Ever meet a wise person who is able to remain poised and decisive in the face of crisis? It’s likely they’ve made those decisions beforehand. My pastor said this a few Sundays ago. Something about it felt empowering. Since then, I’ve done the unprecedented: I started to stare the prospect of adversity in the face.
Most of the time, I go through life hoping adversity won’t notice me or hoping I won’t get picked in the adversity lotto. But most of us understand that adversity is not this random. The Bible says there is purpose in our pain. Paul even goes so far as to tell us to rejoice because of it:[lborder]
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:3-5[/lborder]
Still, rejoicing seems farfetched amidst suffering. But the hardest part, I’d argue, is not the pain or even the unanswered question of why. It’s the sense of helplessness that’s left in the wake of overwhelming circumstances. While we may not be able to control what happens to us, we can control how we handle crisis. This matters because nobody comes out of adversity unchanged. You will either come out of it more resilient and refined or you will come out of it more bitter and jaded. Everyone makes this choice, even if it’s through passive indecision. In other words, how you handle adversity matters because it affects what happens next.
Life’s trials seldom happen in a vacuum; what affects us often affects our loved ones. We have a chance to be a source of strength, wisdom and joy for those we love when they need us most.
And lastly, by not being prepared, whether we realize it or not, we live in fear. And this fear is already robbing us of peace even before the war has begun. George Washington once said, “To be prepared for war is the most effective means of achieving peace.”
If you happen to be going through life just swimmingly, and fear reading a single word more may prematurely pop your bubble, consider that by the same token I feared writing this article, as some awful portent of things to come in my own life. But the vantage point of being on elevated grounds, or at least above sea level, is perspective. Now may be the best time to think about tough times.
If you happen to be in the trenches of warfare, be encouraged because there is armor to be worn and a battle to be won. For God did not give us a spirit of fear, the Bible says, but of power, love and self-control. Despite where you may be in your predicaments—entrenched in a battle, cruising through life or somewhere in between—here are some ways to help prepare for and fight life’s tough battles.
Manage your expectations.
Many Christians are under the impression that they are granted immunity from life’s toughest trials. But Christ never promised this. He only promises to be there for us, love us unconditionally, strengthen us and help us be victorious. Why is this important to know? Half the trouble with disappointment is being disappointed by the disappointment, a common refrain in Timothy Keller’s books and sermons.
At no other time in my life has this rung more true than the early months of motherhood. The honest recounting of friends prepared me for the enormous uphill battles that came with the joys of motherhood. When the exhausting, unendingness of nurturing a newborn was met with sleep deprivation, I wasn’t bewildered. My depression didn’t depress me. I was, you could say, prepared for the unexpected. Amidst the challenges and baby blues, I told myself that what I was enduring was normal, and that in time things would get better. And they did. Having realistic expectations is half the battle because if you underestimate the nature of battle, the opposing forces will too easily subdue you; if you overestimate the nature of a battle, you will surrender too soon.
Console yourself in Christ.
It’s easy to cheer yourself up by taking refuge in life’s blessings when the problems don’t seem so bad. I did it last week when a car scraped the side of my car. Almost robotically, I took stock of the good in my life: No one was hurt, the man pulled over, my kids were safe, and I had a home and a family to return to. While these are blessings God wants us to enjoy, we’re not to put our hope in them. “Keep yourself from idols,” the Bible warns. Imagine instead, if we made it a habit of finding consolation in Christ even when our problems seem manageable by our own strength. Seeking and finding God during the hard times would become more second nature too.
Understand what adversity is.
Paul tells us that hardship is discipline. There’s the kind of discipline that results as a consequence of something we’ve done wrong. It’s precisely why we discipline our own children and why our parents disciplined us: to save us from worse pain in the future. But there’s also the kind of discipline that’s allowed to enter our lives to refine us, build our character and help us become more empathetic, generous, resilient, shinier people. The story of Job is a prime example. Adversity is allowed to enter our lives to change us and to work out a bigger purpose.
Be encouraged by hardship.
At no other time in our lives will we experience Christ more intimately than when we are at our weakest. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” the Bible says. Perhaps it’s because we finally make ourselves completely vulnerable to Him in a way only suffering can enable us to. Either way, Christ is able to comfort us—if we let Him. Not only is He almighty God, but He was once a man too, a man who walked in our shoes many miles over. He understands our pain. Empathy is more than the unilateral presence of company. Empathy is security: knowing someone has endured similar circumstances reassures us that there is a way out for us, too. But Jesus didn’t just endure suffering and come out of it OK—He was victorious and His victory over death and suffering ensures our victory too.
Accept that your questions may not be answered.
You may not understand the why. In fact, you may never understand why something horrendous is happening to you. But at least you know, by Jesus’ sacrifice, what the reason is not: that He doesn’t care.
Don’t compare yourself with others.
This is a hard one. While it may be impossible not to notice how good or easy someone next to you may have it, the only way to not let the jealousy swallow you whole is to see yourself through Christ’s eyes in all seasons. You are a unique creation, set apart for a specific purpose. Only in seeing yourself and your situation through this perspective will you be able to keep yourself from growing bitter, cold and resentful, and remain humble during the high times.
Don’t take it personally.
One of the many forms of adversity comes by way of unanswered prayers. When your pain point is a longing unfulfilled, it often feels personal, as if it were the result of some shortcoming in your own life. When this happens, it’s easy to get down and out. But remember God is bigger than your shortcomings and your mistakes. Even if you’ve made a misstep, He is more than able to help you find a way out. He takes full responsibility for you. Your failures are no longer yours when you are in Christ.
Unanswered prayers may also be blessings in disguise. I shudder at the thought that God may have answered some of my teenage prayers. “More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones,” Truman Capote wrote in his unfinished novel, Answered Prayers.
Above all, have hope.
It’s impossible to get through adversity without hope. So it’s important to know what hope looks like. In defining what hope is, let’s first be clear about what hope is not. Hope should not rest in believing that one day our prayers will be answered, although it’s very possible they may be. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts,” God says in the book of Isaiah. Since we cannot understand God’s wisdom, to place our hope in our own wisdom is misguided. Christian hope can be found, rather, in resting in God’s goodness and omniscience alone.
Another form of hope we have is in our salvation. Everything in this life is temporary after all. The Bible tells us to rejoice because our names are written in heaven. There is always the perfect life after this one to hope for.
But perhaps the ultimate hope of all, especially when the trials on this earth make heaven seem galaxies away, is to remember what Jesus’ hope was. Because it wasn’t heaven, something Timothy Keller makes clear in his sermon, “Born into Hope.” He left heaven after all in search of something heaven didn’t have. When He asked God to take His cup from Him and shed tears of blood, He kept His eye on the prize: that one day He would be with us forever. There is no greater hope for us than this. In life’s abysmal darkness, when Jesus was faced with dying on the cross and feeling abandoned by His Father, His hope was His great love for us.