I work, or who or how much I know, I am not guaranteed anything in this world.  I know that pursuing your mission for me does not mean I am actually on the right course, and it does not spare me from my fears and embarrassment.  But I know in my pain and my struggles, I not only can see You, but I can also see the faces and hear the voices of those who struggle around me.  And although I do not desire the same struggles, I recognize that often in being lost in myself, I am lost for those who most need me.  Therefore, I plead that you free me from the bonds of my own pride, and help me see how the moments of my day provide more than I need, and provide direction of where I should go.  In doing so, I hope to see Your face looking back at me.  And I hope to find joy even when I least expect, and when I am in despair.  In dying to myself, I desire to rise in You.  There, in the middle of a crowded street or an empty forest, it is a oneness with all, a perpetual union, that I hope will bring me home to the spiritual being that I know to be.  Amen.

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